• Advertisers heavily market weight-reduction programs and present anorexic young models as the paradigm of sexual desirability

  • Clothes are designed and displayed for thin bodies in spite of the fact that few women could wear them successfully.

  • Photoshop is used extensively to portray real people as perfect unattainable fictions.

The mass media appears to provide unrealistic portrayals of the human body. Does that contribute to the number of cases of anorexia nervosa or other eating disorders?

  • 2
    Do you have a source for the image? The copyright owner deserves some credit. – Oddthinking May 25 '12 at 15:04
  • This question circles around the claim, but never states it square on. I recommend replacing most of it with a single claim: The mass media appears to provide unrealistic portrayals of the human body. Does that contribute to the number of cases of anorexia nervosa? – Oddthinking May 25 '12 at 15:11
  • In the Uk there's an All Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image which is looking into this, don't think they've reported yet though - ymca.co.uk/bodyconfidence/parliament – Tom77 May 25 '12 at 15:22
  • @Oddthinking, re the source, I wish. With all the resharing (of which I'm ipso facto guilty), it's close to impossible to trace the source. I have tried though. Do you think it shall be removed if we can't find the source? – Zano May 25 '12 at 20:35
  • All Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image published there report yesterday, haven't had a chance to read it yet - issuu.com/bodyimage/docs/… – Tom77 May 31 '12 at 12:27

In his book Wij zijn ons brein (We are our brain), Dutch professor and neuroscientist Dick Swaab states that evidence suggests anorexia nervosa is a neurological disorder. (page 173) It appears to be a disorder in the hypothalamus. There is absolutely no reason to believe this disorder is caused by media attention.

Additionally, a case of anorexia nervosa has been found found in a 19-year old woman who has been blind since birth.

Below is a summary of Swaab’s conclusion:

The current trend seems to be that anorexia is an infectious disease, similar to the way people thought homosexuality was an infectious disease some time ago. In both cases, there is absolutely no evidence supporting this. Being skinny might get one a job as a model, but skinny models do not cause eating disorders. [He mentions the blind woman as not supporting the idea that visual stimulus causes eating disorders.] In fact, there is no evicence that the number of people suffering from anorexia is increasing, although many dare to admit suffering from it now. All symptoms indicate that anorexia is a disease of the hypothalamus. [He then mentions functions of the body controlled by the hypothalamus that are affected by anorexia as well, such as lower levels of sex hormones, and how this could be an evolutionary advantage.] Several symptoms can still occur after weight has been gained again. A tumour or cyst in the hypothalamus can cause anorexia, and this was found to be the cause of anorexia in several women. Of course this does not mean all anorexia patients have a tumour in their hypothalamus, but it can be the cause. It is not clear which disorder is involved here. It is clear that, apart from sexual differentiation of the brain, genetic factors exist that increase the chance of getting anorexia. A few directly involved genes are know. A very stressful event could seem a direct cause of the disease, but factors who made the person vulnerable to the disease probably had effect during the development of the brain in the womb.The original process on which all that has an influence, remains unknown. [Swaab mentions his favourite theory is that it is an autoimmune disease.]

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    I don't think the claim is that pictorial representations in the media are the only cause of body image issues, just that they are part of a complete breakfast of culture. So one case of a blind gal with anorexia doth not disprove the claim. Interesting info on the hypothalamus, though. – Dave May 25 '12 at 19:38
  • @Dave: Quite right. The case of the blind woman is a non sequitur. Also, neurological disorders may have external triggers, e.g. schizophrenia. – Zano May 25 '12 at 20:32
  • 1
    @Ruud: As Dave said, interesting info, but is the phrase "There is absolutely no reason to believe this disorder is caused by media attention" your or Swaab's conclusion? – Zano May 25 '12 at 20:34
  • I added a summary of the chapter to the answer. The phrase was Swaab’s conclusion. As Swaab points out briefly in this chapter (and in more detail in the rest of the book), external triggers might activate a certain disease, but in many cases atypical development of the brain made the person more liable to having the disease in the first place. – Ruud May 26 '12 at 8:06
  • 1
    Just because something is "in the brain" doesn't mean that it can't have environmental reasons. – Christian May 28 '12 at 11:49

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .