On Monday, The Royal College of Psychiatrists called on the media to stop promoting unhealthy body images and glamorizing eating disorders. Recognizing that the media contributed to unhealthy body image and eating disorders, the group has asked for three changes:
1. More people with diverse body shapes represented by advertisers and in the press.
2. Putting an end to the use of underweight models.
3. The use of a kite mark scheme to alert readers when an image has been digitally manipulated or airbrushed.
According to Dr. Adrienne Key of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Eating Disorders Section, “There is a growing body of research that shows the media plays a part in the development of eating disorder symptoms – particularly in adolescents and young people.” Studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between how much exposure a female has to contemporary media and the frequency of eating disordered symptoms she experiences. One study in which women viewed slides of overweight, average, and thin models found that exposure to thin models resulted in lower self-esteem and decreased weight satisfaction. As bad as that statistic shows this situation is for adult women, children are even more vulnerable.
Up to half of the older elementary school girls read teen magazines at least occasionally and one quarter read them twice a week. Often, the girls will read these magazine to get ideas of how they “should” look. One study of eight to 11 year old girls found that they regularly compared themselves to fashion models and other media images and felt bad about the comparison.
In other cultures, outside of the United States, the rate of eating disorders has risen in direct correlation to the influx of American exports, such as television programs and feature films, which bring with them new concepts of beauty and femininity as well as Western clothing, which is geared towards the slimmer figures. For example, in Fiji, after being exposed to American television for only three years, Fijian teens who had never before been exposed to Western culture experienced significant changes in their attitudes and behaviors towards food and body image. In this culture where a comment like “you look fat today” was once considered a compliment, the standard of attractiveness has changed. As a result, the teen risk for eating disorders quickly doubled to 29 percent, while 15 percent of Fijian high school girls started vomiting for weight control (a five fold increase), 74 percent of Fijian teens said they felt “too big or too fat” at least some of the time, and 62 percent said they had dieted in the past month. The less time your children are spending exposed to media images the better off they will be.