Is fashion and social media playing a major part in the rise of eating disorders?

Fashion North investigates the rise in eating disorders and whether or not we believe the fashion world and social media are to blame for the way we view ourselves.

Eating disorders are increasingly becoming more common and have almost doubled in the last six years alone. No matter how big or small an eating disorder may seem to be, they are said to be one of the worst forms of mental health conditions around.

Now a problem worldwide, Fashion North wants to discover the real meaning behind the unfortunate increase. Eating disorder charity, Beat, estimates that a massive 1.25 million people, in the UK alone, struggle with an eating disorder. An estimated 11 per cent of those with an eating disorder are male.

Previous research suggested that 46 per cent of anorexia patients make a full recovery, with 33 per cent making an improvement and sadly 20 per cent remaining very ill.

As many believe, social media portrays a fake image of perfection, when in reality it doesn’t exist. What we see on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram portrays the ‘perfect’ body, the very best holidays, size six clothes and all the money in the world, however, what we don’t see is the normal life behind these photos.

Credit: Olivia Bowen (known as Buckland) Instagram

In today’s society, the younger generation grows up to think this is the norm for people to look this way and dress a certain way and this is only evidently affecting us mentally and making us feel bad about the way we look, deflating our self-love and body confidence. Unfortunately for those attempting to replicate the body we see on those pictures and catwalk events, can sadly become an obsession.

Shining Star Recovery Blogger, Kerrie-Ann Ashford said: “I believe the fashion world and social media have an impact on how we view ourselves. It definitely affected me. All you see are models that are photoshopped in magazines, on television, and through social media. It was and still is made to believe that you have to look a certain way in order to be pretty and accepted by society.

“Social media I believe is a massive contribution to eating disorders, it’s a competition of who can be the thinnest, where we’re constantly told what we should and shouldn’t eat ‘because it’ll make you fat’. It causes people to believe they’re imperfect and that by being healthy you’re too fat and you need to lose weight. There are naturally thin people who, of course, are fine but we need all types of realistic role models for young people.”

The fashion world is gradually improving and allowing plus-size models into the industry. With these changes taking place, this will hopefully prove to young people that being thin isn’t any more perfect.

Eating disorders are extremely complex, and those with the disorder may, in fact, look healthy, yet they may be very ill.

Kerrie-Ann goes on to say: “It’s great that the fashion world is trying to better the way we view ourselves but if social media doesn’t support this then there will continue to be more and more people with eating disorders and at a much younger age.”

As many of us know, social media posts can include a lot about various ways to lose weight and usually have quite a slim person next to the post saying how much weight they lost in an unrealistic timescale, which may influence those to change their diet drastically.

But can something simply shown on a phone or computer screen really be the main or sole reason for such an extreme illness?

Alicia Rees, a writer forExeposé said: “In the age of social media, I find it hard to believe that stick-thin runway models are solely to blame for the rise in the number of people suffering from eating disorders. Without a doubt, they’re a contributor but there’s also a sense of distance from them.

“These models are paid and coached to keep their bodies in prime condition, a luxury which is not available to most of us. Much more damaging to self-esteem, I find, is the constant stream of photo-shopped, filtered, or well-angled snaps on Instagram, Twitter, or especially Tumblr. These sites allow people to show only the good parts, which can have a colossal impact on others who feel less successful or unworthy. Unnecessary pressure can be applied to young people who want to imitate their idols.” (Exeposé Online, 2017)

Catwalks now not only show size six and size eight models but also plus size models too. As the industry grows, catwalk models and mannequins in high street stores have become curvier.

Last year, brands including Dior and Alexander McQueen pledged to stop using underweight models on the runway.

With plus size bloggers and those who promote body confidence now speaking out on popular social media platforms, this can only help the younger generation to feel more confident with their bodies.

Rebecca Burnett, a previous sufferer of anorexia said: “I’m 21-years-old and I’ve battled back through support, extensive inpatient stays and realised that the more good things I fill my life with the less space there is for bad thoughts, however, I’m still fighting. I personally don’t think the fashion world is to blame, I think there could certainly be a trigger point but I think that eating disorders are a part of a much more complex mental health problem and that is usually the underlying root that needs to be tackled.

“However, I think social media is playing a very dangerous part in influencing and moulding the minds of young people and their self-worth is becoming very dependent on the gratification received through social media platforms. There is also the unfortunate issue of mental illness becoming somewhat glorified, as more vloggers speak up about it and young children think is it cool to fit in with them. I’m not going to share my own lowest weight with the public as many people suffer in silence as they feel invalidated and are actually unable to access help due to not being a low enough weight for treatment.”

Credit: Rebecca Burnett

There is not one single reason why someone develops an eating disorder. A whole range of different factors combine, including genetic, psychological, environmental, social and biological influences. (Beat, 2018)

Recent statistics are reported figures; however the actual numbers are more than likely to be much larger due to sufferers keeping to themselves and how secretive the condition is.

Accurate statistics are very hard to calculate due to the issue of under reporting by sufferers, which is likely to continue. People who have mental illnesses in general are reluctant to discuss them due to the fear of stigmatism and eating disorders will still in years to come compound the problem of getting a true picture.

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