Since starting my Instagram account for this blog (@endedblog) I’ve been thinking a lot about the affect social media and media in general have on eating disorders. And it doesn’t really have to be just people with eating disorders, media affects everyone. Anyone who is reading this blog has been raised in a culture plagued by media. The media can take a lot away from our life. Yes, there are a lot of good things that can come as well, such as keeping in touch with friends and family, and I want to acknowledge that there are positives. But, this post will center more around the negative affects the media can have. (Sorry!) I do like to try and keep what I put out there positive, but in this case the negatives need to be discussed.
It’s not like people are unaware of the fact that most images are retouched and photo shopped. Or that the media can overemphasize stereotypes. Or that it makes it seem like there is always more you should want. But do we think about these things most of the time while different media flashes before our eyes? No. At least I did not. I cannot speak on behalf of the rest of the human population, but I used to never think about the fact that models represent an extremely small minority of female body types. I had seen skinny models for all of my life and just accepted them as fact. Models, people we are taught to want to be like, are incredibly thin. And when I started comparing my own body, I never measured up. Or maybe measured down in this case!
In my AP Psych class, we watched Killing Us Softly 4, a documentary by Jean Kilbourne. As you might guess by the title, this is the fourth version of Kilbourne’s documentary. The first one came out in 1979 and this fourth edition came out in 2010. Kilbourne analyzes in each of these films the obsession with thinness that has taken over our culture. She started thinking about this several decades ago as she cut out magazine ads featuring people and noticed an important trend. Women always appear thin and sexy. Men, on the other hand, always appear strong and masculine. There are things wrong with both of these types of images because it is putting each gender into a category of what they should be. In reality these idealized images found in advertising and in other forms of media usually are not attainable. Models are posed and photos are taken from certain angles. Models are where makeup and clothes that present them in a way that satisfies their gender norm. And if all that were not enough, photos are still retouched. Women are made skinnier, their hair skinnier, their face flawless, and the list goes on. The sad part is Kilbourne says that throughout the decades she has been making these documentaries, the problem has actually continued to get worse. Women are getting thinner and thinner. The obsession with thinness is killing us, but softly. That’s why it is so important that we speak up about the fact that this should not be the norm. We should not accept the media we see, unquestioning. Where are the normal people represented? Where is the diversity? How many of the models we see have eating disorders?
The media in general has contributed to the desire for thinness, but in the last decade social media especially has been on the rise. Now we are no longer comparing ourselves to models, but to everyone around us. Cousin Sally went to the Bahamas. Jill lost 20 pounds. Bob graduated from college. The fear of not being good enough is real. Especially when we compare ourselves to the normal people around us. This article gives a lot of insight into this phenomenon. It talks about how social media can contribute to eating disorders. I would not go so far as to say it actually causes them, but they can be a contributing factor in the development of an eating disorder. Social media can also be a contributing factor in the continuing of eating disorders. Pro-ana and pro-mia websites make it seem like eating disorders are desirable. They can give people a false sense of community. They are particularly disturbing to me because of how much worse than can make eating disorders and that they promote mental illness and making your body unhealthy. Such websites will only make it easier for individuals to develop eating disorders. After having had anorexia I can guarantee no one should want that life. It’s simply not worth it.
I am happy I never used pro-ana websites because that may have made my eating disorder even worse, but that’s not to say I didn’t use my fair share of media outlets. Pinterest was the biggest culprit for me. I have always loved fashion, and still do. On Pinterest I saw so many girls who were fashionable and skinny. YouTube also presents lots of girls fitting this desirable profile. Of course I wanted to be like them. How could I not? I was brought up in this culture after all. But the real issue came when I felt like I had to be like them. And the extent that I would work towards it. I used Pinterest to pin all sorts of things that would push me to work out and to eat “healthy.” This only caused me to plunge further into my eating disorder.
My Instagram feed also was filled with lots of images I now consider “triggers.” As I have worked towards recovery my newsfeed has changed considerably. I do not follow a lot of clothing companies where skinny models will be a tap away. I continue to follow all of my friends, but I have had to unfollow a couple of acquaintances simply because the pictures they post can cause me to feel bad about myself and my body. I also have started following a lot of pro-recovery and positive body image sites. Especially now that I have a separate account for ED related stuff.
With my new EnDED Instagram account I’ve had to think about my goals for this platform. So many ED related Instagramers post endless pictures of what they are eating. I do follow several accounts like this, but I do not think it is the best thing to be doing. Actually, I think it is not a good thing to be doing. With an eating disorder you become obsessed with food. Through recovery that obsession should go away so food is a small, minute piece of your life. By posting pictures all the time of what you are eating, a truly normalized relationship with food is not possible. The food you are eating must look perfect and will need to be viewed as acceptable by others on social media. This does not create a healthy relationship with food where one can eat whatever they like without a second’s hesitation or an extra thought after. Thus, I have decided that is not what I want for EnDED. I’m not going to say I will never post a picture of food, but for the most part what I eat is my own business. By putting it out there on social media I would not be helping myself work towards a healthy relationship with food.
So what will I use the account for? Well I don’t know exactly. There is a lot of freedom that comes with only knowing what I don’t want it to be. I can post practically anything. I will post whenever I have a new blog up so people (hopefully) will look at it. But I really haven’t got it all figured out. What I do know is what I want people to get out of my Instagram account. I want people to see that recovery is worth it. That I am living my life again. That I can have fun going up the Eiffel Tower in Paris (see picture). That if you push through the struggles you can come out on the other side. That we can EnD ED!