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3 Things Degrassi Showed Us About Eating Disorders

If you are like me, you may have grown up watching the show Degrassi: The Next Generation. Throughout the show the characters face many teenage situation include new relationships, break-ups, sex, death, eating disorders, and many more. Many teens may relates to these characters and the show could help them deal with their own real-world problems. One episode in particular, “Our Lips Are Sealed: Part 1,” details Emma and Manny‘s eating disorders and how their lives are altered because of them.

In Degrassi, the characters are all middle-class educated Canadians who live pretty stable lives. They value good reputations in school, having an active love life, having a put-together family, and having technology and clothing that are “cool.” Degrassi has aired 14 seasons and is very poluar through Canada and the United States.

Degrassi: The Next Generation is a Canadian teen drama created by  Yan Moore and Linda Schuyler. It is produced by David Lowe and Stefan Brogren and is distributed by Entertainment One and DHX Media. It has previously aired on CTV and MuchMusic and currently airs on MTV Canada. The target audience for this television show is middle-class adolescences and teenagers from 12-19 years old. This show is based on a high school community where the teenagers deal with a range of life problems. Teenagers in Canada and America would find this information relevant and interesting to watch because they could face similar problems. Teenagers of different ethnicity, races, and sexuality can enjoy this show because its cast has a wide variety of different characters.

Episode 5 from season 15, “Our Lips are Sealed: Part One” is one episode that heavily discusses a problem many teens deal with: eating disorders.

Emma and Manny at lunch counting calories during the episode.

Emma and Manny at lunch counting calories during the episode.

The episode begins with Manny being upset that she has gained weight and that she needs to lose it in order to secure a contract with an agent. Emma decides to put them both on a diet. Throughout the episode they are seen counting calories, depriving themselves of food, purging meals, and over-exercising. Their diet quickly turns into an eating disorder and their behavior is further encouraged by classmates telling them they will be jealous of their bodies after they have lost weight. Towards the end of the episode Manny has lost weight and has decided to stop “dieting.” When she notices Emma cutting out pictures of models for “inspiration” and not eating for days she tells her she is concerned for her health. Emma tells Manny that she will stop “dieting,” however, at the end of the episode we see Emma purge her dinner.

This episode shows just how much media and society can affect a young girl’s self-esteem and body image. In Degassi, we see 3 factors that lead young girls to eating disorders: they want to be seen as worthy, they will do whatever it takes to become thin enough, and magazines and models feed their need to be thin.

 


The cast of Degrassi: The Next Generation.

The cast of Degrassi: The Next Generation.

 1. Young Girls Want to be Seen as Worthy

In Introduction to Media Literacy there are 10 basic media concepts. The first is that media constructs our culture by the television, ads, movies, music, and other media we consume. This media shapes the way we perceive reality and interact in the world. In Degrassi, Emma cuts out pictures of models in magazines to give her inspiration to lose weight.  The media puts very thin models in their ads to portray that these are the bodies women should have if they want to be seen as “perfect.”

Along with this, 9 Harmful Stereotypes We Never Realized Our Favorite Disney Movies Taught Us said that Disney has shown that the only way a woman can be seen as valuable and  beautiful, is if they are thin and white. This can be seen not only in Disney, but throughout much of media in society. Emma has internalized this idea and believes that if she can be as thin as the models in the magazine, then she will be beautiful and worthy enough in society. In one scene during the episode her classmate, Paige, has even believed this idea too. By saying she will be jealous of Manny and Emma’s bodies she is saying they will be more attractive in society because they are thinner.

 

2. Girls Will Do Whatever it Takes to Become Thin Enough

A young girl on a scale looking upset.

We see this desperation to lose weight in a scene 10 minutes into the show. In desperation to lose weight in order to be thin, Emma and Manny throw up their dinner. They say that it is a special occasion, but throughout the episode they throw up every time they eat a meal. By doing this they are trying to attain unrealistic body types and Killing Us Softly 4  tells us that society is teaching girls that they should aspire to weight nothing. In this documentary researcher Jean Kilbourne says that by having clothing sizes of 0 and 00 society is telling young girls that they literally are so small that they do not have a number; they weight “nothing.” Kilbourne goes on to say that this is especially dangerous because 0 and 00 sized bodies (model bodies) only  belongs to 5% of all people. By doing this the media is creating an unattainable goal for girls and they will never achieve “perfect” model size. This can influence their need to diet and have an eating disorder.

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Kim Kardashian modeling for a weight loss supplement.

3. Magazine Models Feed their Need to be Thin

In The Relationship Between Media Consumption and Eating Disorders, researchers Harrison and Cantor have found that there is evidence that links adolescent self-esteem and image of their body type to mass media’s portray of ideal body type. These ads may be creating an importance of beauty and sex appeal to young girls. Also, bulimic patients have been found to decrease their self-esteem and increase dissatisfaction with their weight when exposed to ads with thin models in them. At the end of their study they found that symptoms for eating disorders where higher for girls and women who read magazine in comparison to those who watched television.

Also, researchers Martin and Gentry in Stuck in the Model Trap: The Effects of Beautiful Models in Ads on Female Pre-Adolescents and Adolescents have found that advertisements in mass media play a part in creating and reinforcing a need for women to be physically attractive. They said that “studies have found that female college students, adolescents, and pre-adolescents compare their physical attractiveness with that of models in ads.”

These two article are important because in this episode of Degrassi, Emma has become fixated with the idea of looking like the models she was cutting out of magazines. Society is saying that models are perfect and thin, so she (and all girls) must be too in order to be attractive and worthy in society. These articles have found that self-esteem and self-worth are linked to how girls view their bodies.

This analysis of Degrassi is important for society to realize the kinds of pressures that are placed on young girls to have “perfect” bodies. I hope you take away from this the idea that the media does influence our self-esteem and it is important to deconstruct messages like this so that we can see the world in a more informed light. By understanding that the media wants us to feed into these ideas in order for them to make money, we can see the ads for the products and not become emotionally attached. We have to fight these ideas of what a “perfect” body type is if we want our young girls to have a healthy self-esteem.

 

 

Comments on: "3 Things Degrassi Showed Us About Eating Disorders" (2)

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  2. Raven Williams said:

    Jessica,

    I got to read your blog twice and even though I mentioned to you that your blog was good before, it was even better reading it the second time. I grew up watching Degrassi and I think a lot of other teengaers did as well because the exact same things would be happening in their high school as well. I had a friend that ran Cross Country & Track at my high school and she was the tiniest thing I had ever seen but she was so good at her sport. When she went to college to run, she started starving herself and she got really sick – almost losing her life and she was forced to stop running to get her health back to normal. It was really sad to see her going through this becasue this girl LOVED to run. She also got smaller than what she was before so people would always look at her funny and say negative things and I ALWAYS hated it. Going back to Killing Us Softly 4, I agree with Jean Kilbourne when she mentioned that girls do anything in their power to be skinny. Other than my friend from high school, there were plenty of other girls I knew that would starv themselves or make themselves vomit after eating so that they wouldn’t gain weight. One trend I want to focus on is the trend within girls that think being skinny is “perfect” and how “you should look.” In an article titled Why Do Women Hate Their Bodies, they explained how the media has played a major role in the way a woman feels about herself. For example, a lot of woman use their figure and compare to images they see online like images of models who are extremely thin.

    In conclusion, as I mentioned before, your blog was great! It was a very important topic that I think a lot of girls have a hard time talking about because it’s so scary but females always talk about how skinny they want to be. A lot of females don’t like to workout, so they take the easier, yet scarier route – starving themselves. It’s important that young woman realize that there are different and safer ways to become slimmer than what they are.

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