It is difficult for a parent to monitor what their children and teenagers read but I believe it is important to at least limit children’s consumption of celebrity magazines. Images in magazines such as Vogue all show images of very thin female models. Celebrity magazines such as ‘Heat’ constantly criticize celebrities for putting on weight. The celebrities in these magazines act as models for women in our society. Teenagers in particular pay attention to the fact that many celebrity role models are extremely thin. They can see that their role models are famous and rich and this may motivate them to be thin too or they may think that being thin is what is needed to be accepted. Rachael Johnston, a young woman who suffered with anorexia, has recently called for airbrushed models to be banned in glossy magazines. She has blamed the development of her anorexia on her obsession with very thin celebrities in magazines as a teenager. So what is the evidence that the media might lead to anorexia?
Fearn (1999) studied young women living on the island of Fiji. After the introduction of Western TV to the island, 74% of young Fijian women said they were ‘too big or too fat’ and eating disorders, previously unknown on the island, began to appear. Nasser (1986) compared Egyptian women studying in Cairo with similar Egyptian women studying in London. 12% of those living in London developed eating disorder symptoms, compared to 0% in Cairo. Lai (2000) found that the rate of anorexia increased for chinese residents in Hong Kong as the culture slowly became more westernised. Mumford et al. (1991) found that Arab and Asian women were more likely to develop eating disorders if they moved to the West. These studies all suggest that eating disorders develop in conjunction with Western media and the idea that ‘thin is beautiful’.
However, Eysenck and Flanagan (2000) point out that, whilst virtually all young women in the West are exposed to the media, only 3-4% of them develop an eating disorder. Furthermore, anorexia usually develops in adolescence so it may be related to fears about growing up. Other research points to family issues being responsible for anorexia and genes may also predispose a person to develop anorexia. So perhaps media images only contribute to the problem of eating disorders.
Although the media cannot be held entirely responsible for the development of eating disorders, as a parent I would still try to limit exposure to the very thin models shown in magazines. Younger and younger children are developing anorexia and any preventative measures parents can take is in my view a good thing. Other research suggests that parents should not talk about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ food too much either. Children should be taught that all food is good in the right balance.