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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Media Messages that Kill

The following is a Guest Post by Dr S. Jeanne Bramhall - June 2010.

I obsess (and blog) a lot about pro-war and anti-civil liberties messages in the media because they are easiest to recognize. As a woman, I am far more concerned about the stereotyped treatment of women in the media. As a child and adolescent psychiatrist I worry particularly about the culture of extreme thinness in our society – which is one hundred percent media driven.

How Feminism Shapes My Views

I confess I am also a feminist. This is an embarrassing confession. Feminists, gays and dark-skinned people are subject to much ridicule and scorn in contemporary society. In my opinion the controversy stems from confusion around the definition, which has somehow been associated with an irrational hatred of men. I use the word feminist in its broadest sense – to describe women who refuse to automatically subordinate their own (or their children’s) needs to men, the male power structure or a male-oriented view of society. I happen to like men. Some of my best friends are men. As a feminist health professional, I am enormously concerned that young girls are continuously bombarded with messages from TV, movies, music videos and youth and fashion oriented books and magazines that leave them with a distorted – and dangerous – view of themselves and their bodies.

Romantic Love is Dangerous to Your Health

Among the most pernicious is the constant emphasis on being young, thin and attractive to men. It relates, in large part, to a carefully crafted myth that romantic love is the highest ideal a woman can achieve in contemporary society. It is so powerful that the majority of women grow up believing in a highly stereotyped version of romantic love, as well as a self-concept that they are utterly worthless without a man to love them. This myth, like Santa Claus and the diamond engagement ring, are creatures of an elaborate and sophisticated marketing industry. It bears little relation to real life. In fact the myth hurts men almost as much as women because it is largely to blame for our high rate of divorce and broken families.

On Being Young, Attractive and Dead

As a health professional I am most distressed by the extremely narrow and stereotyped standard of attractiveness – young, perfectly chiseled and starvation thin – necessary to succeed in the fashion, TV or movie industry. There is no question media marketing deliberately aims these messages at teens and pre-teens who lack the critical thinking necessary to differentiate what they see on the screen from real life.

This strategy is immoral and should be illegal. All women exposed to this stuff learn to hate their own bodies. This universal self-hatred is responsible for an exponential increase in potential fatal eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

The U.S. Statistics Speak for Themselves
Eating disorders are a major cause of death for women age 15-24.

4% of American women are afflicted with a life-threatening eating disorder.

Approx. 10% of American women with eating disorders die within 10 years of developing the disorder.

20% of American women with eating disorders die within 20 years of developing the disorder.

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