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Exploring Representation of Eating Disorders in Media

When I say eating disorders, your first thought is likely about anorexia, maybe bulimia. You likely imagine a young, white teenage girl as the sufferer. This is how eating disorders, or EDs, are represented in the media. In books, in films, in TV shows; which there’s hardly any of in the first place.

Perhaps the most well known piece of media that openly discusses EDs would be Netflix’s ‘To The Bone’, a film about a young woman called Ellen who goes into a new type of recovery home for anorexia. She is a young (21), white girl who is very much underweight, which does continue to perpetuate the idea that all anorexia sufferers are young underweight white girls. However, the film does also feature a man suffering from anorexia, as well as women of colour and hints at LGBT characters.

I think the major problem with ED representation is the lack of material out there. There isn’t enough books, films and shows or anything about EDs. This includes the symptoms, the journey to getting help and recovery. As a result, when there is a form of media that discusses EDs, they fall into the trap of using the ‘young white skinny girl’ trope because it’s the most easily recognisable disorder appearance. When we see that, we can ‘tell’ that they have anorexia. Whereas if they portrayed an anorexia sufferer as, say, an overweight Asian woman, it wouldn’t be as ‘obvious’ and therefore doesn’t grab attention from the audience.

Obviously, anyone can suffer from an ED. Any race, any gender, any age, any sexuality. However, a lot of groups are not portrayed enough in the media. Examples include ethnic minorities, men and older people (60+). In some cases these victims are much more at risk, as they often believe they don’t have a problem since they don’t fit the stereotype. As for men, there’s not enough people that take their cases seriously. Men aren’t expected to have self confidence/self esteem issues related to their bodies. Men are expected to have it all together, to not be emotional, which is incredibly damaging and is the reason why suicide is such a high cause of death in men.

This being said, I would like to (at some point) attempt to write a novel specifically about these minority groups that aren’t talked about enough. As someone who suffers from an ED myself, I want to be able to shine a spotlight on the groups that don’t get enough attention and are often pushed under the rug. For example, my base ideas are the three main characters are: A black girl who has EDNOS, a Japanese overweight student who has Anorexia and an older Male dancer suffering from Bulimia. I’m still juggling the possibility of introducing a transgender character and maybe a much older character, but the story in general is still a work in progress.

I hope to release this book in the next 5 years, although I have a lot of book ideas lined up already.

The point is, like I explained at the beginning, the big problem is the lack of media about EDs and as a result, the lack of variety of representation. This is something I want to tackle in a future book, although at this point, there should be much more media available on this topic to explore further than the stereotype we all know.

Published by Alexandra Killworth

I'm Alexandra Killworth, YA author, freelance artist and photographer and mental health activist.

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