Eating disorders; Anorexia

Theme: Eating disorders; Anorexia

Topic: Contemporary effects of the mass media on eating habits that lead to anorexia

Thesis: How and why the mass media has become a mediating structure between college students and their bodies by sending powerful messages that ‘thinness’ is the ideal body image for every American woman. A combination of ubiquitous messages for eating habits and beauty in the mass media, especially through advertising has led to uncertainty and body image dissatisfaction amongst many college women in the United States.   

Purpose: To examine the framework of causality of culturally-inflicted manifestations in regards to eating habits and body image disorders among college women and, in particular, to examine what role the mass media through advertising has played in promoting the concept of an ideal female body, and how it has impacted the mental and physical health of these women.

Research strategy: This analysis will be based on two scholarly journal articles that discuss how the mass media impacts women’s thinking about their body image. I will also conduct a content analysis of a popular female’s magazine, Internet and other media that encourage women to don the ideal body image to highlight the gravity of this problem. The above will be supported by several psychological and medical results about anorexia.


As Curry and Ray (364) vividly put it, anorexia is main and growing problem that affects millions of American women. Anorexia nervosa is a condition that is characterized by the sufferer’s refusal to maintain a normal body weight. As a result, sufferers end up possessing distorted body image, due to their intense fear of gaining the body weight. The statistics regarding this problem are worrying. According to (Groesz et al 12), 91 percent of women surveyed on college campuses across America conceded that they had tried to control their weight through dieting. On the same note, 25 percent of those surveyed conceded that they had been involved in purging and binging as a weight management technique. In a survey of 200 females in college campuses, 58 percent felt the pressure to don certain body images and weights and a main part of people resorted to dieting, as well as using unhealthy weight control behaviors, such as taking laxatives, fasting, skipping meals and vomiting (Vandereycken 116). The most unfortunate thing is that the mass media is to blame for these behaviors, because American college students are arguably the biggest consumers of mass media content.

Correlating Studies between Media and Its Influence on Women Body Image

It has become apparent that the mass media promotes and advertises a quite unhealthy tendency of extreme dieting and other unhealthy eating behaviors to the most gullible group of women, female college students. In fact, the negative impact that mass media has on minds, hearts and bodies of these young women has become a gospel to many people. Most media sources place images of skinny and emancipated females on their covers. By doing so, they end up influencing the subconscious mind of the naïve college student who wants to don the stereotyped image of the typical American woman (Vandereycken 120). These women unknowingly spend their money trying to achieve this unattainable fete they regularly see in the media advertising. Women of all ages, but especially youthful women, watch movies, TV, read magazines, surf tInternet and other media products that are filled with images of bodies.

Groesz et al (16) asserts that as compared to community controls, the main part of young women with anorexia nervosa are more likely to report that advertisements in newspapers and magazines have influenced their body image, their endorsement of slender beauty ideal and their eating habits. Analysts of media content contend that television programs, web content, films and magazines persistently, overtly and frequently glorify the strict weight management and slenderness, and vilify being fat as being ugly, unhealthy and immoral. These omnipresent depictions of the ideal slender image are unattainable, but electronic and print media blur boundaries between reality and a fictionalized ideal (Berger 109). Therefore, college students who are soliciting for guidance on how to become a real American woman easily extract thinness schemas from the mass media.

The Association of the Impacts of Mass Media and the Westernization of the Ideal Body According to Gender

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It is apparent that socio-cultural factors affect female and male teenagers and youth differently. While exposure to muscular ideals is significantly associated with males, females have reported to prefer thinner bodies (Groesz 11). Numerous researches have used weight as a dissatisfaction indicator for women. As a matter of fact, the ideal body weight for a typical American woman has been decreasing progressively over past three decades. This trend is clear in cinemas and television programs, which encourage thinness as a social norm for women. Images that are transmitted by the mass media tend to reinforce dominant cultural ideologies and reject representations that question these stereotypes. A CBS news report indicates that as a result of numerous advertisements that appear in different mass media, weight loss programs, diet pills, and a myriad of weight control diets have become so in America to extent of its citizens spending a staggering $35 billion annually on these products (Vandereycken 122). Unfortunately, the main part of these products that are quite expensive do not yield the expected results. As a result, would be beneficiaries become desperate and end up engaging in unhealthy eating habits that lead to disorders, like anorexia nervosa.   

Johnson (13) shows that most of the stereotyped body messages often elicit discriminatory dynamics regarding the ideal body image, and end up conveying false ideas on how to attain these ideal images through processes of body transformation that trigger unhealthy behaviors. These messages, which are transmitted through advertisements, associate an ideal body for a woman with youthfulness and thinness. The reemphasis of these ideals have created the false notion that an ideal body image for a woman is immutable and static, resulting in a selection of certain body shapes and invisibility and exclusion of others. This leads, as aforementioned to a homogenization of an ideal body by gender. Johnson (12) condemns women’s magazines for sending confusing messages to women. He notes that in the Vogue magazine, many articles and images are about exercising and dieting, leading women towards thinness.   The sad thing is that college women are faced with these contradictions every day. 

Anorexia and Internet

There’s no denying the fact that Internet is not only the most preferred, but also the most prevalent mass medium amongst college students, in this case, female students. As Curry and Ray (359) discuss, not only does this media form encourage women to engage in this not balanced eating habit, but also provides socially ostracized, isolated and stigmatized people with a platform on which they can connect with others of their kind. Due to its isolating nature, Internet contributes immensely to the cultural falseness that is characterized with gullible women. Sufferers of anorexia are particular attracted to misleading support groups that encourage anorexic behaviors, because they give members a sense of belonging. Often referred to as pro-ana, these groups encourage their members to embrace the sense and pride of identity associated with their condition. Anorexic individuals are joining such online support groups, because they supposedly receive support, comfort and partners who engage in mutual fasting, encouragement, unconditional understanding and accountability provision (Curry & Ray 363).

Internet also provides anorectic women with an arena where most honest revelations can be heard without harsh or critical judgment.  As Curry and Ray (364) concede, Internet leads to artificial relationships and interpersonal isolation. Isolation results from the need by the individual suffering from anorexia to be dishonest or hide her condition from friends and family. This is aimed at protecting their secrets regarding their condition and avoiding consequences or sanctions, such as negative attention and hospitalization that might ensure after being discovered. As it can be seen, this behavior encourages the artificial recreational and isolation nature of Internet and prevents the anorexia sufferer from engaging in genuine and honest communication with those who can help. It is imperative to understand that the aftermath of such behavior is not acceptable to concerned parties.

Citing Noris et al Curry and Ray (362) reveal that most of pro-anorexia websites are quite secretive, because they give disclaimers that discourage non-anorexic individuals from visiting their websites. This serves a distinct purpose of literally keeping off people that might monitor and expose their activities.

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Theoretical Explanations for Development of Anorexia

The development of this eating disorder and its relationship to the consumption of media content can be explained using the Albert Bandura’s social cognitive theory. According to Bandura, people learn by observing behaviors of other people and also by observing outcomes of these behaviors (Groesz 15). In regards to anorexia, women tend to observe behaviors of their preferred female celebrities, as depicted in various mass media. In most cases, these celebrities are underweight and are considered attractive by the American culture. In the end, dieting behaviors of college women are vicariously enforced every time they see celebrities being praised for donning enhanced body images or being underweight. Many times, college students who had previously being living normal lives embrace extreme diets that may last for three days or more, because they have been led to believe that if they look like these celebrities, they will end up gaining popularity and be well-liked (Vandereycken 123).    


To sum up, the discourse has highlighted the fact that the mass media does impact the mental and physical healthy of college students of the female gender in a negative way.  This indicates that thinness has been embraced as the cultural standard of attractiveness for American women. Therefore, the only way of stopping these adverse effects from the mass media is to teach women not to judge themselves to the women in covers of newspapers and magazine and set beauty standards by beauty products manufacturers. On the contrary, they should shun these depictions and live healthy lifestyles by believing in their internal beauty through improving their self-confidence and self-esteem. Experts who study the cause of anorexia have established that the accumulation of this set of messages and ideal body images have led a different way of thinking regarding women’s body appearance known as the “thinness schema.” This thinness schema means that most women in American colleges identify and agree with assertions that beauty is the key project of a woman’s life, and that successful women can and must control themselves through rigorous exercise fashion, and dieting to conform to the revered lean look.

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