Do Skinny Models and Celebs Cause Eating Disorders?

Could a picture like this make someone binge or starve?

Skinny Lindsey Lohan: A cause of eating disorders?

They didn’t cause mine, that’s for damn sure. I was sneaking cookies and wondering if I was fat before I even knew what a model was. A lot of research is now suggesting that your chances for developing disordered eating are rooted in your genes (not in the images we’re bombarded with every day). Like the findings of this interesting study by Michigan State and U. of Minnesota researchers presented at the recent Eating Disorders Research Society meeting:

The researchers looked at groups of sisters–some were biological sisters, others were adopted siblings–and found that genetics (rather than parenting style, media images, homelife, or anything else) explained a whopping 51 to 72 percent of the disordered eating behaviors in these girls. And we’re not talking only about full-blown anorexia or crazed binge eating, here. The genetics thing was also linked to a majority of the plain old bad body image and weight obsessions, too.

There’s lots of other research backing up the idea that eating disorders are hereditary. Could all this mean that some of us are just wired to get sick? Yeah, probably. Does living in a weight- and looks-focused world make it more likely that those of us who are already teetering on the edge will fall into obsession? Yeah, probably. But could pictures of models in magazines or ultra-thin women on the red carpet cause us to develop these serious illness of the brain and body?

I say no. What do you think?

xo…Sunny
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Related links:
Glamour: 16 Ways I Learned To Love My Body
A Merry Life: Hi, I’m Comfortable

5 Responses to Do Skinny Models and Celebs Cause Eating Disorders?

  1. Autumn says:

    Interesting question. I’d be curious to know more about the link between genes and simple body dysmorphia–since eating disorders so alter one’s brain chemistry the link seems more obvious to me, but I haven’t read much about brain chemistry and body image.

    In any case, “cause” is murky and amorphous. A genetic predisposition alone doesn’t make for an eating disorder (hence its rapid multiplication in the past 30 years, not-so-coinciding with the popular rise of feminism–our genes haven’t changed in one generation, just the outlet for that gene to act upon); nor do the images alone transform a non-predisposed person into a person with ED. But I’m sure you’re familiar with what happened in Fiji, where the cultural norm was to consider round women beautiful and where EDs were practically nonexistent–until the rapid spread of western TV in the ’90s.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/347637.stm

    Isolating one factor in any psychiatric issue is nearly impossible. Looking at genetics is interesting and necessary with any psychiatric issue, including EDs; to ignore it would be drastically shortsighted. And it’s reassuring to think that someone with an ED is chemically wired–much like the relief that comes with diagnosis (if it can be named, it can be cured; if it has a gene, that can be tweaked). But I’m also wary of overmedicalizing eating disorders. If the “it’s in the genes” theory comes to dominate ED research, it’s not too far-fetched to think that then anybody with disordered eating can just go on a pill. And if an ED sufferer opts not to, then what are they complaining about? There’s a “cure,” after all. And then we’re still left with the cultural images that tell overweight women that they’re not really worthy–which I think is the last thing any of us want!

  2. Katie says:

    What kind of eating disorders do people get outside the US?

  3. Jamie says:

    Very interesting. I’d like to read up more on the subject. First, however; I’d like to say that no, directly I do not think skinny models and celebrities ’cause’ eating disorders and disordered eating, but rather the over publicized images, etc. on the subjects at hand. A skinny person walking down the street is one thing, but it is another when many young kids and teens (who are already going through an awkward(usually for teens) and crucial developmental stage in life, in which their minds/brains, identities, and personalities are fresh and developing) are bombarded with airbrushed images and feed by the media at hand that ‘this’ is what is ‘proper’ and ‘only-natural’ to ‘look like.’ The two parts to this is: 1.) images of the skinny models and celebrities, and 2.) Tabloids of the latter celebs and models that don’t present the ‘skinny’ image getting ambushed and ridiculed for not looking as such. Point number 2 really gets to me, because it shows that somehow in our society it is not ‘ok’ to look anything but skinny, (etc.), and if you don’t look as such and don’t have that ‘perfect’ body, then you will be an outcast and your picture will be on the front page with a caption saying “Look who’s gotten fat!” –and those little kids with their pliable young minds will see that and will think “Oh, no! Well that’s humiliating! I can never look fat like that or everyone at school will laugh at me and hate me!” …Weight-based discrimination… :(

    Obviously, this isn’t the case for all, but it is the case for an uncomfortable many.
    Take these statistics for instance:
    *75% of teenage girls felt ‘depressed, guilty and shameful’ after spending just three minutes leafing through a fashion magazine.

    Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale study, 2006:
    *4,000 respondents in varying numbers between 15% and 30% also said they would rather walk away from their marriage, give up the possibility of having children, be depressed, or become alcoholic rather than be obese. 18% would rather give up 10 years of their lives than be obese.
    …and…
    *5% and 4%, respectively, said they would rather lose a limb or be blind than be overweight.
    (!!!!)

    *A majority of 5-year-olds would rather lose an arm than be fat. (study by Sandra Solovay, 2000)
    ^^^Seriously, 5 year olds??!!

    Girl Scouts USA study, 2006:
    “For most girls, being healthy has more to do with appearing “normal” and feeling accepted than maintaining good diet and exercise habits.
    On one hand girls are told to be happy the way they are, and on the other hand, they are given the message that being “overweight” is unhealthy and unattractive.” (*****)

    I also find it very sad that:
    *While only 19% of teenage girls are “overweight,” 67% think they “need to lose weight” (UK Teen Body Image Survey, January 2004)

    *Only 2% of women describe themselves as “beautiful”

    Ok, ok. Yes, I could go on, but I am getting off topic, I know.
    I DO, however; AGREE with you Sunny, that the media cannot take full blame is not the sole culprit for body image issues. For many, including myself, upbringing and family dynamics play a huge role. Having dysfunctional parents whom divorced when I was 6, had me grow up feeling inadequate and sorts. The loss of control I felt with my life and the power-struggles with my mother and step-father led to me using food (or more-of lack-there-of) as a means of control. I would be infuriated with my mother, but by-golly, she couldn’t decide what went in my mouth. She couldn’t tell me when to eat, what to eat, how much to eat, and so forth. Therefor, I thought, control was in my hands. I didn’t realize (until much later when my relationship with food took a turn for the worse), that actually this feeling of control was false. I used food as a vice, and it backfired into nearly taking my life. Who knew that something which seemed so trivial could turn rather lethal -and might I add, quite quickly. I know now, as I continue to flip-flop and fight this battle, and I am grateful that my bone density loss and cardiac defects have normalized and I am not left with permanent ramifications, (yet).

  4. Jamie says:

    Oh, and to reply to Katie, eating disorders do not discriminate against race, ethnicity, nationality, age, gender, or class. People outside of the U.S. have same eating disorders, the only difference might be the country’s criteria for ‘qualifying’ as an eating disorder based on their diagnosable standards. For instance, in the States, the American Psychiatric Association uses the DSM-IV to currently diagnose eating disorders.
    DSM-IV= Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition, 1994

    “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is published by the American Psychiatric Association and provides a common language and standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders. It is used in the United States and in varying degrees around the world, by clinicians, researchers, psychiatric drug regulation agencies, health insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and policy makers.”

    “ICD-10 Chapter V: Mental and behavioural disorders, part of the International Classification of Diseases produced by the World Health Organization (WHO), is another commonly-used guide, more so in Europe and other parts of the world. The coding system used in the DSM-IV is designed to correspond with the codes used in the ICD, although not all codes may match at all times because the two publications are not revised synchronously.”

    Australia introduced their first edition of “ICD-10-AM” in 1998.

    Canada introduced “ICD-10-CA” in 2000.

    Germany: ICD-10-GM (German Modification)

    The United States will begin official use of ICD-10 on October 1, 2013, using Clinical Modification ICD-10-CM for diagnosis coding and Procedure Coding System ICD-10-PCS for inpatient hospital procedure coding.

    The current Swedish translation of ICD-10 was created in 1997.

    There is also MeSH:
    Medical Subject Headings formed and presented by the National Library of Medicine.

  5. Heather says:

    This is a debate which really irritates me.

    My answer would be a huge, resounding NO.

    Models and celebrities are no more likely to ’cause’ someone to develop an eating disorder than anyone or anything else.

    Eating issues of any kind come from internal issues. Yes, environmental factors contribute, but I think it is far more likely that people’s family have an influence than a model or celebrity that we have never, ever met.

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Sunny Sea Gold

About the Author

Sunny Sea Gold is a media-savvy advocate and commentator specializing in binge eating disorder, cultural obsessions around food and weight, and raising children who have a healthy body image.