Blogoff: Magazines; Friend or Foe?
This is a topic very close to my heart and so I wanted to post a blog. I am sharing this as magazines did play their part in my eating disorder journey and by making some small changes I was able to overcome some detrimental habits and allow my positive body image to grow.
To what extent do magazines play a part in eating disorders?
As each and every person is different this will vary on a scale of having no impact at all to a very damaging impact. Don’t get me wrong I am in no way suggesting the magazines we all know and ‘love’ are the cause of eating disorders but I do feel that they are a huge driving force fuelling already existing eating disorders and can help body image issues to begin and grow.
Firstly lets look at the content of a magazine. I did a little experiment for this blog by taking a woman’s magazine, I had a flick through making a note of the topics, stories, articles and photos that I found. Although I am not going to name the magazine it was interesting to see just how focused magazines have become on the ‘body’. Every other page seemed to contain materials that will be considered detrimental to someone with an eating disorder. From looking at this one magazine it seemed to demonstrate the content that most magazines advertise:
- Advertisements promoting ‘nutritional’ supplements, claiming that they can be taken to speed up metabolism, used as a meal replacement with guaranteed fat loss fast. Many of these are supported by photos of people who have clearly spent the past year in the gym every day! This is false advertising and not to mention would look very appealing to someone wanting to lose weight fast in the grips of an eating disorder.
- Promoting diets that are designed to drop a dress size in a week, lose half a stone in 3 days and again show images of people who are not ‘healthy’ not real people. These diets are not supported by any real evidence or studies. They often limit you to a small group of foods which is very restrictive, restriction being the key element of an eating disorder (alarm bells)
- Diet plans that eliminate whole food groups such as carbs or fats. There is no ‘true’ information educating people as to why carbs are vital to a healthy diet. These magazines just see them as ‘bad’ and so try to put a blanket ban on them. Again from an eating disorder perspective this is body destroying and unhealthy for the general population, not just those with eating disorders. It is encouraging people to eat in a restricted way which either encourages the eating disorder behaviour to continue or allow new ‘rules and restrictions’ to develop.
- Shows fast weight loss that is not healthy or sustainable
- Advertisements for beauty products and clothes often portray models who are not a healthy weight, many are extremely thin, by doing this they are saying that their products are aimed at this group of people, they are promoting beauty and thinness.
- Many images in these magazines have been photoshopped and airbrushed. Most people in magazines look ‘perfect’ and flawless – which is completely fake.
- Stories about celeb weight loss and gain. Stories of concerned friends of celebrities who have lost weight too quickly because they are ‘hardly eating’ or eating certain things or exercising too much. The journalists ‘guess’ at what these celebrities are doing to lose weight or what they are eating. Very rarely is this accurate, they are just assuming. Without realising that people with eating disorders will be reading these articles and using them as ‘advice’ and following the crazy low calorie diets.
With all of the above found in one magazine it is easy to see how we are surrounded by this image of what society and media are portraying as ‘healthy’. It is an extremely distorted view to healthy, but by showing it to us consistently it becomes the ideal, what many men and women aspire to. This has been created by society and ‘we’ are all buying into this by our weekly purchase of a magazine. Losing 1/2 a stone in one week is perceived as a good thing, just as eating one meal again is shown as an achievement, as being in control.
Magazines capture such a wide audience with girls as young as 9 and 10 picking them up and flicking through. Should magazines feel responsible for the ideas than can become ingrained in young girls minds? Everyone will have their own views on this however it is something that I feel very strongly about. On a personal level I have a young niece who is into all things girly and I am sure it wont be too long before she is picking up mummy’s magazines! I wouldn’t feel comfortable with her getting her hands on these through fear of the images and advice being given.
It is not just young girls, but teens, young women, women in their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s etc that can and will be influenced and affected. Even men’s magazines have the same concerning materials. Pick up a men’s mag and you are guaranteed to see an article on how to ‘get ripped’ and ‘why women like men who spend x hours in the gym’. Magazines have a huge impact on most of society.
Even those people without an eating disorder can be left vulnerable, feeling down about their body. The most confident of individuals can be left questioning their diets and exercise routines wondering if they could do with ‘toning up a bit more’. So just imagine the impact that all of this information will have on someone who is already suffering with an eating disorder and serious low self-esteem and body image concerns.
