I’ve been spinning this thought around in my head for awhile now, and I’ve struggled to put it into words, so forgive me if this isn’t a fully baked idea.
I’m not a fan of blame shifting. We are all responsible for our choices and how we allow outside influences to affect us, but I fully believe that media has caused us to not only normalize emotional/binge eating, but celebrate it. Dumped by your boyfriend? Drown you sorrows into a bucket of ice cream with your girlfriends. Busy college student? Totally acceptable to eat a whole pizza while you cram for mid-terms. Movie night at home? Obviously you need at least 5 different candies, some tacos, and tater tots.
Media, specifically television and movies, has managed to glamorize over-eating and emotional eating. As an adult, I realize that the people portraying these characters do not eat like that in real life. However, when you’re a 13 year old girl (or boy) with emotions and hormones and who knows what swirling around in your little teenage brain, you’re looking at these shows, with characters that you admire, and are being taught that this is how you’re supposed to behave when you’re stressed, sad, happy, bored, etc. Whether it’s subconscious or intentional, we imitate those we admire, including celebrities and our favorite TV characters. Want to be a Gilmore Girl? Talk fast, drink a lot of coffee (literally me in high school), and eat cake for dinner. My girl, Mindy (above) eats whatever she wants and looks great, so why can’t I do the same?
I truly feel that this is a part of how I developed disordered eating habits. Even in my 20’s I’d have an image of some TV character or other in my head as I grab some binge food at the grocery store or sit down with a pint of ice-cream in front of the TV on a Friday. I’ve been able to work through my own disordered thoughts around food, and I’m in a place now where I can see those thoughts for what they are – a bad influence from my formative years. Of course those people didn’t really eat all that food!
So what do we do? Stop watching our favorite shows for fear that we may be unknowingly influenced or triggered? If you are in the midst of a serious eating disorder, you honestly may want to consider that (that’s something to talk about with a therapist you trust).
My hope for bringing this up at all is to shed some light on something that’s not really talked about in media. When there are TV episodes around issues like alcoholism, drugs, suicides, or even anorexia/bulimia, they make sure to include help lines because they know that these are real issues (rightly so, I’m not trying to take away from those issues), but there’s never an acknowledgement around emotional/over-eating or binge eating. There’s no helpline to call or trigger warning to let you know that this may be something that could influence you. So keep watching your favorite shows if you’re in a good state of mind, (I know I will!) but be aware of how those characters may influence you or your kids. Have a conversation with your daughter about why we should/shouldn’t take these characters too seriously, because they may not be able to see the fiction in front of them.