America’s Next Top Model and Eating Disorders: What You Should Know?

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In this blog, we will cover topics like eating disorders, types of eating disorders, struggles of America’s Next Top Models, and also answer frequently answered questions.

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America’s Next Top Model and Eating Disorders: What You Should Know?

Yoanna House, Eva Pigford, Naima Mora, Nicole Linkletter, Danielle Evans, Caridee English, Jaslene Gonzalez, and Saleisha Stowers.  

What is the one thing that all nine girls share in common? 

They’ve all won a season of America’s Next Top Model, and all of them are extremely skinny with dress sizes three and under. 

In today’s time where models and celebrities are one of the first people that children, especially teenage girls idealize, the kind of beauty standards portrayed by America’s next top model is the last thing we need as a society. 

Girls that portray an unrealistic physique ideal are praised on television shows like America’s Next Top Model (ANTM). 

What are eating disorders? 

Eating disorders can be defined as those mental health conditions that affect one’s eating habits, but the impact is not only on food. These disorders often deeply affect their physical and mental health. 

Each eating disorder has its own set of criteria that must be met in order for a patient to be diagnosed with one and the diagnosis can only be done by a professional. 

Types of eating disorders

Anorexia, or “self-starvation,” as Walter Vandereycken defines it, is defined by a fear of gaining weight, a distorted body image, a body weight of 15% below the normal average, and,  sometimes even amenorrhea, which means the lack of menstruation.

Bulimia is another eating disorder characterised by binge eating episodes (consuming a large quantity of food in one sitting) followed by purging behaviours. You have no control over your eating during these binge eating episodes. After that, you try purging activities such as vomiting, fasting, enemas, excessive laxative use, diuretics, and exercising compulsively. 

While watching ANTM, you can very well observe the prevalence of these symptoms in the contestants of the show. Apart from the clearly visible extremely skinny models, several females across the various cycles had many of the signs of eating disorders.

How has America’s Next Top Model affected models’ lives? 

When one of the participants, Elyse Sewell, began to show signs of anorexia nervosa in Cycle 1, she raised questions in the minds of the viewers and the other candidates. 

Sewell, a 23-year-old participant who stands 5’8″ and weighs 114 pounds, was rarely seen eating. The other females got increasingly concerned and began to raise the likelihood of an eating disorder. 

Another Cycle 1 contestant, Adrianne Curry, claimed she overheard Sewell puking in the toilet. Sewell was rarely seen eating, and she was never featured during meals while all of the other participants were present. 

Sewell was also shown in a bra or sports bra several times, particularly in episode 5, to demonstrate how slender she actually is. Although Sewell never really admitted to having an eating disorder, her low food consumption aroused concerns about her well-being.

During cycle 3 of ANTM, Cassie Grisham, a tall, slim contestant, admitted to self-inducing vomiting after meals because she believed it was the only way she could fulfil her dreams of becoming America’s next top model. 

She admitted that if she was on any other career path then she would eat whatever she wanted but she has an obsession with being skinny because of her profession. And if anyone has a problem with her choice, then it’s their problem, not hers. 

She denied all the claims of being bulimic however, her symptoms match those of bulimia. She admitted to throwing up “sometimes” and worrying about food “24-7”. But she also defended her stance by saying that doing so makes her happy so other people should not have a problem with it. She also remarked that she respects all the plus-size models out there but that’s not for her. 

We cannot only put eating disorders into two categories- bulimia and anorexia nervosa. Some contestants of ANTM have shown characteristics that go beyond these two classifications. In cycle 7, a contestant named Anchal Joseph struggled with her weight. 

Whenever she saw herself in the mirror she became stressed as she was not satisfied with her appearance. To relieve the stress she used to eat food, however, eating food made her anxious because she felt she was eating way more than the other participants. 

She started to hate food and started blaming it for her problems. As time passed by on the show, her issues only got worse. Her self-confidence and self-esteem deteriorated greatly. 

At last, she was eliminated from the competition for lack of self-confidence. Although she did not indulge in any purging behaviours by laxatives or self-induced vomiting, viewers still saw a girl who hated herself and the food she ate. 

The double standards of Tyra Banks 

Tyra Banks talks passionately about being totally against eating disorders, but her actions prove differently. By awarding the ‘Top Model’ position to dangerously thin women, America’s Next Top Model damages America’s kids by encouraging the slim ideal of body and helping to internalize it in young girls. 

Another issue is the inconsistencies between what is stated and done, as it appears that Tyra Banks is conveying a positive message while actually damaging the perspectives of young teen American girls.

Despite the fact that Banks preaches against eating disorders, her actions as the host of ANTM and the problems she permits the girls on the program to live with sending the wrong message that it is absolutely okay to be dangerously skinny. 

Banks’ words and actions contradict one another, sending a bad message to young viewers. Banks’ view on eating disorders is one of the most glaring inconsistencies. 

