About 10 million women and 1 million men in this country are struggling with eating disorders, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. Since many of them are teens and young adults, this is an especially important topic on college campuses. La Salle University held a number of activities last week during National Eating Disorders Week.

 

One of these events was a viewing of “Killing Us Softly 4,” a film that challenges the viewer to “think critically about popular culture and its relationships to sexism, eating disorders and gender violence.” The film was followed by a panel discussion about the issues. Elaine Zelley, an associate professor of communication at La Salle, was a member of that panel.

 

“The average person is exposed to over 3,000 ads a day — that’s a lot of images," says Zelley. Many ads show young, attractive and very thin people, regardless of what is being sold.

 

“Whatever we watch unconsciously affects our worldview,” Zelley says. “People who watch a lot of medical dramas, statistically, have different views of doctors. Watching soap operas affects someone’s romantic expectations.”

 

Since these images are so inescapable, it’s important to maintain a critical attitude toward them. “Media literacy is crucial,” Zelley says. “People need to be aware of how manipulated some of these images are. Even supermodels don’t look like supermodels."

 

The Barbie complex

One source of distorted body images appears in girls’ lives very early — the Barbie doll. To show how unnatural Barbie’s proportions are, a life-size outline of her figure was displayed in La Salle’s dining hall. To counteract that message, students wrote messages with positive body messages on lilac butterflies and hung them around the cut-out.