Body Image and Eating Disorders (Report)

Written evidence submitted by Dr Barbara Mitra, University of Worcester (BYC012)

Executive summary

The Priory Group (2017) suggest that eating disorders are responsible for more loss of life than any other form of psychological illness. UK Sport note that parents of young children are concerned about children taking muscle‐boosting products (including steroids) and being addicted to compulsive fitness. Social media has increased the idealised and unattainable body images which circulate on the internet, influencing both men and women. These images reinforce the internalisation of a ‘perfect’ body – thin for women and ripped muscular physique for men – and intensify self‐comparison to these images.

Consequences include increases in eating disorders (anorexia nervosa, bulimia, orthorexia nervosa), exaggerated focus on fitness training, cosmetic surgery, damaged bodies, low self‐esteem and even death. Long term outcomes can include damaging effects particularly on growing bodies (Hill, 2003; Wells, 2015). Whilst there are numerous
websites, Facebook groups, Vloggers, Bloggers, Instagrammers and other social media content that promotes unrealistic bodies, the internet can also be a place where these images are challenged. Support groups do exist to deepen self‐esteem that is not associated with images. Similarly, there is also social media content that highlights just how constructed and unrealistic these images are.

Media literacy – being able to critique and unravel constructed images and messages – is key for young people to develop self‐esteem that does not depend on comparison to idealised body physiques.

Mitra, B. (2017) Written Evidence Submitted to the Youth Select Committee (Body Image and Eating Disorders) 012, British Youth Council. Available at: http://www.byc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/BYC012-Dr-Barbara-Mitra.pdf