The focus of this dissertation was chosen because of a long held interest in the role media plays in relation to adolescent females who have anorexia nervosa. Previous assignments have been part of gaining knowledge that there are many different types of eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa (AN), Bulimia nervosa (BN), binge eating disorder (BED), diabulimia and many more but from this, a particular interest has been developed in anorexia nervosa in the age range of thirteen to sixteen year olds. The main area of the media this dissertation will focus on is social media sites such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and websites that encourage AN and promote body positivity. From the information gained in previous assignments, it is evident that the majority of the population are aware of what AN is and how it affects the body physically but only a small majority are educated on the psychological and emotional impact it has on an individual and the factors which can trigger or contribute to the condition such as the media. It is very important for more people to be aware of these warning signs and notice when help is needed.
See Appendix 1 for glossary of term.
1.1 Background to Anorexia Nervosa
Early reports of self-starvation can date back as far as early Christianity when starvation was seen as a devotion to religious practises. ‘History demonstrates that eating behaviours are sensitive to stress and environmental demand, particularly in children and adolescents, and particularly in females’. (Jaffa and McDermott, 2007, 3). Although body dissatisfaction occurs in both male and females, research shows that over time cultural ideas of how male and females should look is that females should be thinner and the male body should be more muscular and stronger. Particularly from the 13th to the 16th century there was numerous cases of extreme self-induced starvation which often resulted in death. The idea that for a woman to be seen as attractive switched from a rounded figure to a thin appearance in the mid-18th century. Over time the ideal body shape of women has changed to suit the social and cultural norms. Society today associates a slim figure with success, where as in some cultures over the years women were expected to have a curvaceous figure, this was seen to be a sign of wealth. (Pini et al., 2016). Miller and Pumariega say that the reason for changes in eating disorder comes from the world we now live in which is exposed to societal pressures, female body image and thinness is a common emphasis from the Western culture. It is believed that within western nations ED occur mostly in upper socioeconomic groups. The media has been blamed by a large number of people for playing a role in body dissatisfaction which enhances the risk of developing an ED such as AN. (Miller, 2001).
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As self-starvation became detached from medical interpretations that were linked to religion, it began to be seen as a medical condition and that is when ‘the beginning of anorexia’ started. (Malson, 2015). The term AN refers to lack of appetite and starvation. (Eating disorder Hope, 2018). After asthma and type 1 diabetes, anorexia is the most common chronic disease amongst young people. It is estimated that 1.6 million people in the United Kingdom have been diagnosed with an eating disorder, with 10% of these having AN. (Anorexia and Bulimia Care, 2015). With this in mind there are people undiagnosed with AN which could affect statistics. Due to the lack of effective treatment currently available for those diagnosed as anorexic, this causes limitations in current understandings of AN. (Malson, 2015). The age for anorexia to develop depends on the individual’s mental health state but the average age is 13 to 17, however there are cases both older and younger. (NHS, 2016). Common characteristics found in someone who has developed AN include perfectionism and overachieving. A common belief of someone who has been diagnosed with AN is that their lives will get better if they keep losing weight, however their illness often becomes a way of life which sadly has no end point. This has resulted in very young deaths as a result of starvation and the body shutting down. (Treasure and Alexander, 2013). Out of all psychiatric conditions, anorexia has the highest mortality rate. It has been estimated that 50% of people will make a full recovery from AN, although in adolescence the recovery rate is approximately 70-80%. (Harding, 2017). It is important to stress that although many people recover from AN in their adolescent years, situations of stress may trigger a relapse through adulthood.
The aim of this research is to investigate the role media plays in female adolescents who have anorexia by investigating social media sights and Pro-Ana pages, which is why the title for this dissertation was chosen. There are many different types of media that could be focused on but the main focus will be specifically on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pro-Ana pages. The reason for choosing these points to focus on is because of how easy social media is to access and the huge impact social media has on today’s society, especially as social media is used now more than ever before. (Chau et al., 2018). Another factor that will be considered is the huge influence the media has on young female idea of the ‘perfect’ body and how unrealistic images are portrayed on social media sights and Pro-Ana pages such as ‘thinspiration’. These images draw attention to what regulations are in place on social media sights and Pro-Ana webpages or if there is any, also what the popular view on social media is towards the unrealistic image that is portrayed.
