Untangling the link between digital media and eating disorders.


Moving images come alive in the eyes of many young children who have grown up watching television. Many of them are captivated by fairy tales depicted in the animation styles of many media companies such as Pixar Animated Studios, Sony Pictures Animation or the remarkable Walt Disney Studio Animation.

They watch the heroes in their glory, depicted with lean, muscular bodies as they defeat the usually obese “hideous” villains. All, of course with the support of their love, the conventionally attractive damsel in distress.

Even dating back to the early 1920s, many easily influenced children, seen as villains in countless animated films and shows, were depicted as obese and glutinous, while the hero, usually a man, was depicted as thin and valid. While not all animated films fall into this category, it doesn’t bury the influence it had on society as we know it today, as it reinforces the idea that good should be portrayed as thin while evil should be portrayed as fat or obese. The way society understands concepts is the foundation of existing media that portray diverse groups of people. This has led to the idea that fat is an inherently bad characteristic, leading to unfair assumptions about a person’s character, such as claims that overweight people are “glutinous” or “lazy”.

Here are some examples of overweight or obese characters portrayed as villains: the Queen of Hearts (Alice in Wonderland), Ursula (The Little Mermaid), and Governor Ratcliffe (Pocahontas). Negative traits these characters are associated with include, but are not limited to: greed, gluttony, selfishness, anger, loudness, righteousness, and cruelty. Children are fed and taught these types of negative associations and stereotypes by the media they consume that hold the wrong portrayals.

In contrast to this, the media’s portrayal of what society deems ‘attractive’ can also affect and influence young people. With the appearance not only of female heroines on the screens of many children’s animated films depicting images of short stature and a slim figure, but also with the appearance of women who are airbrushed on the cover of magazines to hide flaws. It helps to encourage vulnerable young people to be dissatisfied with their life, their flaws, their body and their shape. This often leads to low self-esteem issues which can then turn into an eating disorder due to the media creating an unhealthy or even unrealistic image of beauty.

Horribly, it has been seen through various trends the encouragement of various eating disorders in the media. Many hashtags have been registered to be in various social media such as the infamous #thinspo or #thinspiration which is a hashtag that represents many photos of thin actors, models, celebrities or influencers with captions that glorify eating disorders. These posts are shared with the cruel intention of inspiring people to lose weight in unhealthy ways that easily lead to obsession causing various eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia.

Thinspiration blogs unfortunately date back to 2001, with Yahoo removing over a hundred websites that violated their policies because they were considered pro-anorexia.

In the distorted online world held by digital media, pro-anorexia is seen only as a way of life instead of a mental health issue, which, in turn, requires a diet compatible with means of their “way of life”.

Ads from the 90s discovered that there were diets encouraging women to swallow tapeworm pills that not only can create a blockage in the bile ducts, but can also develop dangerous physical symptoms associated with eating disorders. and also encourage behaviors such as excessive exercise, restrictive eating and purging.

Studies have shown that 35% of diets become obsessive and 20-25% of these diets turn into eating disorders. And with the misrepresentation of tall people in the media, the pro-anorexia community, and the general link between digital media and eating disorders; It’s easy to get caught up in the obsessive cycle of unhealthy diets, over-training, and an overall toxic mindset.

As the author of this article, I encourage you to diet safely and treat your body with love. Please seek help and advice from the following hotline if you suffer from mental health issues in the United Arab Emirates: (8004673)


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