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Media Portrayal of Eating Disorders

While I recognize that social media has given rise to many important and positive strides in the global economy—and I'm not here to condemn it—sometimes I wonder, is there a correlation between social media and eating disorders? As a disclaimer, first I will concede that I use social media, so I am aware it has benefits. My husband has built a career in social media marketing. I communicate with one of my closest friends, who lives in London, on Facebook. I have made all sorts of personal and professional connections on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. So the purpose of this article is not to demonize social media or critique those who are active on these networks, but to examine if there might be a correlation between social media and eating disorders in this hyper-connected world. 
The mainstream culture needs more advocates for eating disorder awareness—and as someone in pursuit of healing for your own life, you could become an advocate.
Most mainstream eating disorder films offer stereotypical representations of people with eating disorders. It’s important for our storytellers to start offering honest and responsible portrayals of eating disorders that speak to a wider spectrum of people.
Last week, I came across the idea of "thin privilege," a term I had been unfamiliar with up to that point, and as I researched this concept, I was forced to confront the role of thin privilege in eating disorder treatment—my own experience included. Thin privilege is a systemic ease and entitlement in which people with smaller bodies tend to move through society. More opportunities and advantages are often afforded to people who look the way mainstream culture has deemed acceptable or ideal. In terms of the eating disorder population, those who mirror the stereotype of "emaciated" are more likely to have their illnesses treated with serious concern and validation than people whose bodies do not reflect this arbitrary mold. But if eating disorder recovery is to be made accessible for all those who suffer—not based on outward size or shape—then it's time to address the role of thin privilege in eating disorder treatment.   
Some men play a role in causing eating disorders in women. When I first began to experiment with the behaviors that would morph into a severe battle with anorexia, my 15-year-old self had no idea I was about to be complicit in a systemic intersection between eating disorders and the patriarchy. Even as a teenager, I admired the ethos of feminism—I was drawn to independent, fierce, opinionated women, and I sought to become one myself. But I also harbored a secret, a paradox that challenged the same feminism I tried to be part of. I was determined to curate a body that mirrored cultural standards of beauty which had been impressed on females like me from the time I could remember. So with each calorie I restricted or meal I avoided, I reaffirmed the subtle power of gender inequality. I was not aware of this back then, but since I am now, I want to explore that men can play a role in causing eating disorders in women.
As if this illness was not destructive enough already, a harrowing trend has developed in recent years, whereby the presence of eating disorders in young children has become more and more rampant. In fact, the number of children under the age of 12 who exhibit symptoms of an eating disorder has risen to the extent that anorexia and bulimia are now more common pediatric illnesses than type-2 diabetes. This is an alarming data point and combined with the reality that eating disorders are often undiagnosed or inadequately treated, this leaves many children at an increased risk for complications in both their physical growth and mental health as they become older. For this reason, it is crucial to understand how to identify the presence of eating disorders in young children, then to seek prompt and thorough intervention for them. 
When was the last time any of us heard someone talk about a connection between men and eating disorders? My hunch is, not recently. And that's because this segment of the eating disorder population is rarely discussed. A common assumption is that eating disorders only affect women and girls, but this eating disorder stereotype is harmful—sometimes even lethal—to the estimated 10 million boys and men who suffer from this illness in the United States. Due to a lack of awareness about eating disorders as nondiscriminatory between genders, men often feel amplified shame around their struggle which can deter them from seeking out resources, treatment, and a healing community. So as a culture, we need to break this harmful stigma. We need to talk vulnerably and honestly about men and eating disorders.
In the midst of my recovery process from anorexia and all the associated behaviors that came with it, I have often asked myself this recurring question: is there a connection between puberty and eating disorders? While I cannot speak for every person who has suffered from an eating disorder, on the basis of my own narrative, these two experiences are linked, and there are several reasons for this.
We need to debunk eating disorder myths because, despite their jarring prevalence in modern society, eating disorders are often misunderstood by people who have not experienced them firsthand. Because of this limited consideration and knowledge, common myths about eating disorders have emerged that need to be debunked.
If you have access to the Internet, then chances are, you're aware of the popular "fitspiration" trend, but have you considered—or worse, experienced—its influence on the spread of eating disorders? For several years, fitspiration has been gaining traction and momentum on social media. Self-appointed wellness experts are using the buzzword as a hashtag for their Instagram posts. Fitness-themed Pinterest boards are cluttered with images of men and women exercising their toned physiques, overlaid with mantras like, "Strong is the new skinny." Upon first glance, these phrases seem innocuous—progressive shifts toward strength over thinness. But the truth is, fitspiration can influence eating disorder behaviors, so it's important to examine the subliminal messages beneath the motivational words and snapshots.
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