Celebrities and Eating Disorders: Are the Messages Strong Enough?
Posted April 23, 2013

It’s no surprise that the entertainment industry has a thorny history dealing with the eating disorders of celebrities, particularly given the media emphasis on the notion of the “ideal” body type (aka being thin). When Lady Gaga was scrutinized by the media last year for her perceived weight gain, she responded with a bold confession that startled both the media and her fans. Lady Gaga posted a picture of herself on her fan website “Little Monsters”, wearing only her underwear with a caption “bulimia and anorexia since age 15.” Following that picture was another with a caption “But today I join the BODY REVOLUTION.” Through her fan site, she created a space for discussion of body issues and eating disorders while promoting compassion she felt was missing from the media coverage. Lady Gaga may be one of the most high-profile entertainers to directly confront the media about her weight issues, but others before her have suffered from eating disorders and body image issues both silently and vocally. For many years, celebrities like Karen Carpenter hid their eating disorder until it was too late. Today, many celebrities have openly spoken about their past experiences with eating disorders, but there are many mixed messages in these types of disclosures. Stars like Sally Field, Jane Fonda, Jessica Alba and Katie Couric have publicly revealed that they at one time suffered from an eating disorder, however, what is usually absent from these admissions are how they overcame their eating disorder, whether the were dealing with anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating disorder or eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS). Eating disorders rarely “go away” on their own, which is one reason why our organization’s mission is to promote early awareness, recognition and treatment.

However, there are notable exceptions, as some celebrities have openly and honestly discussed their eating disorders, treatment and recovery processes. While Pussycat Dolls singer Nicole Scherzinger admitted that she initially felt “humiliated” after revealing her 10 year battle with bulimia during a taping of VH1’s “Behind the Music,” she is now glad to have shared her story and the effectiveness of therapy:

“The impact I’ve had on other sufferers is just… I can’t tell you, it’s amazing. That I am now in a position to give strength, and support to others… It’s awesome.”

Others, like Demi Lovato, have not only directly addressed their issues with eating disorders, but have become outspoken advocates for education and awareness. Lovato wrote an article for Seventeen in which she not only disclosed her history with eating disorders, but also emphasized seeking professional help. She is also a spokesperson for the Love Is Louder Than the Pressure To Be Perfect campaign, which encourages people to embrace positivity and not yield to peer or social pressure to be perfect, whether in looks or actions. As members of the National Eating Disorders Association’s (NEDA) Ambassador Council, others like actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler, former Miss America Kirsten Haglund and models Whitney Thompson and Emme regularly speak at events and to the press promoting positive messages about the facts, myths and treatment of eating disorders.

Every voice that speaks up about eating disorders makes a difference in breaking the silence and stigma about this disease – celebrity voices are just more easily heard, as they have the power of media behind them. By also including a message about the effectiveness of treatment and recovery, celebrities make a strong impression on those currently struggling with an eating disorder. These stars are more than just entertainment figures- they can be life-changers.

 

~ Elizabeth