Reality TV and Eating Disorders Part II emotional cost and alternatives


What happens when a woman with an eating disorder shows up for a "casting call" for a reality TV program?

I'm seeing "casting calls" on the Internet for people with eating disorders to volunteer to be followed on camera.  I'm getting private inquiries from reality TV shows asking me to help find such people and to suggest to my patients that they volunteer to participate.

Good blogging etiquette suggests that I include such urls.  I am not including them because I don't want to support these calls, thee programs in any way, including the support of giving them a boost on search engines. Here's why.

As I understand the nature of television, the goal of the networks is to get ratings and make money.  So the selection of participants would have to be based on what would keep an audience watching, i.e. judgment and selection would be based on entertainment value.  Unfortunately, that entertainment value is usually expressed in extreme and flamboyant behavior.

What might the consequences be to a vulnerable population of people with eating disorders, who already as part of their symptoms have some perceptual and cognitive difficulties?  Will they vie with each other to have the most severe symptoms?  Will they try to develop more extreme symptoms to get on the show? Is their desire to be on the show, i.e. exhibitionism, part of their cluster of symptoms?

Will auditioning for these roles bring up issues of being thin enough, fat enough, pretty enough, bizarre enough, sick enough. etc.?  What is the emotional cost to those who are accepted and those who are not accepted, i.e. "fail."??

Film lasts.  Where will the clips go?  Will the people on the show find themselves on youtube forever?

Recovery work, in my opinion, is confidential and - sacred - work.  A good deal of the healing has to do with a patient's developing deep respect for herself so she can honor her true needs and authentic soul in meaningful ways - not through the use of any part of an eating disorder.  That respect often begins and certainly develops as she proceeds with her recovery work with a clinician who respects and honors her.  I do not see how exposing her at her most vulnerable to the entertainment industry for "processing" to create an entertainment is respectful to her or honors her healing process.

Offering inpatient treatment as a reward, I believe, is a device to make the shows look good and justify themselves.  My feeling is that everyone who auditions for a role in such shows will need more treatment, whether they are on camera or not, from the stress of the entertainment industry processing.

Offering these shows as information and inspiration is also not relevant, in my opinion.  A candid interview with one individual as she relates to a respectful journalist could be worthwhile. But a blow by blow following intimate experiences of a vulnerable person, to me, is exploitation. Why can't the entertainment industry create a fiction movie where the actors can go home after playing a role and the patients remain unscathed by the experience?  Ray Milland starred in the breakthrough movie, "Lost Weekend" which first brought the real tolls of alcoholism to the public. Frank Sinatra did that in the film, "The Man with the Golden Arm" for drug addiction.  Judy Densch did the same for Alzheimers in "Iris."


0 # I've heard from Teens with Bulimia thatKymL 2010-05-07 12:40
I've heard from Teens with Bulimia that friends ask them how they "do it." I shutter at the possibility of showing techniques or even weight lose results on prime time TV!!!!!
0 # Dear Kym, You raise yet another troubpinkjoanna 2010-05-09 22:24
Dear Kym,

You raise yet another troubling aspect these shows. Today I saw another casting call looking to get candidates for the show.

The call asks for women who are or look as if they are between 16 and 25.

I understand the legal problems that might develop from using children under 16 on these shows. But I wonder what the justification is for leaving out women 26 and up?

I work with adult women in their mid 20's, 30's, 40's, 50's, 60's and 70's who work toward recovery from an eating disorder.
This entire population is left out, perhaps because women of these ages don't pull in the high audience numbers as young women.

I wonder how teens with bulimia would respond if they saw that life long toll eating disorders take on a person.

But more to the point, I'm concerned for the girls and women on the shows and the girls and women who auditioned and didn't make it. I don't see how their recovery can be enhanced by this experience, and I can see how this experience can trigger their symptoms or even deepen their reliance on their eating disorder.

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