Stigma, Eating Disorders, and the Media


A Scale.

A fashion magazine.

Body shaming.




Beauty at any size.

Size zero.

If you were to trace a line between each of these, bonding them together, what topic would likely arise?

One would argue that eating disorders personify each of these. And I won’t lie. They are a part of it. But the media, which often zooms in on these aspects, only present this very one sided view of eating disorders, which in reality are serious diseases with the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Focusing on one aspect is creating a stigma surrounding the illness and the person living with it. It’s time we set appearances aside. We all get it. It’s time to look beneath the surface and shed the stigma that eating disorders are caused by the media or thin celebrities, that they are illnesses of the vain or out of control. Eating disorders are perhaps one of the most misunderstood of any illness. Because we only know what we can see. And with eating disorders, that is weight, whether too high or low.

They are complex illnesses, and yes, they’re about the images we are inundated with and control, but also self-esteem and anxiety and environment and genetics. They cover many categories and can affect anyone.

Part of the issue, aside from the media, is that often sufferers do not understand their disease and present it merely as an effort to lose weight when in reality the eating disorder is in the mind and the body is the manifestation of symptoms. I know this because that was me. I used to think my anorexia was all about a number, but then I educated myself and saw my world open up.

Another issue that promotes stigma is how we advocate. We say these are serious illnesses, yet the majority of the education goes towards emphasizing society and thinness and neglects, at least to an extent, factors like genetics. We also zero in on the symptoms – the bingeing and purging, the restriction, and fail to reach further. That is, that it is our minds propelling us to act.

So throw away your thoughts on eating disorders that surround Hollywood and physical appearance. For we have long known thanks to the media that these are factors related to eating disorders. It is time to shine new light and fight the stigma of eating disorders as a desire to look like the hottest celebrity and take a more well-rounded approach. These are illnesses of the brain, just like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

There is more to us than meets the eye.



Charlie is a graduate student pursuing a degree in English and Creative Writing. When she is not doin05102012g coursework or writing, she enjoys hanging out with her husband and dog. She writes both fiction and nonfiction, in particular essays and novel-length works. She blogs daily on her site Decoding Bipolar, with a focus on education and incorporating positive changes in order to live fully while coping with mental illness.

You can follow Charlie on FacebookTwitter and her personal blog.


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