Eating Disorders and the Media: What Are ‘Real’ Women?


Eating disorders are affecting more and more young people and have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, according to beat, the leading charity for eating disorders in the UK. They are not disorders of vanity or narcissism, but of deep emotional distress. However, it is undeniable that the way bodies are portrayed in the media has a significant impact on the way we feel about ourselves.

Last week’s Eating Disorder Awareness Week aimed to raise awareness for just how common this problem can be, and for the support available to those suffering from it. As somebody who is in recovery from an eating disorder that has lasted for many years, I want to first make it clear that eating disorders are not just about wanting to lose weight. There are many different reasons people may develop an eating disorder, but there is generally a range of emotional difficulties that accompany it . These illnesses cannot be solely put down to pressure from the media and a desire to be thin.

However, that’s not to say the media does not play a part. It is commonplace to talk about how it is getting increasingly hard for young people to feel comfortable in their own skin when faced with such unrealistic standards of beauty every day. And frighteningly, as reported by the National Children’s Bureau, children as young as 7 are concerned about their body image , despite a more recent influx of ‘body positive’ advertisements.

But how ‘positive’ are these, really? We see so much about ‘real women’ nowadays, plastered in their underwear on billboards and on the sides of buses. But according to such images, ‘real women’ are still of a particular physique; they often fit into a bracket of mid-range sizes.  We may have moved forward in some respects from seeing the tall, slim and beautiful women who so frequently adorn our advertising spaces. But why are these women any less ‘real’? Whilst I acknowledge that many of these images have jkhjkbeen photo shopped, can the same not be said for some of the more recent images of ‘healthier’ women? Why are we continuing to label some sizes and shapes as ‘real’, and disregarding others? It needs to be universally acknowledged that humans come in all shapes and sizes, and one is no more ‘real’ than another. We are moving forward, that is true, and it is a step in the right direction that we are seeing some different shapes and sizes. However, the way in which the media are going about this leaves a lot to be desired, despite the good intentions behind it.

‘Real women’ debate aside, it is time that other parts of society shared the intentions the media has on this one, albeit with a better execution. For one, many clothing mannequins continue to have relatively unrealistic proportions or actually have their ribs showing. Trying on the same outfit as a mannequin and realising it looks completely different on gapstore_143910you can feel at best disappointing, but at worst it can fuel an already distorted image of one’s body and further exacerbate unhealthy thoughts and behaviours. The fashion world has a lot to answer for, and neglects to say that striving to share the size of said mannequins could cause life long health problems, infertility, and even death.

Clothing retailers are, again, further behind than I believe is acceptable. Models are often either a size 6/8 and 5’10” or are modelling for the ‘plus size’ range. Why not have a selection of bodies? After all, we do come in all shapes and sizes. In reality, we are not all either very slim or ‘plus size’, there is a huge spectrum of in-betweens. And isn’t it time their bodies got appreciated too?

Some people are tall and slim, and that’s ok. Some others are shorter and curvier, and that’s ok too. What’s most important is being healthy and happy. Your body may not always look how you want it to, but try and think about all the incredible things your body does. It is real because it keeps you alive and fighting every single day, and that is what we should be celebrating.

Click here for more information about support and Eating Disorder Awareness Week.

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Student mental health nurse, Time to Change Ambassador and passionate campaigner for the end of mental health discrimination.

Discussion2 Comments

  1. avatar

    Your article focuses on women, but it’s important to remember that men suffer from these disorders too and face the same obstacles in their recovery.

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