I will be 100% honest as that is what I vowed when I began to blog, to share my experiences with the view to helping other people feel they are not alone. When I was in the darkest depths of my anorexia I would spend so much money buying all of the womens magazines, but the only interest I had was the diet and exercise pages, I wanted to know what celebritites were doing to lose weight, what so and so kept in their fridge, how many hours Mila Kunis was exercising to get in ‘shape’ for her role in x movies. I would flick through all of the magazines ignoring anything that wasn’t body/weight related. I was drawn to stories of celebrities looking ‘scarily thin’ sparking concerns from friends. I would take it that step further and google the celebrity to see if i could find any other articles about them online concerning their fitness plans and diets. My point is that it is such a consuming illness that magazines are fuelling the disorder, planting ideas in peoples minds.
When stuck in an eating disorder it is very difficult to see rationally and we wouldnt think to ask: How much is actually real? Does the editor really know what so and so had to eat last night, or are they speculating. Now I am in a much stronger place I am able to look rationally and question this. Talking of reality and magazines can you guess what I am going to say?
This, is the all time ultimate catastrophe of the magazine world (in my opinion). Photoshop, a great tool for designers and people who use it for productive reasons, genuinely improving images, but when you take a photo of a perfectly healthy woman and begin cutting and shaving bits off, this is when it jumps so far over ‘the line’ that it becomes unacceptable. I get angry when I think about what is done to these images. To demonstrate what I mean about cutting off bits and editing there is a really powerful video showing what can be done via photoshop. Have a look at the video on (youtube.com/watch?v=wA331SpzYy4) to see how the drastic change is carried out. This tool can be used to change a person from what they are naturally to what magazines see as ‘desirable’, what society thinks we want to see. (basically what is going to sell!) These images are changed so radically they end up looking completely different to the original model.
Think of what you would like to change about your body. With photoshop is can be done. Whole body shapes can be changed, boobs can be made bigger, waists can be edited to look tiny, cellulite can be erased, thigh gaps can be created, faces can be altered to give high cheekbones and arched eyebrows, even the colour of someones tan and hair can be changed.
When I was seriously unwell and obsessed with what I saw in magazines my boyfriend carried out an experiment to try and show me once and for all that what I was obsessing over and comparing myself to was in reality fake. He took a picture of me and showed me exactly what can be done to a photo. By the end I was 2 inches taller, my legs were more defined, my thighs had been shaved, everything looked different, I was completely out of proportion which is often the case with models in magazines. Even my hair colour was different and i was tanned! But my point is, I was a completely different person, I didn’t look like me. I realised that what I was obsessing over didn’t actually exist. Initially I felt angry that what I spent so much time looking at and trying to achieve wasn’t real but then I became grateful that I was able to experience this. It was helpful because although I did still read these magazines i stopped focussing on what people looked like and stopped believing in what i saw. That was step 1 to moving away from my magazine obsession.
While in hospital I found it stressful reading magazines that focused on exercise and weight loss because I was an inpatient on a weight gain diet and I knew I had to give up these habits that magazines were encouraging. I tried to distance myself from it because it was making me feel so bad. As I joined a body awareness group and my body image began to improve I made the decision to throw out all of my magazines and in honesty it felt strangely empowering. After doing this my body image began to improve further and it was such a relief not NEEDING to read them. I didn’t miss reading these article and I can see how detrimental they were to me [not to mention inaccurate].
Don’t get me wrong I love celeb gossip as much as any girl but for the stage I am at, I don’t feel I need to be immersed in the negativity that comes with the magazines. If you are struggling with or addicted to reading magazines for the wrong reasons and if you feel any of the following apply to you I would try to break the addiction that I did – stop buying these magazines and more importantly throw away that stash under the bed that you have saved!
Buy magazines purely for the diet and exercise tips
Do you flick through the magazine only stopping to read the weight related articles
Do you buy more than one woman’s magazine a week?
Do you look at the cover to determine if there is enough diet and exercise tips before buying?
After reading these magazines does your body image get worse
Do you look at the models wishing you looked more like them?
Overall do these magazines make you feel bad about yourself?
If any of these apply to you its time to be honest with yourself. It’s time to ask yourself the question. Are magazines really helping me? Are they fuelling the eating disorder? and can I recover when they have such a part in my life?