Hollywood’s Distorted Body Image Can Cause Eating Issues

Emily Fox-Kales is a professor of media psychology and of cultural studies at Northeastern University, a clinical psychologist and author of a new book that takes aim at Hollywood’s unrealistic ideals of body images and how they can affect the eating habits of our youth. In a recent article, she discusses her concerns relating to this problem and offers suggestions as to what parents and movie viewers can do. She believes that the images portrayed in the media encourage unhealthy and negative weight-control behaviors and can have serious negative consequences on self-esteem. She suggests viewers watch movies to enjoy the movie, and maintain a critical eye when watching the celebrities on the big screen.

She encourages parents to help their children learn how to do this by talking about the celebrities in the movies. Ask the children if they believe all girls are that thin. She recommends discussing the values of the characters and the intention of the movie. “The critical questions are how did you feel about yourself before you watched this movie, and how do you feel now?’’ said Fox-Kales, who is also founder and executive director of Feeding Ourselves, an Arlington-based outpatient program for people who want to change the way they eat.

Extreme weight-control behaviors can include binge eating, anorexia nervosa and other out of control patterns related to food and eating. Many of these issues develop in the teenage years. Popular culture influences many of the choices young people make, and has an especially significant impact on how young girls view their bodies and value themselves. “Movies convey certain messages that make it tempting to idealize certain kinds of bodies,’’ Fox-Kales added, “but the average woman is not 5-10, she shouldn’t weigh 110 pounds, and she doesn’t have the benefit of special lighting and camera angles.’’

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Brianna Grayson

    Brianna Grayson

    July 6th, 2011 at 5:28 PM

    “…but the average woman is not 5-10, she shouldn’t weigh 110 pounds, and she doesn’t have the benefit of special lighting and camera angles.”

    Exactly! And let’s not forget the soft filters on the camera lenses that hide a multitude of sins (think the original Star Trek series and of any closeup of a woman- that hazy look) plus a professional makeup artist at their shoulder. These are simply unrealistic standards.

    Even the movie star wouldn’t look as good without those extra enhancements, so why battle with yourself to attain the unattainable? Give yourselves a break, ladies and learn to love yourself for who you are inside.

  • Maryann Creighton

    Maryann Creighton

    July 6th, 2011 at 6:03 PM

    I am truly, truly beginning to think that this whole “Blame the media” only comes from lazy parents. I agree it’s always the sexy actors who get ahead, and has always been like that. We can’t do anything about that. It’s how Hollywood works. There are celebrities on TV too who have toned muscles I could envy or looks some would die for, but I don’t think much about it.

    Parents, please teach your children that true beauty comes from within. What’s outside is much less important than what’s inside.

  • Rosalee Cliff

    Rosalee Cliff

    July 6th, 2011 at 7:25 PM

    Movie stars are products. Their livelihood depends on them looking good. They have all the perks on a movie set to touch things up to achieve that which we will never have in real life.

    Still, there is actually a genuine problem stemming from this. It’s worrying that children and young adults cannot distinguish between what’s on the silver screen and what the reality is.

    Google “celebrities without makeup” and show them those photos. That will strip away their illusions fast of how much is natural good looks and how much is clever product staging!

  • Dale McKenzie

    Dale McKenzie

    July 6th, 2011 at 8:19 PM

    You know, I don’t think there’s a problem, per say. Emily’s beliefs are the same as those that every single armchair media critic has held for too long. Her parroting of that reveals, like all the others that have gone before her, the same flaw in the theory: there is no significant proof that a normal person can suddenly gain an eating disorder from a movie. None.

  • Amy Jacobs

    Amy Jacobs

    July 6th, 2011 at 11:19 PM

    This is a major issue with youngsters I agree.But as long as the person is aware of things and can guage it correctly,he or she Gould know that year things are not real and that a million things have been done up to create that perfect body that they see on te screen.Not only is it unrealistic to aim for such things but it is doing injustice to yourself if you ask me!

  • katie


    July 7th, 2011 at 8:10 AM

    Everybody’s bodies are different and if you see a picture of someone whose body is just better at staying fit,they work on it,and at the end of it they digitally enhance everything-and you wittiest thinking why you cannot be that good-you’re cheating yourself andare being thankless for everything you have been gifted with.There’s nothing else that I would want to say on the issue.



    July 7th, 2011 at 11:59 PM

    I’m just surprised people even today, especially women, fool themselves and try to emulate what they see on screen and on billboards. Rememberthe gold pot that a leprechaun chases at the end of the rainbow? Well this is very close to that!

  • zaneiac


    July 8th, 2011 at 4:38 AM

    Time to stop blaming everuone else for our problems and look inside. What is it about us as a society that leads us always looking for excuses, something to help us shirk responsibility? I know that women especially are prone to seeing these images and taking them to heart, but ultimately the choice to lead a healthy lifestyle boils down to us and our own decisions. Should not fall on others to make sure that we are doing what we should do.

  • simone connell

    simone connell

    July 8th, 2011 at 10:01 AM

    @Dale McKenzie- An interesting point. I’m curious about those afflicted with an eating disorder that were in the study group… did they actually have an eating disorder or show genuine concern about their weight before viewing said movies?

    Because if they indeed were presenting with eating disorder signs already, then we can’t exactly blame it all on Hollywood. That’s like throwing down seeds and blaming the rain for your yard being overrun with plants.

  • camilla schrieder

    camilla schrieder

    July 9th, 2011 at 4:37 PM

    Movies do influence them and at a very young age. There have been five year olds considering diets according to some anorexia studies in the UK. Don’t think that little kids are going to be exempt from eating disorders just because they are young.

    And images of skeletal-I’m sorry,thin’s the preferred word, isn’t it- thin women are everywhere: magazines, movies, TV, cartoons, graphic novels, newspaper ads, billboards, the internet, mannequins in store windows even!

    They cannot help but be influenced by that visual bombardment.

  • loischristian


    July 12th, 2011 at 10:59 AM

    What y’all need to do is just enjoy a movie for what it is-harmless entertainment. Realize there are women have better figures than you, and maintaining that requires a healthy diet and exercise. Deliberately letting yourself starve over a desire to emulate some overpaid actress isn’t healthy for your body or your mind.

    Be yourself! Life will be more interesting that way.

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