This dissertation will attempt to investigate what part of the media influences anorexia the most and underpin why the number of cases of anorexia is continuously rising in the UK, most commonly in females adolescents. Female adolescents are seen to be the more vulnerable part of the population, that are easily pressured and influenced by social media to try achieve the perfect body and image, throughout this research it is hope to demonstrate the reason for this phenomena. Today’s adolescents and younger children are growing up in a world that revolves massively around the media. On average, results show that the average time spent on the internet a week for children in the age range of 12-15 in 2017 was 20.8 hours, the average time spent on their mobile was 18.2 hours and 14.4 hours watching television. With these results in mind it may be interesting to consider if the amount of time spent consuming media has an impact on adolescents, more specifically adolescents with AN. (Statista, 2017). Throughout the discussion, issues that contribute to anorexia will be widely debated which may include the sociocultural factors that contribute to anorexia coming largely from the modern western culture. The western culture in today’s society often portrays unrealistic and unattainable images which shapes a lot of people’s views on what a female should look like. This particularly effects teenage female’s who’s bodies are in the developmental stage, as they are beginning to consider what they have to look like to be seen as ‘the ideal woman’ in today’s society. With the help the media has from software such as Photoshop, it is almost impossible to look like the model after they have had touch ups from their shape being adjusted, their skin tone being evened out, their skin being airbrushed etc. It may be interesting at this point to consider what psychological impact this has on an adolescent female’s mind who has anorexia and also evaluate the link between having to be thin and beautiful to be successful and have self-worth. (McCallum Place, 2018).
- Anorexia and Bulimia care (2015) Statistics. England: Anorexia Bulimia Care. Available from http://www.anorexiabulimiacare.org.uk/about [accessed 25 October 2018].
- Chau, M., Burgermaster, M. and Mamykina, L. (2018). The use of social media in nutrition interventions for adolescents and young adults—A systematic review. International Journal of Medical Informatics, 120, pp.77-91.
- Eating disorder Hope (2018) About Anorexia: Signs, Symptoms, Causes & Articles For Treatment Help. Available from https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/information/anorexia [accessed 25 October 2018].
- Harding, M (2017) Anorexia Nervosa. Available from: https://patient.info/doctor/anorexia-nervosa-pro [accessed 25 October 2018].
- Jaffa, T. and McDermott, B. (2007) Eating disorders in children and adolescents. New York: Cambridge University Press.
- Malson, H. (2005). The thin woman: Feminism, Post- structuralism and the social psychology of anorexia nervosa. London and New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis e-libary.
- McCallum Place (2018) Causes of Anorexia Nervosa. Available from https://www.mccallumplace.com/anorexia-causes.html [accessed 27 October 2018].
- Miller, mn., Pumariega, AJ. (2001)Culture and eating disorders: a historical and cross cultural review. Psychiatry, 64, 93-100.
- NHS (2018). Anorexia Nervosa. Available from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/eating-disorders/ [accessed 25 October 2018]
- Pini, S., Abelli, M., Carpita, B., Dell’Osso, L., Castellini, G., Carmassi, C. and Ricca, V. (2016) Historical evolution of the concept of anorexia nervosa and relationships with orthorexia nervosa, autism, and obsessive-compulsive spectrum. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, Volume 12, 1651-1660.
- Statista (2017) Time spent consuming media per week among children in the United kingdom (UK) in 2017, by media (in hours). Available from https://www.statista.com/statistics/397851/hours-of-media-consumption-by-children-by-media-uk/ [accessed 29 October 2018]
- Treasure, J. and Alexander, J. (2013) Anorexia Nervosa A Recovery guide for Sufferers, Families and Friends, 2nd edition. New York: Routledge.
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