Eating Disorders in Television and Film
Posted December 3, 2012

Lately I’ve been immersed in watching old TV shows.  One of the shows I’ve gotten caught up in is the spectacularly cheesy yet oh so fun “Make it or Break It”. If you’re not familiar with the show, it’s about a group of gymnasts training for the Olympics and involves awesome scenes of gymnastic prowess (which is why I watch) and the typical teenage melodrama of a nighttime soap.  One of the girl’s storylines in the second season, however, dealt with her developing an eating disorder in response to both the stress of a life of training and her parent’s impending divorce.  Seeing this led me into a train of thought about the way eating disorders are portrayed in fictionalized media.

In “Make It or Break It”, Kaylee starts exhibiting disordered eating over several shows with the behavior becoming more prominent when a coach mentions that her competitor is “X pounds lighter”.  Slowly people start realizing something’s wrong and they start to confront her.  Eventually after passing out at an event, she enters a treatment program.  Insisting nothing is wrong with her, she goes through the motions so she can get discharged. It’s not until her roommate in the program dies that she realizes she does indeed need help and from there she sets about on her journey of recovery.  What struck me most about this was that before each commercial break the actress playing Kaylee is shown talking about eating disorders – how they are a disease and are nothing to be ashamed of with a listing of NEDA contact information.  I definitely gave them kudos for that.

But was her eating disorder struggle accurately portrayed?  At times, I think it was and at others it seemed a bit contrived.  However, it made me think of other shows and movies where I’ve seen eating disorders portrayed.  This was definitely more realistic than when Emma from “Degrassi” had an eating disorder (that took about two episodes to be revealed and resolved and was rarely mentioned again).

So how do eating disorders portrayed in fictionalized media affect us?  Do you think they help create talking points for teens and their parents or among women and men?  Or do you think they create more of a negative social stigma?  With “Make It or Break It”, I think it was handled reasonably well and I think the fact that NEDA was involved (or at least mentioned) was definitely a step in the right direction.  Do you think more shows should tackle this issue or would you rather see the issue left alone unless it’s handled by professionals?  We’d love to hear your thoughts so please leave us a comment and let us know what you think.



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  • E Davis0323

    One of my favorite shows, Glee, is beginning to introduce a new character (Marley) as forming an eating disorder. I was a bit unsettled by the way they went about it, as it first was brought up as a joke. A popular/mean girl was making Marley (who is already super thin) think she is getting “fat” like her mother, who is very overweight. She tells Marley about her two new “best friends”, aka her pointer and middle finger, implying for her to make herself throw up after eating so as to lose weight. It isn’t taken as seriously as I would’ve liked, but I am still glad that they’re addressing an issue that is becoming very serious and common.