(Un)twisted: talking back to media representations of eating disorders

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In 2014-15, there were several news reports about a rise in the diagnoses and treatment of eating disorders (EDs), as attributed to the use of image-driven social media. Such coverage can be situated within a long history of concern in which those diagnosed with an ED are constructed as ‘especially vulnerable’ to the power of media images – a subjectivity which is pathologised and devalued precisely through its association with femininity. The most incisive objections to EDs being presented as a response to the ‘weight’ of media representation have come from Abigail Bray (2005) in her work on how anorexia is constructed as a reading as well as an eating disorder. Indeed, there is a whole history of empirical work in Feminist Media Studies and Girlhood Studies which has challenged the pernicious construction of female subjectivity as ‘excessively’ invested in, and ‘damaged’ by, the consumption of mass mediated forms. Yet the media consumption practices of those with experience of an ED have not been subject to similar feminist re-evaluation – an omission which this research seeks to address. In exploring the results of 17 semi-structured interviews with people who have experience of an ED discussing their encounters with media representations of EDs (material that is often co-opted into debates about the ‘toxic’ nature of media culture in this regard), this article seeks to intervene in how such imagined media consumption practices are often defined. In seeking to speak back to historically pathologising constructions, the article seeks to explore the qualitative responses in the context of more ‘every day’ understandings of media engagement, thus working against the gendered othering which has persistently occurred.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)149-164
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Gender Studies
Issue number2
Early online date6 May 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • eating disorder
  • anorexia
  • bulimia
  • media
  • pathology

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