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Do the presentations of body images by the fashion industry and the media contribute to eating disorders?

Do the presentations of body images by the fashion industry and the media contribute to eating disorders?

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards (Ireland) Competition by Anne Marie McGill. Originally submitted for BSc Hons Consumer Studies DIS FT at University of Ulster, with lecturer Dr Amy Burns in the category of Social Studies
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards (Ireland) Competition by Anne Marie McGill. Originally submitted for BSc Hons Consumer Studies DIS FT at University of Ulster, with lecturer Dr Amy Burns in the category of Social Studies

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
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Do the presentations of body images by the fashion industry and the media contributeto eating disorders?
Eating disorders broadly describe any condition where food controls the eater. The collectivediagnosis refers to a group of illnesses where a person’s perception of their body shape andweight becomes distorted (Keynote, 2009a). There are three main forms of eating disorders;anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder.Anorexia nervosa is a condition marked by self starvation whereby sufferers severely restricttheir diet and feel extremely anxious about gaining weight, even when medically underweight(Matthews, 2009). Bulimia nervosa sufferers are also obsessed with the fear of gainingweight. There is a recurring pattern of binge eating, which may be followed by self-inducedvomiting. The use of laxatives, slimming pills or strenuous exercise to control weight canoften be practised by sufferers of bulimia nervosa (www.nutrition.org.uk , accessed 13October 2009). Binge eating disorder refers to a characteristic pattern of episodic overeatingwhich patients experience as being out of their control. Sufferers hold disparaging views of themselves and show a greater than normal concern with issues of weight and shape.Sufferers may describe their behavioural disturbance as comfort eating (Wilfley et al. 2000).Traditionally, diagnosis of eating disorders was most common among western females aged between 14 and 25 (Keynote, 2009a). In the last decade however, the prevalence of eatingdisorders has become rife among both males and females across the life cycle with sufferersranging from seven to seventy years of age (Camey, 2009).Eating disorders are now considered a global concern with incidence of such diseases on therise worldwide (Landro, 2004). It is estimated that over five million women suffer fromeating disorders in the United States and over one million women suffer from eating disordersin each of the following countries: France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Thailand and the UK (Attmann and Johnson, 2009). Eating disorders have the highest premature death rate of any psychiatric illness with anorexia nervosa claiming the life of one in every ten sufferers(Kasland, 2009). According to Kingsbury (2008), females between the age of fifteen andtwenty four are twelve times as likely to die from anorexia as any one other cause of death,thus indicating that eating disorders are of paramount concern.
There are many factors which contribute to the initiation and development of eating disordersranging from psychological and biological factors to interpersonal and social factors. Firstly, psychological factors include experiencing extreme low self esteem, depression, anxiety,anger or loneliness whereby an individual feels inadequate and believes that controlling foodintake allows them to gain control over their life. Secondly, biological factors relate to brainfunction and family genetic factors suggesting that some individuals are born with a chemicalimbalance in their brain and/or gene combination which results in a strong likelihood of developing an eating disorder later in life (www.nationaleatingdisorders, accessed 13 October 2009). Thirdly, interpersonal factors relate strongly to relationships between sufferers andtheir family or friends suggesting that poor relationships and critical comments about eating,weight and shape from these sources are associated with causing eating disorders (Bryson etal. 2006). In relation to this, childhood eating conflicts and struggles around meals increasesthe risk of developing anorexia nervosa later in life whilst eating too much during childhoodincreases the likelihood of developing bulimia nervosa (Fernandez et al. 2007). Similarly, parental eating patterns and the family relationship have tendencies to cause eating disordersin children later in life if the food environment is incorrectly regulated by the parent(s)(Edmunds and Hill 1999). Lastly, social factors relate to the glorification of thinness, narrowdefinitions of beauty and the valuation of people on the basis of physical appearance rather than inner qualities and strengths (www.nationaleatingdisorders, accessed 13 October 2009).The purpose of this review is to examine one of the factors considered to contributesignificantly to the rise of eating disorders, that of the presentation of body images by thefashion industry and the media.For the purpose of this review, the fashion industry refers to any channel through whichclothing and accessories for men, women and children is advertised or sold. The fashionindustry benefits from direct and hidden advertising, the former referring to modellingattempts made by fashion designers on the catwalk and within fashion retail outlets and thelatter referring to fashion supplements in the press and clothing programmes on the television(Keynote, 2009b). Media are used to convey a message to an audience and discussion of media within this review refers to print (newspapers and magazines) electronic (televisionand internet) out of home (billboards and transit advertising) and direct mail (advertisementsmailed directly to consumers). Media expenditure amounted to £56.7 million in the year ending March 2009 (Mintel, 2009).
There has been a significant increase in the number of reported eating disorders over the lastfifty years, with diagnosis rates among females aged between ten and forty tripling between1988 and 1993 (www.sc.edu.co.uk, accessed 13 October 2009). Harrison and Cantor (1997)identified a strong correlation between these increasing rates and the media representations of women over the course of the same time span indicating that female body images presented by the media replaced the traditional hour glass female shape with linear body images.There is a spiralling trend within the fashion industry for certain models to appear emaciated,resembling (in the terminology favoured by some designers) mere human clothes hangers.“Narcissism of small differences” is the phrase used to describe how some models within thefashion industry strive for marginal improvements, pushing themselves to further bodyextremes to attain their idea of perfection and to stand out in a competitive industry (Finnerty,2006). Research by Meyers and Biocca, (1992) revealed that watching thirty minutes of television can significantly alter a woman’s perception of the shape of her body. Consideringthat the average length of television viewed by females is fifteen hours per week and 88% of females purchase a female or celebrity magazine at least once a month, (Keynote, 2009c) it isapparent that society is hugely exposed to these ultra thin body images.Body images targeted at female fashion consumers have been recognised as being highlyunrealistic, yet women, rather than detach themselves from such images, feel anoverwhelming need to replicate them. In replicating such images, women often adoptunhealthy eating behaviours such as fasting and extreme dieting, symptoms which can lead tothe development of eating disorders. This process is reflected by a female eating disorder sufferer when she expressed her feelings in a study conducted by Pavekh and Schmidt,(2003) stating:“I want to look like the images I view in Vogue magazine, they are the main reasonfor my eating disorder. The images make me feel that my whole life is going to be better when I look like them. When I shop for clothes everything makes me look fat.If I can fit into the smallest size in a particular brand, I’ll buy it.”(Female, age 20)

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