This Picture Can Seriously Damage Your Health
Let me spell it out…
It is all very well and good, impressive even that many publications and broadcasters are willing to cover and attempt to tackle the tricky world of Eating Disorders. I don’t doubt for a second that there are hearts that are in the right place and that people do want to raise awareness and be seen to be doing something positive.
Any exposure is good, or so I’m told. But that is where people, including ‘the media’ are so, so wrong.
Feigning sensitivity will never be enough to cover up for a lack of research; not of the subject, but of how to report the subject.
Every magazine, tabloid and television programme that tells ‘Real Life’ stories is guilty of the above. Eating Disorders, namely Anorexia, occassionally Bulimia and always obesity (although it is rarely described as an Eating Disorder) come up over and over again. But where is the story? It’s usually hidden beneath headlines containing shocking lowest weights, highest weights, extreme amounts of consumption or restriction and always, always the picture.
The picture is everything. The editor will not take a story unless there is a picture that will provoke a sharp intake of breath. An interviewee will be useless unless they provide researchers with a handful of snapshots of them standing around, vulnerable in their sagging underwear with bones sticking out and a sad excuse for tits.
I don’t care how well thought out the interview is, how sensitively the questions are asked or how well researched the facts and figures are: if those pictures continue to be the ticket to be able to have that platform to spread awareness about Eating Disorders, it clearly shows one of two things. 1) They have seen warnings and read guidance about how to report on Eating Disorders in a responsible and effective way, or 2) They need to look harder.
It may sound over the top, a little excessive perhaps, but this year, the UK’s leading Eating Disorder charity B-eat published the results of a study on the effects of images used in the media to depict Eating Disorders. It spoke volumes.
- 86% felt real life images portrayed in the media were damaging
- 60% have found media images to adversely impact on their self esteem
- 70% have had their body image affected
- 47% say media images have prevented their recovery
B-eat’s Chief Executive Susan Ringwood said: “We are increasingly aware that the use of these images can be distressing and unhelpful to those struggling to beat their eating disorder. They perpetuate the mistaken view that eating disorders are only about extreme thinness and would call upon editors to act responsibly when reporting these issues”.
The charity were not having a dig at the media, and neither am I. We both could easily dismiss the way the media deals with Eating Disorders and tell people who are vulnerable to triggering images to simply ignore what they see. But no. A huge amount of time and money went into producing a comprehensive set of media guidelines.
“beat is particularly concerned about the typical use of images of severely emaciated bodies to routinely portray
eating disorders in print and broadcast media. People interviewed for their life stories also frequently feel under
pressure to supply pictures of themselves at their lowest weight in order to show how ill they were.
Our view is that such pictures do not help build a positive understanding of eating disorders in the general
public – not least because they perpetuate the mistaken view that eating disorders are only about extreme
If you are of the opinion that these images can only be damaging to people who do or have suffered from Anorexia, think again.
You cannot spot an Eating Disorder. You do not have to be a 5 stone skeleton to be Anorexic. You do not have live off yoghurt alone to be Anorexic. You do not even have to appear thin to be Anorexic or Bulimic or have any other Eating Disorder for that matter. A picture explains nothing. A picture does not contain the misery, the desperation, the frustration, the sadness, the depression, the confusion, the worthlessness…
The argument is of course that ‘they’ want to show just how awful this illness is and how devastating it is, how it ravages the body. Bullshit. That is not a reason, it is an excuse. I know because I have worked in television and in print. I have been interviewed and done the interviews. I have written to the magazines that publish these stories, asking them to tell mine. The same with television.
They use the images to shock, to entertain and sickeningly, to make money.
They need to begin to realise just how damaging this can be. I almost expect it of the likes of Closer magazine, Love It and Take a Break, but I was hoping that broadcasters may by now have read and taken heed of B-eat’s guidelines.
This Morning today proved me wrong.
Dear Editors, Producers, Directors, Reporters, Journalists and Researchers,
If you have a decent bone in your body, please READ
Thank you.Tagged in: anorexia, bulimia, itv, media, obesity, this morning, weight
Recent Posts on Health
- Christian GPs and the morning after pill: Much needed clarification
- Justin Webb on the medical advances in tackling heart disease
- Dementia Awareness Week: Should we keep an open mind to spiritual solutions?
- Hearing loss: An invisible impairment and a preventable disability
- Secondary Breast Cancer: Good news but feeling blue
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter