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Copyright 2000
Cherie L. Marcus
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Last Updated November 30, 2000

Body Images on Television Affect Viewers

Body Images on Television Affect Those on Television



Eating Disorders Help Links

Body Images on Television Affect Viewers

As a result of the extremely thin females frequently seen on television, many Americans feel overweight, even though they may be an average size. Media portray the message that happiness and success come with a thin body. The joys in life such as power, popularity, friends, and success are seen to come easily to the beautiful, thin characters on television. Characters who are overweight are often perceived as failures, lonely, or rejected. They are often the target of jokes and humiliation.

Both genders may be greatly affected by the images on television, but females are more likely to be targeted by these messages.2 Successful women are young and thin, while the appearance and age range for successful men. The female viewer may assume that she must lose weight to obtain power. The media imply that there are shortcuts to make the average female look and feel as thin and desirable as the women seen on television. Commercials suggest that the average woman wants to lose weight to resemble current actresses and models. The message assumes that the average person is not thin enough to be viewed as a beautiful person in society.2

While many of the women seen on television are becoming thinner, an average weight female may view herself as overweight, which could lead to eating disorders. Women account for 90 to 95 percent of all people who suffer from eating disorders, and men comprise the remaining five to ten percent.2 Those who watch television at least three nights a week are fifty percent more likely than non-viewers to feel overweight or fat. Fifteen percent of the viewers admitted to vomiting to lose weight, and two-thirds of the female viewers dieted as a result of the images they saw.2

The two most common eating disorders, anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, affect over five million Americans.1 Thousands of these people die from physical problems resulting from these illnesses.1

Body Images on Television Affect Those on Television

Eating disorders have not only affected the television watching population. The necessity to be thin has plagued women actresses, models, and singers for decades. In the late 1960s, singer Karen Carpenter felt compelled to lose weight to appear more attractive. She was put on a water diet to bring her weight down from 140 pounds to 120. After she received positive compliments from her family and friends, she accelerated the dieting and lost more weight. In 1975, Carpenter weighed 80 pounds and vomited the little food she ate. She struggled with anorexia for the remaining years of her life until her death at the age of 32. The singer died from cardiac arrest caused by heart strain as a result of the anorexia.13

Actress Tracey Gold of Growing Pains struggled with anorexia for several years. She was dieting by eating only 500 calories a day, while a typical diet requires 1,800 calories, and went from 133 pounds to 113 pounds in two months. After Gold achieved her ideal weight, she could not stop dieting. When the actress' weight went down to 90 pounds, she was forced to leave Growing Pains for professional help. Eventually, Gold recovered from the disease to live a healthy life.1

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa, or Anorexia, is an eating disorder resulting from a distorted body image. Although the disease affects men and women, it affects mostly women. Common symptoms of anorexia include an intense fear of gaining weight, loss of at least 15 percent of one's original body weight, and a loss of menstrual periods for females. Anorexics pick at their food and cut it into small pieces on their plate. Common characteristics for anorexia include compulsiveness with exercise, secrecy, and withdrawal.8


The main features of bulimia include episodes of binge eating followed by self-induced vomiting. Bulimics feel a lack of control over eating behavior and often use laxatives and diuretics. Frequent bathroom visits after meals are a strong indication of the disease. Self-criticism, dietary restriction in public, and impulsive behavior are common characteristics of bulimia.8

Eating disorders are dangerous and should not be ignored.
If you or someone you know may be suffering from anorexia, bulimia, or any other eating disorders, please visit the following links.
These sites provide information on the diseases and help links.

At ANRED's website for Anorexia Nervosa and Related Disorders, you can e-mail your questions to medical professionals. The site provides basic information on anorexia and bulimia and how to tell if someone you know has one of the diseases.

The American Anorexia Bulimia Association, Inc. provides general information on eating disorders, especially anorexia and bulimia. The site provides help for those with the disease as well as their family and friends.

Visit the American Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders to request additional information through the mail on anorexia and bulimia. The site also provides a doctor referral list for those who suffer from eating disorders.

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