Eating Disorders in the Media: The Little Misconception That Could

BusinessWeek Debate Room: Anorexia: A Media-Borne Illness?

Carrie already posted about it, and I reeeeally wanted to avoid it, because I knew it was going to piss me off. (And, atypically, I was not in a mood to be willfully pissed off today. It's got to happen at least once in my life, right?)

But I then caved. I still wasn't going to write about it after reading the piece, because, what else is there to say about such idiocy? The article itself isn't worth talking about, except for the fact that it got published at all. The guy they have writing the "Pro" side of the argument, Matthew Lawyue, is a reporting intern for BusinessWeek. Intern. INTERN. The gal (Oriana Schwindt) on the "Con" end (astutely titled, "Blame the Eaters") is a recent graduate. In journalism. NOT PSYCHOLOGY. Or NUTRITION. "She writes for the Innovation and Managing channels of" Yes, she's very innovative: They switched it up. Have a female excoriate people with eating disorders, and a male stand up for them. I get that these are "kids" trying to launch their career, get their foot in the door, get their name out there, etc. and so forth, so after making some scorching comments in my head, I'll give them a pass, this once. Plus, Carrie already got 'em.

But I then read the comments and I said to myself: "Self," pausing to appreciate that I'm so terribly original, "We have to write about this one." "You're right, Self," I continued, undaunted by the cliché, "Someone has to point out the utter futility of improving the human race, and thus explain the title of this blog*." "Let's get to it." "Yes, let's."

Most of the comments are insightful and factually correct. The comments by parents of ED patients are heartbreaking. I wish I could find the mother of the 11-year-old boy (anorexic) and give her a long hug. But there are also idiots in full bloom. The one that provoked my Self's realization that We must write:
If eating disorders are simply inherited diseases, why is their occurrence so great in actresses and other women in the public eye --Terri Hatcher, Calista Flockhart, Princess Diana? And why was there no anorexia or bulimia problem in the 1940s and 1950s, when being beautiful wasn't all about being thin? And why does anorexia suddenly become a problem when people in the developing world get their first access to U.S. television shows? Oh, right, they must have experienced a collective genetic mutation that prompted them to get eating disorders in unison.

-- RR, Nobel Prize winner for Psychology and Logic.

A) Eating disorders have been around for a long, loooooong time. As another commenter points out, at LEAST since the 1600's. Only recently (fluctuating since about 1920, actually, RR) has extreme thinness been obsessed over in the media at large. Meanwhile, if you do something as easy as read Jane Fonda's autobiography, you will learn that anorexia and bulimia didn't go anywhere during those idyllic decades you cite.

B) No one is saying that EDs are "simply" inherited - only that there is a genetic COMPONENT. Has it occurred to you that eating disorders, like other mental illnesses, can be tripped by specific environmental triggers? Certainly Princess Diana, suddenly thrust into a pressure cooker of public attention and criticism, is more at risk than her imaginary/hypothetical identical twin (for genetic similarity purposes, you see) who remains shrouded away from public scrutiny? As we like to say in the ED world, genetics loads the gun and environment pulls the trigger. (Oh look - Harriet, right below RR, uses that very phrase.)

And above RR, joemama makes the astoundingly astute observation that most women in New York look "chubby" rather than anorexic. Really? REALLY? *God.*

Okay, I think I'm sufficiently pissed off and dejected to carry me the whole weekend. See you on the other side.

* cyn·i·cal /ˈsɪnɪkəl/ –adjective: 3. bitterly or sneeringly distrustful, contemptuous, or pessimistic. ... Sounds about right.


  1. I thought addictive personalities and the genetics behind them were pretty much established. Apparently, the media just cooked it up. Oh and I read somewhere that Budweiser invented alcoholism. Who knew?

  2. Hehehe. I *heart* you. Not just because you said this, but because you were up at one a.m. saying it. CRAZAY.

    I was reading a later comment on that article in which a commenter actually said, "Call me old school, but I am not convinced either side has merit. I do not believe that anorexia or bulimia is a mental illness (please). Or that it is inherited. " That particular MENSA member followed up the statement with, "Whoever heard of either one until recently?"

    Um, GAH.

    They're still going at it over there as of 6:30 this morning. I would chime in, but everyone else is being too articulate. It would be like having a dinner party, then the little kid running through with tomato sauce on her face. Bad analogy (heh).

  3. Hehe. Yes. My most delirious comments come after midnight.

    Ugh. I could NOT go over there and read the comments. I would be in a bad mood the whole day. All I would end up doing is writing a post in all caps that says YOU'RE WRONG! YOU'RE WRONG! YOU'RE WRONG!


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