DANGEROUS INFLUENCES: How Media is Making Young Girls Turn to Anorexia by Guest Blogger (14 years old) Seattle Briscoe

            Imagine that one of your good friends has been acting strange lately.  She never wants to eat no matter what you offer her.  You didn’t take it seriously, but after a while you notice that she is becoming really thin.  Concerned, you confront her about it, but she shrugs you off and says not to worry.  Obeying her wishes, you don’t obsess over it until one night, something goes wrong.  You received a call saying that she had been hospitalized for being malnourished.

Photo by ttatty/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by ttatty/iStock / Getty Images

 

            Soon after the incident, you go to visit her.  She didn’t look much better, and so you asked her if she felt like she was receiving enough help.  The smile that greeted you when you walked in disappeared and she said, “I’m trying to fix this, but I just can’t.  You don’t understand how hard it is.”  So, you asked her how this started and she said, “There are all of these girls in magazines, I just wanted to look like them.  I became so obsessed, and this was the only way I could achieve my goal.”  The body image your friend wants was caused by the influence society has.  The ideas created by society, the fashion industry, and other influences are reasons why anorexia develops in many teenage girls.

I’m trying to fix this, but I just can’t. You don’t understand how hard it is.

            Due to the glorification by society, anorexia isn’t taken as seriously as it should be.  As anorexia patients’ brains become starved, so does their ability to think rationally, so they become susceptible to other mental disorders (Alexander).  Anorexic teens usually experience anxiety, self-doubt, guilt, shame, severe depression, and even suicidal thoughts (Teo).  In fact, “one in five people who die prematurely from anorexia nervosa do so by suicide” (Alexander).  Eating disorders such as anorexia are actually the most lethal illnesses, with a death rate of 10-20% (Kirkey).  Not only do sufferers experience mental effects, but it also does harm to their bodies.

            “Without treating anorexia, people can experience low blood pressure, slow heartrate, irregular heart rhythm, hair loss, infertility, and structural brain abnormalities” (Teo).  All of these are caused by severe malnutrition due to the lack of food sufferers take in.  Anorexia is also followed by bulimia, where they are forced to eat and then purge (Teo).  Bulimia has even worse side effects, because of the stomach acid that comes up with the food.  It can eventually destroy a person’s organs and put them in the hospital for the rest of their life.

            The thing is, once someone starts, they can’t stop.  After they have triggered the habits of anorexia, it’s hard for them to start eating again, which is why 50% or more hospitalized anorexic patients that are discharged will relapse within a year (Goode).  A study done on anorexic women showed that there is more activity in the dorsal striatum, an area of the brain involved with habitual behavior, which suggests that they acted automatically due to past experiences (Goode).  This is why treatment is so hard to accomplish.  Even if doctors and therapists are able to treat the patient, that old habit is easy to come back to because it was triggered earlier in life.

            “Neither psychiatric medications nor talk therapies that are used successfully for other eating disorders are much help in most cases” (Goode).  Eating disorders develop from low self-esteem, dependence on physical attributes for self-confidence, mood problems, and struggles with stress management, which is why their psychological needs have to be confronted (Teo).  Therapists struggle greatly because of this.  “Therapists often feel helpless to interrupt the relentless dieting that anorexic patients pursue” (Goode).  Even if a person has already lost a lot of weight, they are only able to see themselves as overweight.  “‘They come into treatment saying they want to get better, and they can’t do it’, says Dr. Joanna Steinglass” (Goode).  Things like social media shouldn’t influence anorexia on teenage girls, because anorexia is just too difficult for anybody to overcome.

            “‘Social media and mass media influence the way we react and interact with our world and potentially influence the perception of our own body image’, says psychologist, Amanda Swartz” (Mulliniks).  “Chronic dieting and restrained eating have been said to be a way of life for girls and women, one that is supported and encouraged by peers as well as social media” (Mulliniks).  There are online communities which are popular on social media that are pro-anorexia and dedicated to controlling or losing weight (Mulliniks).  The images that these platforms are using blur the lines between healthy women and starving women.  These images are lowering women’s self-esteem, which drives them to intense methods like starving themselves.  “Erin VanEnkevort says that the ‘increasing use of social media sites combined with mass media messages heightens women comparing themselves to other women’” (Mulliniks).  “‘People are on Facebook or Instagram and they’re constantly comparing themselves to other people’, adds Dr. Swartz” (Mulliniks).

