In The Media and Body Image: If Looks could Kill, Maggie Wykes and Barrie Gunter explore the relationship between idealized femininity in the mass media and the increasing prevalence of eating disorders. Karen McGarry reviews their work and adds an anthropological twist.
Wykes and Gunter discuss studies which address the role of race, ethnicity, and other demographic considerations in relation to the onset of various eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia among women in predominately Western socio-cultural contexts.
The images portrayed by mass media both reinforce and reproduce hegemonic images of femininity “within a whole history of cultural constructions of femininity” .
As consumers we have different perceptions of beauty, therefore responses to mediated images will be contradictory, ambiguous, contested, and most significantly, highly variable depending upon identities of class, race, ethnicity, cultural context, and a host of other factors. This reiterates the idea of beauty being in the beholder, but when it is believed that appearance is key to women’s success, that ideology becomes irrelevant. Thus making it easier for female to consume what’s in the media.
McGarry points out that Wykes and Gunter neglect to adequately address the convergences between instances of eating disorders and other identities like social class. McGarry brings up the question of “why are eating disorders so prevalent among middle or upper classes?” I think the answer to this is that they can afford to be surveillant of what they place inside of their body and they have a greater pressure to be “ideal” in their everyday life.
The existence of eating disorders will continue to prevail with the different interpretations of mediated imagines presented to us the consumers.