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Eating disorders, do people get the full story? By Nick Watts

There have been more and more articles in the last couple of years featuring eating disorders in all the major media outlets. Some have been good informative articles about the struggles faced by people suffering from eating disorders, others have been sensationalised beyond all belief showing just what we as campaigners don’t want to be shown, an inaccurate reflection of what an eating disorder is.

It has to be said, there is not that much variety in any eating disorder story published. You will usually see the same thing, I suffered from Anorexia, I didn’t eat because I hated the way I look and that’s it, usually accompanied with the most distressing of ‘sick’ photographs of people at their worst.

There are of course exceptions to this, but there seems to be not enough coverage of the broad umbrella term that is eating disorders, most people when you speak to them will say Anorexia as the first eating disorder that comes to their head. There is not enough on Bulimia, Binge Eating and compulsive & excessive exercise disorders reported.

Now this may be a radical opinion to have, but in my eyes the other eating disorders just are not deemed ‘sexy’ enough by journalists, when looking at binge eating for instance, a picture of someone of a likely normal or slightly overweight appearance just isn’t going to sell, is it.

There is nothing sexy about any eating disorder, be it anorexia, bulimia, binge eating or any of the other ones out there, but there seems to be a trend of the media wanting to glamorise anorexia and make it into one big body image war, which surprisingly brings me to my next point.

Body image is indeed a big factor in any eating disorder, but just as big a factor which is not portrayed enough is the severe psychological and emotional difficulties that drive eating disorders. For most sufferers, there will be a catalogue of emotions and difficulties behind an eating disorder, from family difficulties, relationship problems & ‘coming of age’ emotions. Is it any surprise that the most common age of onset is the teenage years, when you are only really discovering who you really are.

We need to portray the full story of an eating disorder, the fact that it is a complex web of emotions, difficulties, body image concerns and everything else you may feel. It often comes across in reports that it was a simple case of’ I hated my body’ and completely bypasses the complexity of the disorder that is really at work.

When we are trying to educate people about eating disorders, perhaps people that have never come across them before, a lot of the stories that are published go the wrong way in maintaining the impression that it is a disorder of vanity, as opposed to a way of coping with the difficult feelings and emotions that someone just doesn’t know how to express any other way.

Now I am not going to blame the media outright here, as I feel that would be irresponsible. They have their part to answer to and they also have a responsibility to moderate the way eating disorders are reported in the media, especially in regards to images, they also have a responsibility to report fairly and appropriately to give people the full picture of an issue which is undoubtedly increasing in size. They also need to open their eyes and report about all the different kinds of eating disorders out there, as there are plenty of people willing to speak out.

But the people who tell their stories have their part to play too, a responsibility not to assume what a journalist wants to hear and insisting their story is told the way they want it to be told. People who tell their stories should be refusing to provide images which are inappropriate or distressing and make sure to tell their stories honestly and covering the true reasons why an eating disorder would develop.

I would rather see less stories of a higher quality in the media, instead of lots of stories reporting the same thing, an inaccurate reflection of an eating disorder. There are some great ones out there which report brilliantly about all the issues surrounding an eating disorder. We just need to be more selective in the people we give stories too and stricter about the way stories are reported. This can only be achieved if we all work together and have a standard we all work too. Maybe then we will see fairer, more inclusive articles in the media to give a true representation to the wider audience of what eating disorders really are, serious psychiatric conditions, not a disease of vanity.

What do you think? Do you think eating disorders can be represented inappropriately in the media? Do the wider audience get the wrong impression, do they truly get the idea of what an eating disorder is?

Why not give us your views on the MGEDT forum?  

'Men Get Eating Disorders Too' is a registered charity in England and Wales no. 1139351.

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