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Eating Disorders in Crime Shows

Updated on April 27, 2020

People enjoy watching crime shows because of how they mirror real-life tragedies. Attacks could happen to anyone, anywhere, and at any time. The show Criminal Minds, talks a lot more about mental illnesses than any other show, portraying: schizophrenia, D.I.D, and Addiction. For example, people suffering from schizophrenia “are at elevated risk [...] to be convicted of violent criminal offenses.” (Sheilagh Hodgins, 2008.) 42% of people suffering from a severe form of schizophrenia have been arrested for murder, and I believe crime show producers are inspired by true crime to alert the media through their shows. However, eating disorders are less addressed than other mental illnesses, who are more directly correlated with crime.

Using social media I was able to create a poll. I asked fifteen people of my generation this question: “How many people in your family have suffered from mental disorders in the 1960s and 1980s?” Asking people of my generation created a steady chart with people who were young adults back then.

Figure 1 describes what I found:

Figure one
Figure one

Then, privately I asked, “ How many of these people have suffered from an eating disorder?”The result shown in figure 2, did not surprise me, as people back then faced stigma, discrimination, and marginalization; Therefore, they would hide it from the public and not admit they were sick. Because of all of this stigma, the World Health Organization decides to create a Mental Health Legislation in 2003: “[It] is necessary for protecting the rights of people with mental disorders, who are a vulnerable section of society.”

Figure 2
Figure 2

Using my pie chart, I was able to determine that not a lot of young adults in the ’60s and ‘80s did suffer from an eating disorder, because doctors only started discovering eating disorders were hard to cure, meaning a lot of artists were not being able to be helped. For example, Paula Abdul, a singer, and dancer back in the late ’70s, admitted from suffering from bulimia for fifteen years. “Bulimia, a disorder involving binge eating and purging, appears to be increasingly prevalent in young women.” (Elaine Yudkovitz, 1983) My paper is going to discuss how mental disorders are portrayed in crime shows - especially eating disorders.

The show NCIS decided to portray in their early seasons, a Navy officer who suffered from an eating disorder. We discovered her body in a public bathroom, the head in the toilet, suggesting the victim was in a “vomiting position before her attack,” says the medical examiner in the show. The agents decided to search her apartment and they found a lot of weight loss workout books and videos: “How to lose 15 pounds in a week.” Agents on the scene concluded that she was preoccupied with her weight and because she was discovered in a vomiting position before her murder, she must have been suffering from an eating disorder. Crime shows tend to overlook and oversimplify mental disorders because of how complex they are, but they are still trying to raise awareness. “The death rate for eating disorders has been reported as high as 10 percent, and the risk of death is highest among people with both anorexia and bulimia,” reports Theodore E. Weltzin, in his article on Eating Disorder.

Prejudice is everywhere, but it is hard to realize that people will only listen to those who are suffering from an eating disorder when they are at the extreme end of the spectrum. People suffering from eating disorders can start out at any weight, “and because their child or patient may have started out “chubby’’ and “needed to lose some weight’’, it may even look at first as though [they are] dieting appropriately,” writes David Leibow, in his book When College is not the best time of your life. Body Dysmorphic Disorder is another type of eating disorder that correlates with anorexia and bulimia because “you can't stop thinking about one or more[...] flaws in your appearance [...] You intensely focus on your appearance and body image, repeatedly checking the mirror, [and] seeking reassurance.” (Mayo Clinic) This specific episode of CSI: Las Vegas, discusses this particular type of disorder in a respectful and accurate manner. The victim that was found in a shopping cart was a model, and her agency brainwashed her into thinking she was "never skinny enough" & “never pretty enough”. The show starts off with Ashleigh, a fashion model, looking in the mirror and “taking care of herself”. At the autopsy, they discovered that she had been through plastic surgery and botox. “Psychiatrists are now suggesting that all people who get cosmetic surgeries should be screened for mental pathology, particularly Body Dysmorphic Disorder,” says Victoria Pitts-Taylor, in her book Surgery Junkies.The medical examiner observed some blisters at the back of Ashleigh’s throat. She had some lanugo hair growing on her clavicle, which is "the body's strategy to protect itself against heat loss associated with extreme thinness," says Dan Wessels in his article “What is lanugo and what causes this hair to grow.” The medical Examiner deduced that she was bulimic and anorexic. “The beauty industry places [young women] under pressure [...] to conform to unrealistic body image,” says Martin Halliwell. This correlates with this episode because Ashleigh, was slowly dying from kidney failure and it was her obsession over her physical appearance that killed her. She desperately needed to change her appearance because she was “not perfect enough”, that she picked her face with tweezers and she died of blood loss and heart failure. And because her model agency applauded her every time she lost weight, she thought it was the only thing that made her pretty. “Those who achieve an unusually thin physique often receive praise for their beauty and self-control," says Melissa Pederson Mussell in her book The Outpatient Treatment of Eating Disorders.This could suggest that models could suffer from an eating disorder because of the pressure of fame.

Naomi Wolf, a feminist in the 90s writes “ Recent research consistently shows that inside the majority of the West’s controlled[..] successful working women, there is a secret under life, poisoning our freedom; infused with notions of beauty, a dark vein of self-hatred, physical obsessions, [..] and dread of lost control,” in her book The beauty myth. Crime shows and society seem to acknowledge that only women are suffering from eating disorders, which is in fact false: “1 Million men battle with anorexia and bulimia every day.”( CNN)

Throughout this article, I was trying to ware awareness of this disorder and the real effect and consequences of it: 1 in 5 people take their own life because of this disorder. I wish movies, shows and social media like tik-tok would stop romanticizing it.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Anastassia de Bailliencourt


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