Life in Balance: Negative body image, eating disorders fueled by ads, social media

A local expert on eating disorders says 80 percent of women feel worse about themselves after they look at beauty images.

BOISE - The nation's leading drugstore chain made a major announcement this week. Beginning in April, CVS Pharmacy will stop digitally altering imagery of models in advertisements for beauty products.

The company promised that any images that are not authentic will be labeled with a watermark to give customers a heads-up.

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"We want our beauty aisle to be a place where our customers can always come to feel good, while representing and celebrating the authenticity and diversity of the communities we serve," CVS said in a statement.

"I think it's a step in the right direction. It's a step in where we need to go," said Caley Featherstone, an eating disorders therapist. "There are some really jarring statistics in regards to that: 54 percent of women would rather be hit by a truck than be fat. That by the time a child, a female, is 11 years old, like 80 percent of them have been on sort of a diet."

The desire to be perfect often comes from the media around us. Featherstone says cognitive research shows what we see is more powerful than what we hear.

No wonder 80 percent of women feel worse about themselves after they look at beauty images.

"It is statistically significant that after 30 minutes of viewing media our body image is significantly altered, typically in the negative direction," Featherstone said.

Media is everywhere - Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, TV, magazines, just to name a few - and we can be just as guilty, filtering and photoshopping our own pictures and selfies. Ultimately, we are constantly bombarded with unrealistic, unattainable images.

"So that affects people in several ways," Featherstone said. "In my office, it looks like suicide, it looks like depression, it looks like eating disorders. In other settings it might be excessive spending, it might be buying a product, it might be not going to an event because I don't feel like my body is good enough or I'm not participating in giving my opinion because I don't think that my opinion is worthy because I don't feel worthy myself."

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Here are a few warning signs of an eating disorder:

  • Preoccupation with weight, food, dieting, body image;
  • Withdrawal from usual friends and activities
  • Feelings of isolation, depression, anxiety, irritability
  • Compulsive or excessive exercising

And it's not just teenage girls; Anyone can develop an eating disorder, including men. Featherstone says one-third of the eating disorder population is men.

Parents are encouraged to model good behaviors and attitudes about body image and weight-related issues.

"When you have a 4-year-old that walks in and says 'I'm fat,' where did that even come from?"

Knowledge is key to combating the issue, Featherstone said, and why she's applauding CVS's move.

"The more we can have this conversation about how this isn't real, our standards of beauty our flawed, then the more we can have that knowledge, that first piece of knowledge. I know what's going on and so know I know what to change, :46 how I can change the conversation."

If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, professional help is available. For more information on eating disorders, click here.