Almost every season, Banks emphasizes how serious the subject of eating disorders is to her and how she wants to prevent them. “The eating disorder thing is very sensitive to me,” Banks said at a dinner with the five final participants in Cycle 2. 

One would think that Banks’ strong sentiments about eating disorders would drive her to do everything she could to ensure that any of the constants who were battling with one got the help they need to get better. Despite the fact that eating disorders are frequently highlighted on the show, Banks rarely discusses them one-on-one with the contestants.

After supper with Banks and the final four contestants in Cycle 2, contestant Yoanna House went to the bathroom. Camille McDonald, one of the other candidates, said that House frequently went to the bathroom, hinting that she may be vomiting after meals.

Banks questioned the other contestants if they felt Yoanna had an eating disorder, but House was never asked about it. Banks asked the other females to keep an eye on her and notify any major issues.

In another episode, there was a heated argument between contestants Fatima Siad and Allison Kuehn. Siad attacked Kuehn by saying that Kuehn was bigger than her. “Say that to the anorexic girl”, Kuehn yelled back as she raced out of the room.  Kuehn then talked about her childhood anorexia and how she now obsesses about her weight. Banks never had a conversation with Kuehn about it, and later that episode, Kuehn was sent home. 

Banks has made so many statements on being against supporting eating disorders in any way and then she did not even show the courtesy of having a one-on-one conversation with a contestant who opened up about her issues clearly shows that she does not practice what she preaches. 

ANTM promotes unrealistic standards of beauty

ANTM offers a clear contradiction between what is said about eating disorders and what is portrayed to the viewers. This can have a huge impact on the psyche of young viewers who will learn to idealise the thin body image as perfect. 

“Thin-ideal internalization refers to the extent to which an individual cognitively accepts the thin societal standard of attractiveness as her own personal standard and engages in behaviors designed to help herself meet that standard.” (Thompson, J.K. pg. 181). 

This can seriously harm the eating habits of young girls who will set this standard as a goal they can do anything to achieve.

It is important that we teach young girls and boys the importance of being healthy rather than extremely skinny. It is also necessary that they realize that every person is beautiful and perfect n their own way and they do not change themselves to fit into some superficial standards set by a television show. 

Conclusion

We talked about eating disorders, types of eating disorders, how has ANTM affected the lives of their models, the double standards of Tyra Banks, and how ANTM promotes unrealistic standards of beauty and impact youngsters.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs): America’s Next Top Model and Eating Disorders: What You Should Know?

How common are eating disorders?

Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa impact 0.5 percent and 2-3 percent of women, respectively. The most prevalent onset age is between the ages of 12 and 25. Males account for 10% of cases detected, despite the fact that females are significantly more numerous. 

Binge eating disorder and OSFED are more prevalent, while the prevalence of ARFID is unknown because the diagnosis was only recently described.

What are the causes of eating disorders?

Genetic susceptibility is one of the predisposing variables. Eating disorders appear to run in families, according to family and twin studies. Genetic research is now being conducted to identify genes that contribute to the likelihood of developing an eating disorder.

Precipitating variables include actions like dieting or exercise, as well as stresses like disease, trauma, or loss, which might cause the disorder to manifest.

Are there specific personality characteristics that are more common in those who have eating disorders?

Individuals with eating disorders, particularly those with the restricting subtype of anorexia nervosa, are frequently perfectionists who want to please others, are sensitive to criticism, and have self-doubt. They may have trouble adapting to change and may be stuck in a routine. 

A smaller proportion of eating disorder sufferers has a more extroverted temperament, are novelty-seeking and impulsive, and have trouble maintaining solid relationships. However, eating problems are not linked to a specific personality.

What treatment options are available for bulimia nervosa? 

ACognitive-behavioural therapy, which involves self-monitoring of thoughts, feelings, and actions related to the eating disorder, is the most effective psychological treatment. 

The goal of therapy is to normalise eating habits and identify environmental triggers as well as unreasonable ideas or feelings that lead to bingeing or purging. 

Patients are encouraged to question unreasonable weight and self-esteem concerns. Several drugs have also been proven to help people with bulimia reduce their bingeing and purging behaviours.

What do blood tests show for anorexia?

A complete blood count (CBC) and more specialised blood tests to examine electrolytes and protein, as well as the function of your liver, kidney, and thyroid, are examples of these tests. A urinalysis may also be performed.

Should I see a doctor if I think I have an eating disorder?

If you suspect you or someone you care about is suffering from an eating disorder, schedule an appointment with a medical expert as soon as possible. The most effective measure for long-term healing is early intervention.

References 

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/psychiatry/specialty_areas/eating_disorders/faq.html

https://dc.cod.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1004&context=hcir2009#:~:text=Contestant%20Cassie%20Grisham%20showed%20all,ANTM%20Cycle%203%2C%20Wikipedia).

https://medium.com/the-establishment/the-anorexic-anatomy-of-americas-next-top-model-ec966cdb5a6a

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