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Where does the thin ideal for women come from?
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Author:  jo [ Tue Apr 26, 2011 8:05 am ]
Post subject:  Where does the thin ideal for women come from?

I am writing a dissertation on the effects of thin media images on women's self-esteem and whether there is or isnt a link to the rise in eating disorder cases.
I would be really grateful for any comments and viewpoints you guys may have on this. I will keep your usernames anonymous in my dissertation :) Thank you!

Author:  abster [ Tue Apr 26, 2011 9:58 am ]
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hey jo,

all the the British magazines i read always feature stupidly thin models in the fashion pages, to me that suggest that these women are role models for for many young women. by looking at some of the adverts it seems very unatural for women to aspire to be like this as it doesnt look healthy they just look ill. by looking at the images in magazines it makes me feel fat, as the models portray the image of how women look in the media world and im never going to look like that. i think models in these magazines should portray curvier and healther women that would make reader feel good about themselves and that everyone is normal

hope this helps with the dissertation and good luck

Author:  kitkat [ Tue Apr 26, 2011 10:36 am ]
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Hi Abster! :wbb: We'd love to get to know you better, how about posting an introduction post?

For me, I've never felt the media had any sort of causal correlation to my eating disorder. Did the media encourage it? Maybe. But not in the juvenile, simplistic way that seems to be the fashionable "answer" to eating disorders. The media didn't effect my self esteem. It normalized my ideal, made it harder for people to spot that maybe I had a problem, but I would have hated myself regardless of what models were in the magazines. If anything it made me feel less like a freak since it seemed that I should want to be thin, like that was a completely rational desire, and according to media portrayal, other people thought thinness would bring happiness too.

EDIT: Exposure to media sources was very limited in my household when I was a child. I developed disordered eating at age 4 and an eating disorder was diagnosed when I was 9. I don't feel the media had an influence on me at such a young age.

Author:  violetcrumble_99 [ Tue Apr 26, 2011 11:25 am ]
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kitkat wrote:
For me, I've never felt the media had any sort of causal correlation to my eating disorder. Did the media encourage it? Maybe. But not in the juvenile, simplistic way that seems to be the fashionable "answer" to eating disorders. The media didn't effect my self esteem.

Ooh, I thoroughly concur. :D I like you for pointing this out! :) I remember reading an article that stated girls develop eating disorders because they "try to copy skinny models". Expressed as plainly and simplistically as that. YES, DEFINITELY. We're mindless victims, so allured by the images of underweight strangers that we see in the media that we have little choice but to follow them like sheep. :roll:

Kitkat you are oh-so correct in describing the assumption that seeing thin media image --> eating disorder as juvenile. Ah it annoys me a bit. (This is in no way a criticism of your dissertation, jo, because it is such a rife assumption and it is good of you to examine it critically and perhaps challenge it.)

Indeed, I am but one example of an 'eating disordered individual' (or to express it so as to emphasise my power and autonomy first and foremost, an 'individual with an eating disorder')... but for what it is worth, I can tell you that I for one have had (almost) no exposure to the media-portrayed image of the ideal female body.

I never watch television. I do not read fashion magazines. Books are better. ;) It could be argued that the aforementioned image of the ideal female body is nevertheless present in advertisements and other sources, thus infiltrating my mind on a subconscious level... but for the most part, I have lived my life uninfluenced by media images and do not believe I am so impressionable as to take note of them to such an extent that it would impact upon my own thought processes enough to propagate an eating disorder.

However, 'thin media images' (though rarely, if ever, the primary cause of one's eating disorder) may act as a contributing or perpetuating factor in some cases.
- This may be a more prominent trend in 'pro-ana' (pro-anorexia) communities, where it is common to collect images of thin persons as 'thinspiration'. :(
- Not speaking from personal experience and instead making assumptions about the broader population... I imagine there would be some girls who are very taken with magazines and films and popular culture. Naturally, those who read fashion magazines as a recreational activity would be more greatly influenced by the images they contain. It is human nature (and a common trait amongst those with eating disorders) to compare and contrast your own characteristics (physical in this case) with those of others. And if you don't measure up, well... that takes a toll on the self esteem, gradually erodes it away if the individual is already vulnerable.
I recall a study that women reported a declining sense of self-worth upon looking at fashion magazines for mere minutes.
- A minor percentage of the eating disordered population may be directly involved in the modelling industry/the film industry/the theatre, the birthplace of these 'media images' if you like... the pressure to conform would of course be greater, and that accounts for why there are increased levels of E.D.s amongst those who participate in modelling or other activities where the ideal appearance is encouraged.

Just quickly (because I'm aware this is getting long and rambling, sorry :P)...
If anything, what I find vastly more triggering in the media is not the thin images, but the incessant black-and-white 'health' promotion information. Carbs-are-the-enemy-don't-eat-fat-sugar-is-poison-avoid-artifical-foods-eat-more-veggies-lose-weight-omg-the-childhood-obesity-epidemic-is-coming-to-get-is(!!!)-blah-blah-blah.
If you'll excuse the generalisation, those with anorexia are commonly conscientious, disciplined, all too eager to improve themselves. The 'health' promotion propaganda (though admittedly important in a population increasingly plagued by lifestyle related illnesses) can be dangerous in our hands.
It can guilt trip us.
(sorry about the tangent).

