Research on the connection between eating disorders and television or movies reveals a wealth of information on body image, with comments that the media promotes a false sense of what bodies should be like. A very small group of women actually look like women in film and television. This is agreed upon by many professionals and eating disorder experts worldwide. Other search results mention, less frequently, controversial opinions regarding fat jokes on shows such as the long-ago Honeymooners and the current Mike and Molly.
It is difficult to find, however, results mentioning how food is promoted on television as a means of self-comfort. There are many heartbreak scenes in movies where the (usually) female main character gets a carton of ice cream from the store or freezer to help her feel better when she is feeling low. These scenes occur on television also. It is a trope of the dejected lover or discouraged girlfriend eating ice cream alone, or with a friend or mother (men are more often depicted drinking to drown their sorrows).
In addition to the fact that people are influenced by what they watch, there is the added fact that studies show sadness can affect the way people perceive taste, specifically how the amount of fat in food is registered. While the ability to register fat decreases with sadness, the study, conducted at the University of Wurzburg in Germany, says that individuals’ sense of other flavors increases by 15 percent when feeling emotional; sweet, sour and bitter tastes actually register more acutely. Volunteers watched three short video clips: one happy, one sad and one intended to be boring.
The dull video produced no effects on participants’ taste buds, but emotional videos caused participants to be less able to tell if beverages they were given were high in fat or not. This fits in with other studies that suggest depressed people are not good judges of the amount of fat in their food. It also suggests that besides the modeling of poor eating behaviors in film and television, watching a program that makes one emotional can change eating habits also, leading to possible eating disorders.
In the film Miss Congeniality, with Sandra Bullock, she orders a pint in a bar but it turns out not to be a pint of beer, but a pint of ice cream. In Bride Wars, a character who is the friend of Anne Hathaway’s character, upon learning of her friend’s engagement, eats three entire containers of ice cream. In Death Becomes Her, Goldie Hawn’s character also turns to ice cream after she sees her fiancé marrying Meryl Streep’s character. In literature, this behavior also happens (Bridget Jones’ Diary), and it even occurs in commercials and occasionally in songs.
We are given many healthy alternatives to comfort foods. This happens not only at the dietitian’s or on cooking shows—even large networks like CBS are on the bandwagon, sharing healthy recipes and calorie counts, and offering up alternatives as close to the foods people crave as possible. Baked sweet potato fries are promoted over regular fries, and sausage-and-vegetable whole wheat tortillas over pepperoni pizza, but millions still have eating disorders and are still subjected to television programs and films that promote binge eating.
According to the Eating Disorder Foundation, 80 percent of women surveyed say that images portrayed in the media make them feel insecure. Three of four women indicated they believe they are overweight, though only one in four was actually overweight. Men and women (20 percent and 40 percent, respectively) said they would trade up to five years of their life to achieve their weight goals.
Perhaps the most disturbing indication of how pervasive slimness is valued in our society is when children are asked to rate people on attractiveness, given the following four images: a child with a missing limb, an overweight child, a child in a wheelchair and a child with a facial deformity. Children nearly always rated the overweight child as the least attractive. This, while eating disorders are promoted on television.
By Julie Mahfood