Aging Anorexia and the Media

Author of the New York Times article “When Anorexics Grow Up,” Lisa Fogarty vividly recalls her first experience with anorexia on screen. A number of made-for-TV movies hit televisions in the late 80’s and 90’s that provided her and many others with their first visual depictions of adolescent anorexia. Movies such as For The Love of Nancy and Dying To Be Perfect served as moving images that “wrapped up anorexia into tidy boxes where therapy, feeding tubes, weight gain, finding release from a controlling mother’s grip and discovering the joys of food led to a happy ending. ” While such movies may bring awareness to the experience of an eating disorder, Lisa reports that they send the wrong impression to the public. She writes “My heart hurts thinking about a teen anorexic sitting in her suburban bedroom… She may believe that eating dessert one day means she’s saved. That she can then bid farewell to therapy and go enjoy a banquet of delicious foods for the rest of her life. I hope that’s her fate, but for an anorexic, it isn’t always the resolution.” Some individuals with anorexia are never fully cured and eating disorders are often not wrapped up in little boxes easily pushed aside once one leaves adolescence. Lisa fears that the public’s association with anorexia and adolescence may leave many adults feeling isolated if and when their struggles continue into or develop during adulthood.

Lisa suggests that the underrepresentation of this adult demographic in the media is due to the fact that “the aging anorexic doesn’t make for a compelling movie. Adults with the disorder aren’t represented in pop culture and news outlets…so I assumed we were either supposed to outgrow our eating disorders or die.” It was not until the shocking death of beloved Karen Carpenter at age 32 that Lisa recalls recognizing that, unlike the girls in the movies, she may not ‘age out’ of her disease. While for Lisa, her struggle with anorexia began at age 13, puberty and its associated factors are not the only time frame in which one may be triggered into the development of an eating disorder. Many other life stages (e.g. leaving home, getting pregnant, watching children age) bring enormous change and pose risks for the development of an eating disorder.

Despite the underrepresentation of adults with eating disorders on the big screen one-third of inpatient admissions to a specialized eating disorders treatment center were for people over age 30, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. According to the Times article, “In an online survey published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, 13 percent of women over age 50 were found to have eating disorder symptoms. Many older sufferers of eating disorders (some of whom have been battling the disorder since they were young) report feeling a sense of shame as they may ‘have a teenager’s problem.'” This unfortunate experience can often prevent individuals from seeking the quality treatment that they deserve.

Regardless of where you are in your process of discovery or recovery, Columbus Park Eating Disorder center in New York City is here to provide help. If you or a loved one are struggling with symptoms of an eating disorder, do not hesitate to seek out help. Contact us Here for more information about the services provided to individuals of all ages.