Magazine article USA TODAY

Media Not Totally to Blame

Magazine article USA TODAY

Media Not Totally to Blame

Article excerpt

Mary (not her real name) turned to bulimia and anorexia while feeling tremendous pressure to be thin as a high school cheerleader. She looked to beauty and fashion magazines, not for entertainment, but for "helpful hints" on binging and purging. "If a magazine said, `Bulimia has ruined my life, a true story,' I would read it just to find ideas. I wanted to get people's secrets, and I wanted to figure out what [singer] Karen Carpenter did because I needed to do the same thing."

Mary was interviewed as part of a study at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, on how women with eating disorders use the media. From survey results and in-depth interviews, the researchers concluded that pointing a finger at the media for causing eating disorders is overly simplistic.

"There is a fine line of responsibility on the part of the media," indicates Steven Thomsen, associate professor of communications. "The media do not act as an initiating, but, rather, as a perpetuating force to those who suffer from an eating disorder. To these young women who are at risk, some of these beauty and fashion magazines can be as dangerous as giving a beer to an alcoholic. The very factors that have made them vulnerable to an eating disorder also heighten their vulnerability to images of thinness and false promises of happiness."

Thomsen teamed with Kelly McCoy, assistant professor of family science, and Marleen Williams, associate clinical professor of counseling psychology. Unlike previous eating disorder studies, their research examined the motivations behind women's use of beauty and fashion magazines, not just the frequency with which the magazines are read. The findings show that anorexics use the media in a distorted manner. "Understand that it's not necessarily the media's fault, but that young women may choose to use the media to support and reinforce their eating disorder," Thomsen points out.

Several factors emerged from the study that can help parents, therapists, and researchers determine whether a young woman is at risk for developing an eating disorder. Why a woman reads particular magazines is far more important than how often she reads them, Thomsen maintains. …

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