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The influence of the media has the potential to impact how teens and adolescents perceive themselves and the world around them. When the media shares misinformation about bulimia nervosa and other eating disorders, or fails to provide follow-up resources for bulimia treatment, the impact can be devastating to susceptible individuals. Media influence can also convey unhealthy messages about body image and self-worth, giving teens and adolescents the wrong idea about their true value as a person. These messages come through indirectly and deliberately through movies, television shows, online content, music, video games, magazines and other media.

Without mitigation of the messages sent by the media, teens and adolescents tend to internalize the information and may allow it to help form their thoughts and actions. Parents and other caregivers must step in early and often to mitigate the impact of media influence and provide their kids with accurate information about bulimia nervosa, body image and self-worth. Their role in this important matter can mitigate negative body image, poor self-esteem and disordered eating patterns from escalating into serious issues in the future.

In this guide, parents can explore the four main problematic ways the media presents bulimia nervosa and eating disorders and ways to mitigate their strong influence.

Deliberate Versus Indirect Media Influence

Both indirect and deliberate media influences have the potential to push unhealthy thoughts and behaviors on children of all ages.


With deliberate media influences, the show content and ads speak directly to people in the teenage and adolescent age groups. The brand images and language aim to convert these adolescents into consumers by presenting a problem and positioning their products as the solution. The deliberate influence can take an ugly turn when it encourages kids to change their perceptions, appearance and actions to fit the presented ideals. This type of media influence is relatively easy to spot and mitigate by parents who are actively engaging in the content with their children.


Indirect media influences do not target teens and adolescents directly, but can still have an impact on their perceptions, thoughts and behaviors. Overly sexualized advertising and unrealistic body imagery are typically found in indirect media influences that negatively affect teens and adolescents. Vulgar language and violent images, however brief, can also impact the way kids see themselves and interact with the people in their lives. With media influence running out of control for decades now, these indirect messages often seem harmless and even normal. Unfortunately, negative messages about body image, eating disorders and self-worth can, and do, come through and potentially change the perceptions of teenagers and adolescents.

These two types of influence can add up to a serious problem when parents do not see the issue nor attempt to mitigate the negative messages. Understanding how the media misrepresents bulimia nervosa and other eating disorders is the first step in mitigating this issue.

Ways the Media Misrepresents Bulimia Nervosa

As with all eating disorders, bulimia nervosa, and the people who have this disorder are chronically misrepresented by the media. These misrepresentations do a disservice to those who have eating disorders by impeding their motivation to seek bulimia treatment. The inaccurate portrayals can even romanticize bulimia nervosa and other eating disorders, causing teens and adolescents to potentially see those destructive behaviors as accepted solutions to body image and self-worth issues.

In the four following ways, the media regularly misrepresents bulimia nervosa and potentially harms the perceptions of teenagers and adolescents who are paying attention to those messages.

Inaccurate Presentation of the Condition

When bulimia nervosa appears in the media, the content tends to glamorize the condition rather than show its harsh realities to the audience. The truth of the condition can prove too raw for the tone of the shows or other content, causing the creators to wrap up the bulimia nervosa symptoms in a neat, little package. While gentler, this approach can seriously downplay the risks of bulimia nervosa, leaving young viewers with unrealistic views of this condition and eating disorders in general.

The media also frequently presents bulimia nervosa as a fixed set of symptoms affecting a person, rather than show the unique way this condition can present across all realities. They do not show that each person experiences the disorder differently and works toward bulimia treatment and becoming recovered in their own way. This does a disservice to those with and without bulimia nervosa, as it fails to show the true nature of the condition and all the various ways it can present in adolescents, teens and adults.

Lack of Focus on Bulimia Nervosa

Rather than try to toe the line between showing the many truths of bulimia nervosa and not upsetting the audience, many content creators elect to leave bulimia nervosa and other eating disorders out of their storylines altogether. In some ways, this is not a terrible thing, as inaccurate portrayals can do more harm than good. For the most part, however, the absence of this condition in the media only serves to sweep the problem under the rug and make people with this eating disorder feel even more isolated.

Accurately portraying bulimia nervosa in the media can help remove negative presentations that can act as a barrier to acquiring treatment for many kids and adults alike. Elimination of existing stigmas can also help reduce the isolation and judgment of people with eating disorders often feel. The ability to open up and be honest about their condition can help people acquire the bulimia inpatient treatment they may need to become recovered.

Poor Representation of Diversity of People with Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa and other eating disorders can affect people of all ages, races, genders and sizes. Yet the media tends to only present these disorders in people fitting a narrow window of human conditions. Unfortunately, the poor representation of the diversity of people with bulimia nervosa can serve to increase the isolation of people with eating disorders. The lack of accurate representations can alienate people who do not fit in that small window, making it difficult to reach them with messages of hope about acquiring bulimia treatment and becoming recovered.

Depiction of Unrealistic Body Images and Eating Patterns

Although they are not directly referencing bulimia nervosa, inaccurate depictions of unrealistic body images and eating patterns have the potential to negatively impact the self-perceptions of teens and adolescents. Continual advancements in photo and video editing technology have made it possible to virtually perfect every aspect of men and women’s bodies shown on media. The programs allow for editors to outright change and replace any areas of the body with perceived flaws, such as blemishes and body fat. These editors elongate legs, necks and more until the image no longer matches reality in any way.

The inaccurate body image portrayals cause teenagers and adolescents to unfairly compare their own bodies to those false images. These adolescents may believe people should really look like they do on TV or online and chase that appearance through disordered eating and exercise habits. When healthy, natural bodies do appear in the media, they are often disparaged and linked with a negative connotation. These images of normal body types are usually bolstered with messages of shame and judgment that encourage kids to alter their thoughts and actions in pursuit of unrealistic body images.

Perhaps even more alarmingly, the ideal body images shown by the media are frequently linked with disordered eating habits as the norm. This promotion of unhealthy eating habits and the link with socially-accepted body types can have a devastating effect on teen and adolescents’ self-worth and thought patterns.

How Parents Can Help Mitigate Media Influence on Their Children

The media has a big influence on the way adolescents and teenagers think and feel about themselves and their world. Therefore, the tendency to show inaccurate depictions of bulimia nervosa, and the people with this condition, can only serve to potentially cause harm. By showing accurate depictions in a sensitive manner, it is possible to open up a dialogue about bulimia nervosa symptoms, causes and treatments.

By opening up the dialogue, the media helps parents engage with their children in talking about bulimia nervosa symptoms and treatment options. Parents can approach this subject as appropriate for their child’s developmental stage to mitigate the media’s impact on an ongoing basis. These conversations can also serve to help protect teenagers and adolescents from turning to disordered thoughts and behaviors to cope with body image and self-esteem issues. Regular discussions about eating disorders and their impacts on mental and physical health also allow adolescents to reach out for help if they start to develop risky thought patterns and behaviors.

Parents should screen all content for inaccurate representations of bulimia nervosa and other eating disorders. Although the presence of inaccuracies may exist, it is not always necessary to skip watching the content. Instead, parents can watch the shows with their kids and challenge the inaccurate information together. As adolescents and teenagers build their knowledge about the risks of eating disorders, they can better protect themselves from falling into disordered thought patterns and behaviors associated with those conditions.

How Parents Can Help Their Kids Seek Bulimia Inpatient Treatment

Parents play an integral role in helping their child avoid the development of eating disorders. This can be an uphill battle, however, as the media, peers and other environmental influences can override parental interventions. Add in the influence of genetics and underlying mental health conditions and it becomes clear why is not always possible to prevent the onset of eating disorders. When disordered thoughts and behaviors occur, parents can seek early intervention to help their child become recovered before serious health complications arise. Signs pointing to the need for bulimia inpatient treatment are not always noticeable, however, especially in the teenage years when being secretive becomes second nature.

Parents can help keep the dialogue open with their children; through conversations about bulimia nervosa and other eating disorders, adolescents and teenagers with disordered thoughts and behaviors may start to feel safe in speaking out about their own troubles. If this occurs, parents must be prepared to assist their child in acquiring care from effective bulimia treatment centers.

Although the news may be shocking or upsetting, parents can best serve their children by remaining judgment-free and supportive every step of the way. Excellent bulimia treatment centers strive to partner with parents in helping teenagers and adolescents become fully recovered from eating disorders of all kinds. The bulimia inpatient treatment process also involves the diagnosis and treatment of all underlying mental health conditions affecting the patient.

Parents can acquire the support they need from the admissions specialists at Clementine. With a call to 855-900-2221, parents can speak to an admissions specialist and complete the intake process with their child. All patients in bulimia treatment centers receive comprehensive care from a full team of doctors, nurses and psychiatric professionals trained in effective eating disorder treatment strategies.


Melissa Spann, PhD, LMHC, CEDS-S

Melissa Orshan Spann, PhD, LMHC, RTY 200, is Chief Clinical Officer at Monte Nido & Affiliates, overseeing the clinical operations and programming for over 50 programs across the U.S. Dr. Spann is a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist and clinical supervisor as well as an accomplished presenter and passionate clinician who has spent her career working in the eating disorder field in higher levels of care. She is a member of the Academy for Eating Disorders and the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals where she serves on the national certification committee, supervision faculty, and is on the board of her local chapter. She received her doctoral degree from Drexel University, master’s degree from the University of Miami, and bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida.