Through communication platforms such as the media and social media, we are faced with manipulated, filtered and digitally enhanced images. Repeated exposure of such images can result in individuals feeling pressured to adhere to such ideals of appearance, increasing the risk of disordered eating and eating disorders.
Media literacy provides education on the media’s promotion of unrealistic standards of ‘beauty’ and supports people to critically analyse messages portrayed in the media. By recognising the unrealistic nature of media images, we can reduce the internalisation of body, weight, and shape ideals and in turn, reduce the risk of developing disordered eating patterns and eating disorders.
Eating Disorders and the Media
A common misconception is that media causes eating disorders. This is not true and to suggest it trivialises the complexity of how an eating disorder develops. However, being exposed to appearance ideals presented in the media can increase body dissatisfaction, encourage weight-loss practices, and can increase the internalisation of the thin ideal, all of which are known modifiable risk factors of eating disorders (see Holland & Tiggemann, 2016, for a review). Evidence-based media literacy programs aim to address these factors through education and awareness building about social media.
What is Media Literacy
When we use the term ‘Media Literacy’ we are referring to someone’s ability to critically access, analyse, evaluate, and create media. Someone who is media literate will also be able to better understand and in turn challenge the often complex messages concealed within media mediums; television, magazines, books, music and music videos, video games, internet, and social media. Media literacy aims to increase the awareness that the messages and images in the media don’t always reflect reality, and to change the way that individuals engage with and are impacted on by media.
Media Literacy and Prevention
Media literacy is particularly important for body image, eating behaviours, and values around body weight, shape, and appearance. Effective media literacy education empowers the development of critical thinking that supports consumers, particularly young people, to:
- Understand the role media plays in shaping our society views on beauty, health, and appearance
- Identify how marketing and advertising works and the persuasive techniques used
- Recognise the bias and misinformation and the ways they can be manipulated
- Develop media messages that are positive and helpful
- Apply critical thinking to a wide range of issues.
Evidence-Based Media Literacy Programs
Media literacy provides educators and those working with young people an enjoyable, relatable, and effective platform to address challenging topics in a positive and helpful way. It is recommended that educators or those working with young people refer to existing evidence-based and evaluated programs.
Existing media literacy programs in Australia include:
- Media Smart
- Let’s talk body image
- Body Project Australia
- Body Bright – Butterfly
- Dove Self Esteem Project
- Dove Confident Me
For more information about media literacy and prevention programs in Australia, contact Butterfly.
Holland, G., & Tiggemann, M. (2016). A systematic review of the impact of the use of social networking sites on body image and disordered eating outcomes. Body Image, 17, 100-110.
Preventing Eating Disorders
‘Prevention’ refers to specific programs or interventions designed to reduce risk factors, enhance protective factors and ultimately stop the increasing rate of eating disorders in our society. Early diagnosis, prevention programs and appropriate cost-effective treatments have proven to greatly reduce the impact of an eating disorder.
Primary prevention interventions aim to prevent the onset or development of an eating disorder and may be universal, selective or indicated. While the aims of all these interventions can vary slightly, they do share common goals that are focused on enhancing the prevention of eating disorders in general.
Secondary prevention interventions aim to lower the severity and duration of an eating disorder in a person who already has the illness. There is considerable overlap between indicated prevention and secondary prevention, with both methods sharing various aims and targeting similar groups.
In our society, a large percentage of young women and men engage in disordered eating behaviour. Disordered eating behaviours develop in response to negative body image and body dissatisfaction and can lead to serious physical, psychological, and functional problems.