Author:  Spender [ Tue Apr 26, 2011 11:45 am ]
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You might find some interesting thoughts if you look at the role of women and militarism. During WWII, women had to take on jobs vacated by men who had been conscripted and sent off to war. Rosie the Riveter is the prototype image of women during that period: strong, proud and capable. When men returned from war, however, there was a very conscious socio-political strategy to move women out of "men's jobs" and back into the home. Part of that involved the changing imagery of women, reaching its peak in the 1960's with Twiggy. And yes, certainly both the media and the fashion industries were major components of that strategy; suddenly it became fashionable to be thin. Because we are not all born to be thin, the campaign became a war, and yes, certainly, some women responded to the pressure by developing eating disorders. But remember, media imagery of women is only ever the trigger, not the gun. Increasing amounts of research indicate a biological cause to eating disorders which can be precipitated by any number of events in a person's life. The media and fashion industries are pervasive backdrops to someone looking for a coping mechanism to manage stress or trauma in their lives.

Having said that, obviously they are not influential in every case: I developed disordered eating at 5 and was hospitalised for 3 months for anorexia at 6. I lived in a house where TV was extremely limited and no magazines.

Author:  Becky [ Tue Apr 26, 2011 11:57 am ]
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^Agreed. You know that saying "Genetics are the gun, society loads the gun, and trauma pulls the trigger?" That being said, I could blame the media for my ED, I could blame the kids at school for being arses, but in the end, it was going to happen anyway because two women in my family had already had it and there's a very good chance that I could have a child with it as well. Thus, I began purging at the age of 6 and did it regularly at 9.

That being said, I do remember reading somewhere about a 1993-94 study in Fiji in which they exposed the natives to television and westernized ideas of beauty. Wheras a lot of the Polynesian people were very large and happy to be so, after being exposed to such images, many of them did indeed try starving themselves.

This is actually very good stuff since I'm writing an English paper on the correlation between eating disorders and the media.

Author:  Spender [ Tue Apr 26, 2011 12:03 pm ]
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Oh yeah, Becky just reminded me, there has been a lot of media coverage lately about the spread of the thinness ideal from the western world to societies which previously revered full bodied women. Here is one article, which you could use to search the sources, and compare with the incidence of eating disorders in those societies:


Author:  eeka [ Tue Apr 26, 2011 3:35 pm ]
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In my case, I agree to an extent with the ideas in Becky's proverb.
I think the media's effect on me was to make me focus on my weight as being the source of my unhappiness, and see the side-effect (as it were) of weightloss being somehow far better than the effects of, for example, SI.
I distinctly remember thinking, at one point; (whited out because it describes 'motivations' for ED-behaviour) "what's happening at the moment could almost be like an eating disorder, whoa!....but that means you get to express how you're feeling, and lose weight - something you've wanted to do."
I think I've always been quite impressionable, and had always felt like a bit on an outsider (who hasn't) - supposed 'glamour' was made to seem even more attractive.
Again coming back to that proverb, I've always attributed the start of the ED to a bad experience I had of a foreign exchange fortnight - the so-called 'trauma' in this case, I guess. But looking back, I had been engaging in behaviours beforehand, and the trip merely gave me the distance from my parents which enabled me to engage in behaviours without my family noticing. I had long had that desire to lose weight, it was just the enabler.

So yes, I do partly blame the media portrayal of very thin as attractive.

Author:  LWap [ Tue Apr 26, 2011 11:41 pm ]
Post subject: 

I also feel that there is no clear casual relationship between the media and my eating disorder. I'm in the "genetics, society, trauma" camp as well. I was genetically predisposed for metabolic disorders/mental illness, grew up surrounded by eating disorders, disordered eating and people with body image issues, and then experienced the trauma to set off my own mental illness/eating disorder.

I do believe that the media contributed to my distorted body image. Once I reached a certain size, I could no longer see a range of body shapes and sizes. I could see model thin, fat, and very fat. Thankfully, I no longer view bodies in that extremely distorted way. In fact, I can see how unhealthy and unhappy many of those models look. But it does make things easier when healthy eating, body acceptance and lifestyles are being normalized in the media.

And while I don't believe that there is a direct relationship between my own eating disorder and the media, I think nearly everyone who has responded has touched upon the media's preoccupation with food and thinness in some way or another. We are constantly being bombarded with advertising whether be for food, fitness and weight loss or fashion much of which promotes unattainable beauty standards. Post industrial culture at large fosters an unhealthy relationship with food and the body but exclusively blaming the media is a cop out.

Author:  jo [ Tue May 03, 2011 3:37 pm ]
Post subject: 

Hey guys! Just wanted to thank everyone who posted its been really helpful :) all the best, jo

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