UK psychiatrists propose editorial code to counter media support of eating disorders

New York Fashion Week wrapped up recently and London Fashion Week is underway, which means images of dangerously thin, overwhelmingly white models are everywhere in the media. Of course, such images are ubiquitous year round, often coupled with articles about the latest diet sure to make you impossibly thin, too.
The Eating Disorders Section of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the UK’s main professional organization of psychiatrists, has begun a campaign to oppose the media’s over-representation of incredibly thin models and glamorizing of eating disorders. They are calling for a new editorial code and a symbol placed on images that have been airbrushed.

“Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, are serious mental illnesses,” said [Dr. Adrienne] Key.
“Although biological and genetic factors play an important role in the development of these disorders, psychological and social factors are also significant,” she added, saying that was why the RCPsych was urging the media “to take greater responsibility for the messages it sends out”.

As a person who’s struggled with eating disorders I agree the media has a big influence. When nearly every image is telling you the standard of beauty is thin as well as cisgender, white, and able bodied, and you’re already struggling with your relationship with eating, it’s hard not to try to fit that image.
As Amanda Marcotte points out, in the US there seems to be only two polarized approaches to food: overeating or anorexia. And anorexia is encouraged. Diets are supposed to be the answer to obesity (which the media seems to think is the worst thing ever), but too often they aren’t a way to shift one’s long term relationship with food and physical activity. Instead they’re a structured form of disordered eating, often with other people encouraging you, that are socially acceptable to speak about positively in public. The “Air Diet” may be an extreme example, but not by much.
Where’s the representation of an the option beyond overeating or starving yourself? Where’s the space to negotiate a positive relationship with your body and the food you eat? I agree with the psychiatrists, the press is outright encouraging disordered eating and a negative body image. It’s way past time they stopped.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

Read more about Jos

Join the Conversation