Before we get into this, no, eating disorders are not always linked to PR and media. Eating disorders are as varied and complex as the people that have them, but it can be said that there are irrevocable links between PR and certain eating disorders – and this needs to be addressed.
As this week marks another Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I can’t help but think to all the images of the “perfect” body that so many believe they must achieve. Images that are fed to us through constant streams of photoshopped poses and filtered faces. Every day each of us is told that, in one way or another, we need to be fitter, skinnier, more attractive, more like those “perfect” people. And for some of us, that can be dramatically affecting.
There are several ways in which PR plays a part in the creation of eating disorders in young people, and there are things that all of us could do (as PR professionals and human beings) to combat the deadly effects of simple and seemingly harmless actions and reactions in the media and world around us.
More and more, the world of media is beginning to realise that models shouldn’t always be tall and stick-thin women with no lumps and bumps of humanity on their bodies, or men with more muscles than many of us can name. But still, we all too often see men and women that aren’t objectively “perfect” getting ridiculed or bullied online and in other forms of media. Entire magazines are dedicated to who has lost weight, who has gained weight, who looks best at what weight, and who wore certain styles better than others. The constant comparisons we are presented with are destructive to many of us, as we are bombarded with societal expectations that we will never reach.
For example, 40-60% of girls ages 6-12 are concerned about their weight or becoming too fat. This is unacceptable.
As PR professionals, it is up to us to govern and mediate how our companies and organisations represent body image. As part of our CSR considerations, we have a duty to our publics to ensure we are giving them a positive message. We must use more “average” people in our campaigns and be aware of our impacts on others in terms of our strategic goals, as well as our personal ones.
The constant need for people to be ‘on a diet’ or ‘watching their weight’ is harmful. When offering sweets or edible treats to people I know, I am often greeted with “I shouldn’t” or something similar. I’m even guilty of saying it myself, and I don’t know why it has become the societal norm.
Even our most beloved and beautiful celebrities are being told to diet for roles and that their weight could affect their careers. Women (and men) in media are constantly having their weight commented on, and it is harmful not only to those people, but also to those looking up to these celebrities (unless, of course, those celebrities are strong enough to say no; see the below example of Jennifer Lawrence talking about her experiences).
In PR, we are told that we need to manage expectations, and this is true when it comes to health, fitness, weight and body image too. We must look at the expectations put on ourselves by society and media, and question their validity. As members of companies or organisations, we need to manage those expectations for ourselves and others. We need to make an active difference to our world, and fight the things that society tells us are “perfect”.
- Internal Comms
Again, as PR practitioners, we need to include internal communications in our plans and ideas for PR in general. And as the saying goes, charity begins at home. The same can be (and should be) said for healthy attitudes about weight and body too. We should be encouraging healthy lifestyles and choices within our own teams and organisations, and influencing our publics to do the same, through leading by example.
Tackling eating disorders before they become a serious issue is something that is often missed, due to the hidden nature of many people’s habits, however, there are signs that we can each look out for in the people we know and work with:
Lips – food obsession
Flips – changes in behaviour
Hips – distorted body beliefs
Kips – sleeping more often
Nips – going to the bathroom straight after meals
Skips – obsessive exercising
In conclusion, we are not born hating our bodies. We grow to hate our bodies through different stimuli, and this can be reduced by simple awareness.
We, as a society, need to evaluate our relationships with food, body image, weight and expectations. We need to be aware of those suffering from eating disorders, and how we could be helping them. We need to build better relationships with food and body image, and help heal those whose relationships with these things have broken down. We need to encourage healthy behaviour, and destroy unhealthy ideas.
If we stand together, and use our PR knowledge of relationships, expectations and interpersonal communication, we can have a real impact on eating disorders and change our world for the better.