The Influence of the Advertisement Industry on Children and Eating Disorders

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Contributor: Camille Williams, MA, LCPC, Eating Disorder Specialist, Timberline Knolls

Advertisements are used to sell products. To do this they first need to convince consumers that there is something wrong. Something wrong with yourself, with your clothes, with your body, with your life.

They try to promote a message that life will be better and happier if you buy what they’re selling. Therefore, advertisements work and companies make money if they convince consumers they are not good enough or that their life is not satisfying.

These are the messages that surround us every day – ads try to sell ways that we could improve, be better, be happier, be prettier.

False Messages in the Advertisement Industry

The message of not being good enough or needing to improve can have a significant impact on a child’s self-esteem and self-worth. Children can be easily influenced by advertising messages during a time in their lives when they are trying to figure out who they are and how to belong. It is important to keep in mind that children, especially when very young, look at the world literally.

Magazine StandThey do not have the ability to distinguish what is and what is not truth. Being in a world with advertisements that are photo shopped to be flawless, a child can believe this is reality. Consequently, this young person may strive for this unrealistic and unattainable appearance, in order to be accepted by others and themselves.

Fad diets and weight loss products are a massive industry that preys on consumers with low self-esteem. Children and teens can be victims of this advertising and turn to these methods, which can often lead to eating disorder behaviors as a way of being socially accepted.

Unfortunately, these behaviors are reinforced by others through comments including, “wow, you lost weight, you look great” or “you are so thin, I wish I looked like you”. Advertising sells the thinness myth: the belief that if you are thin you will be happy, pretty, accepted, and successful. Children are highly susceptible to this myth and may go to extreme measures to fulfill it.

Children and Media’s Influence

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Eating disorder behaviors including restricting or purging may begin as a way to attempt to lose weight and feel better about their bodies and feel more accepted. People of any age can fall into these patterns in search of happiness, acceptance, and self-improvement.

As a person or child continues to use behaviors with food, it often leads to further dissatisfaction with life and body. Perpetuating the belief that people are not good enough the way they are encourages people to look for their flaws and errors and work as hard as possible to correct and fix.

Imagine how freeing it would be to accept yourself and your body the way it is – freedom from judgment and freedom from advertising’s sales tactics. Advertisements will continue to sell you on the belief that you’re not good enough for their own gain. Are you buying it?

Camille WilliamsAbout the Author: Camille Williams, MA, NCC, LCPC

As the Eating Disorder Program Coordinator, Camille supports the development of curriculum, supervises the eating disorder specialist, and provides group therapy. She also educates and trains all staff on campus and advocates for eating disorder awareness through publications.

Camille started at Timberline Knolls as a Behavioral Health Specialist. She then transitioned into the Eating Disorder Specialist (EDS) role. In this position for nearly five years, she developed her skills and competence in working with the eating disorder population.

Camille received a Bachelor of Arts degree in both psychology and sociology from Augustana College in Rock Island, IL. She then went on to earn a Master of Arts in Clinical Professional Psychology from Roosevelt University, IL.

Camille is a member of the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (IAEDP).

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on May 11, 2016
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