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What role do the media play in causing eating disorders?

Media influence is frequently blamed for breeding a normative discontent in relation to body image and this is often seen as being a causal factor in the development of eating disorders.

The causes of eating disorders are multiple and very complex. A whole range of factors combine to contribute to the development and maintenance of an eating disorder. However, two of the major risk factors for eating disorders are low self-esteem and dieting.

A culture which promotes obsession with appearance and which markets a particular body shape (thinness in women / leanness and muscularity in men) as desirable and as a means of achieving success and/or happiness can contribute to the erosion of self-esteem in vulnerable individuals. In this context, the constant promotion of dieting also can contribute to creating an unhealthy relationship with food and body. It is in the light of this that the media can be seen as playing a part in the development of eating disorders.

The effect of the media is to further undermine those individuals who are already vulnerable to developing an eating disorder; and to exacerbate and maintain eating disordered thinking where it is already established. This is why it is so important that the media take responsibility for what they report and recognise the potential impact of messages that have the capacity to undermine healthy self-image and self-esteem which are the cornerstones of mental well-being.