An apathy towards body image

Official figures were published today by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) that reported a 16% rise in hospital admissions for eating disorders in England, from 2011-2012. Out of the 2290 admissions in the 12 month period, the vast majority of cases were linked to anorexia nervosa. Shockingly, the report highlighted that a tenth of all admissions were just 15 years of age.  Additionally, in January of this year, a new eating disorder unit was opened at St Johns Hospital in Livingston, Scotland in order to keep up with the ever-increasing demand for in patient care. 

The media coverage regarding the surge in eating disorders over the past few years has been over whelming, so why the do the numbers of those affected keep rising? And yes, there has been many a blog screaming about the role of the media and how it is portraying an image of what people ought to and should look like, to the point where readers nation wide now feel a general sense of apathy towards the subject, but hear me out.

I travel to university everyday, and so have gotten in to the habit of picking up a few magazines to read on the journey. These magazines tend to be of the showbiz gossip variety, that many women read. In one of the magazines, I found myself reading the problem pages. The main letter described how a woman was worried about her daughter and her peculiar eating habits; such as the hiding of food and her daily absence at the family dinner table. All this concluded in how the woman had noticed a slight weight drop in her daughter, and was questioning the magazines agony aunt whether to seek medical advice or not. The agony aunt responded to the letter, remarking how any sign of an eating disorder must be treated with the utmost urgency, due to the rise in young girls with eating disorders, it was best not to leave things to chance. Overall, good, sensible advice.

I then progressed through the fashion pages, not giving much thought to what I had just read, and then, I realised. About six pages after the  agony aunts page, the magazine had published what was meant to be a ‘funny’ feature piece. It was titled; “What if they were fat?” Yes, seriously. The feature boasted around ten current celebrities, from actors to models, and had coupled them with other celebrities, their supposed ‘fat’ lookalikes. In one magazine, within just several pages, the dangers of eating disorders had been highlighted, only to be undermined by what could only be described as degrading, distasteful feature piece.

Sickened by this, I binned the magazine and swore never to buy it again. With this still fresh on my mind, I boarded my usual bus to university  only to be distracted by a large group of teen girls laughing. As I looked up from my seat, I realised they were crowded round a magazine, the very one I had just thrown away.

The number of patients admitted to hospital due to eating disorders is rising. The apathy the media have created towards this subject has not only hindered the message of a healthy lifestyle being transmitted, but also enabled itself to continue to mock and discriminate anyone who is not what they assume to be ‘beautiful.’ Technology is forever expanding, and with this the media and its content is much more accessible to younger audiences, whose minds can be easily shaped and influenced by what they read.  This younger audience is our future, and what are we teaching them? That to be beautiful you must do the new slim fast diet? You must wear a particular size of clothing? The average size of a woman in the UK is a size 14, so why is this not made clear by the media we buy into?

An eating disorder is a mental illness. Although we cannot see it, or put a plaster on it, it is as real as a broken leg and we cannot forget that. We need to take responsibility for our media and the messages that it promotes in order to create a more balanced and honest view of society, on which younger generations can safely and easily base themselves upon.

Meghan McCormack

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