            Another problem social media causes, is that it starts trends which can threaten someone’s body image.  For instance, about three years ago, people were focused on the almost impossible, “thigh gap”.  “‘You have to be severely underweight for [the thighs] to separate, but that’s not the message that’s being perceived by teens’, says Angela Guarda” (Mascarelli).  Social media is a contributor that allows obsessions for a thigh gap or orthorexia to become extreme or harmful (Mascarelli).  “‘The issue of focusing on a particular body part is very common.  What is new, is that these things have taken on a life of their own because of the internet and social media’, says Claire Mysko” (Salter).

            Not only does social media lower women’s self-esteem, but general media does as well.  “Experts believe that exposure to online images of extreme beauty standards and the drive to compare, does increase the risk of eating disorders” (Salter).  Even if media images don’t contribute to the development of anorexia, many have said that it did increase the sufferer’s duration and strength of the illness (Marquand).  These images would make a smaller impact, but more and more people see the images on social media every day.  “‘Although mass media has been producing images of society’s idea of beauty for years, the increased use of social media allows users to compare themselves to their peers, not just celebrities of models’, says Dr. Swartz (Mulliniks).

            Local society also has an influence on anorexia.  “Stress factors, such as peer pressure, academic stress, and social norms where thin is considered more beautiful, are linked to the rise in eating disorders” (Teo).  “‘Women are getting messages of what our bodies have to look like when we’re in our 20’s.  Women feel out of control, not just of their lives, but their emotions’, says Berlin-Romalis” (Kirkey).  That body image that society sends out is nothing but negative, which doesn’t help someone with an already poor body image.

            “Body image concerns play a strong role in the causation and perpetuation of eating disorders, and therefore have to be addressed” (Teo).  If someone has no self-esteem and a bad idea of what their body has to look like, it only leads to negative thoughts.  Many people like this have obsessions with “body checking” (Mascarelli).  This means that they are frequently checking their appearance in a mirror.  These actions only reinforce dissatisfaction with themselves.

            Other influences like clothing brands play a big role in setting a negative body image as well.  Big brands publicly support a bad standard of beauty, which adds pressure to be thin (Mulliniks).  For instance, Urban Outfitters has produced graphic t-shirts with words like, “eat less” on them (Mulliniks).  Mike Jefferies, the CEO of Abercrombie, has even stated that they don’t sell extra-large sizes, because they don’t want larger people shopping in the stores (Mulliniks).  The fashion industry puts the most stress on being skinny.

            The glossy magazines that advertise “stick-figure” models have a disproportionate influence on people predisposed to developing the illness (Alexander).  Researchers have found that young women are trying to slim down to the unrealistic body image portrayed by the fashion industry (Knapton).  People, especially younger girls, see models are role models that they need to look like, but it just influences an eating disorder on them.  “Microsoft has completed research in Israel and the US that found a clear connection between the exposure of young people to overly-thin models and the development of [anorexia]” (Knapton).  Agencies also Photoshop models that are already thin to look even skinnier, and it praises thinness as a sign of beauty (Knapton).  Many of these models have anorexia themselves, so for young minds to see them publicized is extremely dangerous.

            “Dr. Veran has stated that, ‘agencies congratulate girls who lose weight and recommend taking laxatives’” (Knapton).  These models see weight loss as such a positive thing that they don’t see what it is really doing to their health.  The average runway model’s BMI is below 16, which is actually considered medically dangerous (Knapton).  France especially experiences these problems.  Some underweight models are even referred to as “Paris thin”, because of the weight problems that the fashion industry has in France (Knapton).  The image that France has created has caused about 30,000-40,000 people, who are mostly adolescents, to suffer from anorexia (Knapton).

            So, picture this.  That friend that was hospitalized because her anorexia grew out of hand didn’t end up feeling better.  After almost 12 years of treatment, she was given her nutrients from only a bag, because she wouldn’t eat.  She tried to be better, but it wasn’t working.  Everything that she dealt with caught up to her and she became severely depressed.  You tried to be there for her, but she felt so much shame that she refused many visitors.  Eventually, after those 12 years, she couldn’t take it anymore and snuck out of the hospital to jump off a building and end it.

            Anorexia controlled her life, and nobody could do much about it.  Anorexia is influenced by many things that some people overlook, but others obsess over.  Many of the things society says cause women to surrender to an eating disorder.  The fashion industry especially affects a girl’s body image negatively, and other influences contribute to it too.  We need to understand how serious these issues really are.  The ideas created by society, the fashion industry, and other influences are reasons why anorexia develops in many teenage girls.