Thursday, April 15, 2010

Media and Eating Disorders

I promise to delete any rants I find myself making here this morning. Tuesday I flipped through the April issue of Minnesota Monthly as I was waiting to get my haircut. Now, I was forewarned by my dear editor Connie Anderson of Words and Deeds (she is awesome by the way) that these photos were going to be in this issue. I already had Sue Stein, who writes articles for me, working on a letter to the editor about these photos.

I can't believe how angry I got sitting at my hairdresser's. I had already seen one of the photos.

When I talked with Sue the next day, Wednesday, I got angry all over again. I promise to remain calm today.

In talking with Sue I described what I saw and the question that formed for me was: "How would photos of an emaciated woman who looks like she might keel over any moment make someone want to buy the clothing she is modeling?" That was after poor Sue had to hear much ranting.

I have been told I dress nicely, usually look fashionable so I don't think I'm completely in the dark about what looks nice. I didn't even notice the clothes...couldn't tell you. It is supposed to be a piece about fun new spring fashion. HUH? It was done all in sepia tones, no other color. The whole spread made me feel sad.

The poor waif made me think of my previous cleaning ladies who are immigrants from Ukraine. They used to tell me sad sad stories of having only 1 potato for a whole day for their family because other desperate people had stolen the food from their gardens and there was no food in the grocery store.

When I showed the photos to my hairdresser she instantly said that just looking at her hair was a strong indicator that she was undernourished. I stood in awe looking at this young woman with her scraggly, dry, thin hair—no smile (her teeth were probably in decay too) and all I could think was: Who in the magazine thought this could possibly be a good idea? Was this the "brainchild" of the stylist Jennifer Dickey? How about the photographer Joel Larson? What did he think? Then I saw that the byline on the piece was lifestyle editor Elizabeth Dehn and wondered, If she had a child with a life threatening eating disorder, would she be allowing such triggering photos to be published?

I normally don't name names but my blood is boiling on this one. I am on the record saying, "The media does not cause eating disorders in my opinion, but they can contribute to deadly results in those who are pre-disposed to eating disorders."

In this case I can clearly see how it might go down. A young person (male or female) could see this sickly model and think, Well, she is skinnier than I am and she is still alive so I guess I can lose even more weight and still live. Yes, it is distorted thinking but that is how the eating disorder sounds and it happens every second of every day.

I want to educate those in the media to see this concept as I truly don't believe they are evil people intentionally trying to kill young eating disorders sufferers. They just are unaware of the damage that such photos could create.

Besides, "Who would be inspired to buy those clothes anyhow? I still don't get it.

My plea to Minnesota Monthly editor Joel Hoekstra and Minnesota Monthly Publisher/President Steve Fox is this: Please take responsibility and learn about how what you print could be contributing to life threatening eating disorders. Did you know that eating disorders are the most deadly of all mental illnesses? At minimum 11 million Americans are sick with eating disorders and you can play a role in contributing to their wellness by your decisions.

I tried not to rant. I left A LOT out - thank goodness for the delete key.

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