Students unpack issues with eating disorder portrayals

Photo courtesy of Full House, Wikipedia

As a part of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, students gathered in the Women’s Center to discuss toxic portrayals surrounding eating disorders in the media. By talking about characters in books, movies and television shows, students uncovered problematic discrepancies between stereotyped media portrayals and everyday people who face these issues.

The Women Center’s Office Manager, Berly Rivera, led the discussion and group activity, in which students created a list of words and images associated with the phrase “eating disorders.”

“I wanted to explore this idea of what we talk about, and what we don’t talk about,” said Rivera.

The list drafted by the students revealed that the majority of characters portrayed in the media are typed as straight, white women. Out of all the popular movies that tell stories about eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia, there is very little diversity, considering characters are not typically male or any ethnicity other than Caucasian.

Popular television shows like “Full House” and “Degrassi” portray characters who battle eating disorders for short periods of time, usually over the course of an episode or two. The lack of depth in these characters’ situations exemplify how eating disorders are undeveloped in media generally targeted at youth and young adults. Characters like D.J. Tanner and Emma Nelson also represent that white female archetype.

Students also identified rare occasions where the media portrays eating disorders realistically. The intensely graphic movie “To the Bone” tells a story about a 20- year-old anorexic girl who undergoes a series of treatments with various therapists. A strikingly realistic aspect of this movie, is how it incorporates the male perspective of her peers, a point-of-view that is often left out of the conversation.

However, even though this movie includes some realistic elements, it is only relatable for a specific demographic. Once again, a white female character is ushered through many inpatient programs, but in reality, only wealthy upper class people could afford such therapy programs.

Many of the people in these therapy programs are characterized as either slim people who suffer from anorexia or overweight people who battle with bulimia. The media selectively depicts the extreme cases of eating disorders, and neglects those who fall in the middle of the spectrum.

Through student’s personal narratives, it was revealed that words like “fat” and “skinny” harbor so many meanings that their connotations vary from person to person. Students also shared their thoughts and habits involving self-love.

Freshman Mariella Zijdel concluded, “It’s so true that we are quick to encourage others, but we are ourselves’ worst critics.”

On Friday, March 2, the Women’s Center will join the Office of Equity and Diversity Programs and the Association of Latinos Moving Ahead to educate people about the unique challenges Latinx's face through eating disorders, and how the mainstream negative narrative surrounding eating disorders neglects their community.

To conclude National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, Active Minds and the Women’s Center will be hosting activities where students can write positive messages of self-love on Thursday and Friday between 12 and 2 p.m. in the Fishbowl.