Eating Disorders In The Media Are Being Romanticized and Portrayed As ‘Beautiful’

Malvika Mahendhra, Staff Writer

Eating disorders have long suffered a stigma of not being represented accurately, leading individuals to feel alone and misunderstood. However, in recent years with the rise of social media and entertainment, these platforms have begun to glorify eating disorders. The media acknowledging the problem of eating disorders leads to positive awareness about topics like anorexia and bulimia. However, the representation of these disorders has the unintended consequence of mental illness being romanticized, which can exacerbate the stigma.  

The social media platform Tumblr was originally intended to be a site for reblogging art, photography, and writing. However, Tumblr has slowly morphed into a place where people, specifically young teenage girls, could reblog pictures of self-harm or eating disorders, quotes encouraging depression and suicide. According to The Atlantic, this culture breeds teenagers to believe this is a kind of ‘beautiful’ suffering. These platforms also create an environment where a user can feel trapped inside a depressive cycle, which can lead them to believe that help does not exist outside of Tumblr. Romanticization of disorders extends beyond mental illnesses as well. Several blogs, like Prettythin, glorify eating disorders like anorexia, to appear those suffering with these disorders to be considered ‘beautiful’.

This year, Netflix released a movie called To The Bone which was about a young girl, Ellen, played by Lily Collins. She is anorexic and is attending a facility that treats eating disorders. The movie immediately became popular, but critics were concerned by the movie’s portrayal of anorexia. According to the Guardian, the critic describes how the movie utilizes cliches by portraying those suffering with anorexia to be young, white, attractive women, when in reality anorexia affects a wider demographic. While the movie attempted at de-glamorizing eating disorders, the depiction of anorexia as thigh gaps and protruding bones does a poor job of displaying the whole truth of eating disorders. Those suffering with anorexia don’t experience ‘beautiful’ symptoms like thigh gaps and visible ribs, but rather symptoms like lanugo (a condition where hair grows all over the body during deep starvation). The film also took the stereotypical route of including a romantic interest for Ellen who plays a role in her recovery. By depicting an anorexic being romantically involved in her treatment, this sets an unintended conclusion that recovery is not self-discovered, but is rather credited to romantic partners. The media is an informative way to provide awareness to the public about the severity of eating disorders, but the romanticized, stereotyped portrayal of anorexia and the execution of the plot created a situation that continued to glorify symptoms of eating disorders to obtain the impression that recovery is dependent on others. While the intention of To The Bone is to teach youth the destructiveness of eating disorders on physical and mental health, the movie should reinforce the idea that eating disorders are not beautiful.

Anorexia along with any type of eating disorder should be represented in the media to bring awareness and to educate the public. However, with the power that the media yields misrepresentation can create unwarranted stigmas, glorification, and romanticization.