UK psychiatrists have announced they are concerned about the harmful influence of the media on people’s body image and are calling for a new editorial code to stop the promotion of unhealthily thin bodies and making eating disorders appear glamorous.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists’ (RCPsychs’) Eating Disorders Section said the media should be portraying images of more diverse body shapes and helping people feel positive about their bodies.

They also want a kite mark scheme to be introduced whereby a symbol appears on images that have been digitally enhanced to make a model’s body appear more perfect.

The RCPsychs are urging the government to address the issue by establishing a new Forum with representatives from the media, advertisers, experts and organizations on eating disorders, regulatory bodies and politicians.

Dr Adrienne Key, a consultant psychiatrist and member of the RCPsych Eating Disorders Section told the press earlier today that the aim of the Forum should be to:

“Collaboratively develop an ethical editorial code that realistically addresses the damaging portrayal of eating disorders, raises awareness of unrealistic visual imagery created through airbrushing and digital enhancement, and also addresses the skewed and erroneous content of magazines.”

She said there is a growing body of evidence that the media plays a role in the development of eating disorder symptoms, particularly among teenagers and young people.

“Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, are serious mental illnesses,” said Key.

“Although biological and genetic factors play an important role in the development of these disorders, psychological and social factors are also significant,” she added, saying that was why the RCPsych was urging the media “to take greater responsibility for the messages it sends out”.

However, Annabel Brog, editor of the best selling teen magazine Sugar, told the BBC that her magazine was already acting responsibly and found the announcement from the RCPsych “incredibly frustrating” and “disheartening”.

She challenged anyone to look at the past three years of issues of her magazine and find examples that support eating disorders.

She also said that putting a kitemark on images was impractical because it would be very difficult to know where to draw the line. She said most of the time images are digitally enhanced to brighten up colours rather than make models look more perfect.

In a statement released today, the RCPsych Eating Disorders Section said there were three things they were mainly concerned about:

  1. Images of pre-teen and underweight models in the media and adverts that suggest the ideal body is a thin one, to the extent that airbrushing and digital enhancement is often used to portray an unrealistic image of “physical perfection”.
  2. Magazine articles that give advice on dieting without balancing it with information about their long term effectiveness and the dangers of extreme dieting. Also, many articles criticize celebrities about being overweight, underweight or physically imperfect, creating an imbalanced message about what is “normal” such that readers feel dissatisfied with their own bodies.
  3. Articles that glamorise weight loss and inaccurately portray eating disorders as personal weaknesses or mild disorders instead of treating them as serious mental illnesses that need specialist support.

beat, a leading UK charity that supports people with eating disorders and their families, welcomes the RCPsychs’ move. Chief executive Susan Ringwood said:

“The media is a powerful influence and we know how vulnerable some people at risk of eating disorders can be to its visual images in particular.”

“We know there is more that can be done to make that influence a positive one, and adopting the recommendations of the College’s statement would be an important step.”

Jo Swinson, a Liberal Democrat member of parliament, is proposing a parliamentary motion this week supporting the RCPsych move. She told the BBC that it was “crystal clear” that the media plays a “critical role in the development and maintenance of negative body image and eating disorders”.

beat is currently in the throes of promoting Eating Disorders Awareness Week which runs from 22nd to 28th February. For more information go to

Source: Royal College of Psychiatrists, BBC News.

Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD