Do Air-Brushed Pictures of Models Really Lead to Anorexia?

If you saw Rachael Johnston walk past you in the street, you would not think that a mere three years ago this girl was seriously underweight and battling anorexia. In fact, she weighed only 4½ stone and doctors had given her 48 hours to live after she had suffered from the disease for four years.

Thankfully, Rachael survived and is now a healthy size eight, aged 20 and wanting to help other people who are in a similar situation. Rachael, aided by her mother Lynne, are calling for a ban on all air brushed pictures of models, or, if that fails, then health warning signs to be depicted along side the images, similar to the smoking warning signs on cigarette packets. Which brings us to the question, do air brushed models cause anorexia? I am going to be controversial and say no, I do not think that they do.

I understand, as Rachael herself has stated, that “Although airbrushed images didn’t actually cause my eating disorder, once I was unwell I would obsess over them.” And therein perhaps lies the problem in that they are a contributing factor in someones eating disorder, but not the actual cause.

The thing that no one ever seems to want to admit with anorexia is that these celebrities that get so dangerously thin do not ever hide away in baggy jumpers and large coats to disguise the fact that they are losing weight, they flaunt their weight loss like a badge, as if to say “Look at me, I’m so unhappy/fit/controlled/deeply sad etc” that the whole world stops for a brief moment and gasps “Oh my goodness, look at Demi Moore, she’s lost so much weight, she must be very ill.”

This is what people with anorexia are trying to tell the world around them. “Look at me, for God’s sake please look at me!” So do you think it is an accident that Nicole Richie is pictured in a mini dress, with straps that hang off her, no bra and her skeletal frame is visible to the viewing public? When Victoria Beckham is captured looking bony and tired, head downcast and weary, is that accidental or posed? These are far more dangerous images than air brushed ones because someone needs to shout “Okay we see you now what is the problem?”

The problem is not that they cannot eat, that is a symptom of something underlying. When someone has anoxeria, they basically are dealing with a problem and cannot find a way to process or go through it. They feel out of control so they control the only thing available to them and that is food. Air brushed models are not ‘ill’ in a sense, they are working members of society and as such, anorexics are not looking to be like them.

They want to be like the skinny, thin celebrities pictured out and about in their daily lives with headlines attached to them such as ‘Shocking Weight Loss of Britney Spears’ or ‘Friends Worry as Angelina Suffers Severe Weight Loss’ or ‘Anne Hathaway’s Dramatic Weight Loss Could Affect her Metabolism’ etc etc

These stars are already in the public eye but seem to lap up the extra attention they get by losing a lot of weight. And here is where it gets tricky for anorexics to admit, they like the extra attention and that can become addictive. When someone close to them comments ‘Oh my God you look terribly thin, are you okay?’ And they reply yes and carry on with their own destruction, it is a postive reinforcement for them.

They are getting attention but not for the right reasons. They are getting the worry and sympathy that they should be getting for their ‘real’ problem if you like, the one they are covering up with the anoxeria, but as nothing is being done about their real problem, which could be anything from they are feeling lonely, they have no friends at school, they feel trapped at home, they are in an abusive relationship etc then the anorexia continues.

And it will carry on because you cannot treat the symptom without looking at the cause. Anorexia is a cry for help. It is someones body literally screaming out at you ‘Please help me, I do not know how to cope and I cannot voice my problem but this is my physical way of showing you there is something wrong.’

Stopping pictures of airbrushed models unfortunately will not achieve anything. But if you notice a friend has lost a large amount of weight, taking them aside and asking them what is wrong, and persisting until they tell you, that might.