The media usually portrays what an eating disorder looks like by one image: an overly skinny girl. There are countless examples of this, like To the Bone, a Netflix movie that displays an underweight woman going through an eating disorder, and Starving in Suburbia, a movie about a dancer that obsesses about being thin. When television, movies, and the media portray an eating disorder as this, people may assume that to have an eating disorder, you must look a certain way—underweight. Women who are average weight or overweight might not get the help they need if others do not believe they are “sick enough.”

The “not sick enough” or “not enough” stigma is a major concern, as others may not recognize or potentially ignore that an individual is actually struggling with an eating concern. This could lead to someone feeling that they are not “sick enough” yet to get or deserve treatment. This is dangerous, as early intervention promotes the quickest recovery.

An individual does not have to have go to an inpatient treatment facility for the disorder to be real.

Eating disorders do have guidelines to classify them as such, but there are no strict cutoffs regarding weight in the criteria. A person can be underweight, “normal” weight, overweight, or obese and have an eating disorder. An individual does not have to have go to an inpatient treatment facility for the disorder to be real. These kinds of biases may prevent individuals from getting the support they need, and ultimately motivate them to become sicker in order to “fit this mold” society has defined.

Why does this stigma exist? The media plays a major role, as it pressures people to look a certain way, even within the eating disorder community. Many movies and television shows that bring awareness of eating disorders only show thin individuals. The media should focus more on the awareness of all kinds of eating disorders, and the various ways they present, in order to inform others about the seriousness of the problem. Individuals should feel supported and get the help they need, even when they do not look like they need help.

No matter what eating disorder you or a loved one are experiencing, help is available. Resources for family and friends are available through the National Eating Disorder Awareness organization.  If you are struggling with body image or eating concerns, you can also set up an appointment to speak with someone at Student Counseling Services by calling (309) 438-3655 or stopping by 320 Student Services Building. Finally, the Body Project, a healthy body image and eating disorder prevention program, can help individuals look at their bodies more positively. Sign up today!