This might be hard to believe, but eating disorders didn’t really pop up on most of our radars until the last couple of decades. If you don’t believe me, check out this algorithm that inspects the popularity of phrases over time. If you type in eating disorder, anorexic, or bulimia, you’ll see a sharp rise in its usage between the late ’70s and early ’80s. Sure, the culture we live in likely contributed to its rise, but it’s not like there wasn’t a girl in 1966 who threw up after every meal. In 1983, singer Karen Carpenter of The Carpenters died of heart failure from complications with anorexia, which helped the condition and other eating disorders come out of the closet. The increase awareness over the past thirty plus years has been a literal lifesaver for the millions.
With this awareness–and higher numbers of people suffering from eating disorders in the first place–has come pop culture’s take on taking on the issue. Of course, like everything pop culture, there have been both good and bad, accurate and inaccurate, groundbreaking and hokey portrayals of eating disorders and body image woes, especially in television. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s those inaccurate portrayals that we remember most. Here are seven characters who unrealistically dealt with eating disorders.
Blair From Gossip GirlIn the Gossip Girl books, Blair's bulimia was an ongoing struggle. The sad thing is that nobody really cared, and even Blair didn't seem to see it as much of an issue because she desperately wanted to be skinny . In the TV show? Well, her eating disorder wasn't nearly as fleshed out and was only really mentioned in a couple of season one episodes and was barely ever mentioned again. All in all, the show did a pretty crappy job at handling bulimia and turned a serious mental disorder into a mere problem that can be cured by talking about it for 10 minutes.
Emma From DegrassiUnlike most TV shows that dedicate just one episode to eating disorders, Degrassi decided to change things up by dedicating...TWO episodes to a character's eating disorder! Wow! Okay, but in all seriousness, Emma developed anorexia pretty quickly and was hospitalized after having an anxiety attack that her malnourished body couldn't handle. The show gets a bit over the top--showing Emma feverishly cutting out photos of models--but its heart was in the right place. Unfortunately, it fell flat compared to the episode about Toby's eating disorder.
DJ From Full HouseOh, Full House. This is yet another case of "only-have-an-eating-disorder-for-one-episode-now-life-is-perfect" syndrome. DJ gets all caught up in losing weight in time for a pool party, but she goes overboard and passes out at the gym. To be fair, this episode aired in the early '90s, when talking about eating disorders in a real way outside of a talk show or Afterschool Special was a rarity. So, okay, Full House gets props for pushing the envelope.
Topanga From Boy Meets WorldOkay, so Topanga doesn't go on a starvation diet, but she does feel fat compared to her skinnier friends. She becomes uncomfortable with her curves and decides to go on a diet, but the twist is that people actually think she's pregnant. At the end of the episode, she has to clear up the rumor and explains how insecure she's been feeling. In response, her friends tell her about how self-conscious they are about their bodies and how enviable Topanga's body really is. One character even, oh so tactfully, says, "You're not fat, you're hot!" As if...you can't be both at the same time. The intentions behind this episode were good, but the delivery just perpetuated more BS.
Miranda From Lizzie McGuireThis is basically known as "the eating disorder episode of Lizzie McGuire" and not in a positive way. Look, it's great that Disney wanted to let its viewers know that crash diets are bad, especially since these age girls as young as eight start thinking about diets. But maybe if more time passed during the course of this episode, it would be understandable that Miranda had a serious problem. Instead, she skipped lunch and dinner once and then passed out. Wow, these shows really like boosting up the dramatics to make a point, don't they?
Sharon From BracefaceSharon wanted to fit in to a dress for the school fashion show, so she decided to go on a little diet. Her friends are concerned, but she's convinced that dieting is okay because magazines talk about them all the time. Uh, right, okay. Well, that diet became nightmarish, leading Sharon to pass out in the middle of the show. Braceface has always a slightly edgy cartoon for its pre-teen/teen girl demographic, so it deserves props for that. But given the fact that this episode ends with Sharon and her bestie, Maria, eating a burger and fries and laughing about how ridiculous Sharon was, it's a little hard to see whether or not the writers took the dangers of crash diets all that seriously.
Sabrina From Sabrina The Teenage WitchFor the most part, this episode had a pretty good way of addressing body dysmorphia. Sabrina can't fit into the dress she planned to wear for the upcoming school dance, so she decides to drink magical diet drinks to try to lose weight. Unfortunately, the sketchy salesman who sold her the product also put a spell on her mirror that made her look three times bigger than she really was, causing her to continue to obsessively guzzle down the diet drinks until she literally wasted away into nothing. Yes, that's right, she became invisible. I get that this show uses plenty of fantasy, but what a corny way to prove a point.
What other TV shows did a good job tackling eating disorders? Which ones did a terrible job? What Tell us in the comments!