Monday, September 25, 2023

Funny Bones: Eating Disorders in Comedy

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Shreya Christina
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Disclaimer: While eating disorders are a major issue that can affect anyone, this article will mainly focus on how comic media treats female characters in relation to eating/exercise behaviors, as these are the characters that eating disorder “jokes” often target . If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please seek help straight away. Everyone deserves a healthy relationship with food, exercise and their body.

Hollywood is full of unrealistic body expectations. From digital retouching until cosmetic proceduresHollywood and celebrities are under constant pressure to make everyone look supernaturally perfect all the time.

As if this wasn’t enough of an impact on the self-esteem of impressionable girls and women everywhere, many comedy shows tend to pull off the same cheesy “joke.”

We’ve seen it all. A beautiful woman in one scene exhibits some kind of eating disorder behavior, but it’s played out as “just what those crazy girls are like” and lumped in with a cheesy laugh number.

Do not you believe me? Let’s take a look at one of the most popular comedies of the last 10 years, ‘New Girl’. This Fox show got a name one of the best new comedies when it premiered in 2011 and still has a huge fan base.

It’s full of dynamic characters, hilarious moments, and sadly, a total lack of respect for the seriousness of eating disorders. You need look no further than Season 4 Episode 16 “Oregon” to see one of the most gruesome examples of this. Ashely Berkman, played by the beautiful Kaitlin Olson, enters the scene.

From the moment she enters the room, the subject becomes food. The scene reaches its disturbing climax when Ashley remarks, “I haven’t eaten in three weeks. Trying to fit into my wedding dress. The character doesn’t say the line ironically enough and she later reveals that she is so hungry that her dreams are about food. Despite the scene’s terrifying and life-threatening connotations, none of the characters point to trouble and the situation is presented as if the audience should laugh.

At this point you may be thinking, “New Girl is just one show. Perhaps the issue of eating disorders being treated as jokes is isolated in the ‘New Girl’ writers’ room.” Unfortunately not.

Let’s talk about the iconic medical comedy “Scrubs”. The show ran for nearly ten years and had nine seasons. “Scrubs” is from a completely different production company than “New Girl,” but the idea that eating disorders equate to comedy is the same. I’ll paint the scene:

Two main characters, JD, a man, and Elliot, a woman, are walking down a hallway. The pair discuss their upcoming vacation while enjoying donuts.

“Think about it, Elliot. Three days and you’re walking on the beach in your bikini,” says JD. Elliot immediately spits out her donut, an indicator of bulimia, a common binge eating disorder. A laugh number plays and JD is undisturbed.

Virtually every main character in “Scrubs” is a trained medical professional, but none of them acknowledge this as a serious problem or try to talk to Elliot about it.

“New Girl” and “Scrubs” are far from the only comedies to maintain this disturbing trend. If you want to see more examples for yourself, check out other comedy shows like “Glee,” “Friends,” and “How I Met Your Mother.” All of these have made the same kind of “joke”.

However, why does it matter? They’re just fake characters with fake disabilities, right? Yes, but they have real consequences. Showing viewers, especially young viewers, that this kind of behavior is not only acceptable but funny, is irresponsible at best and deadly at worst. It is especially damaging because the actresses speaking these lines are beautiful. So there is a message in the mind of every viewer. “If you want to be as beautiful as this person, you have to do what this person does.” Suddenly an eating disorder is born.

This is not to say that comedy and media are responsible for all eating disorders. However, this is a call to comedies to stop treating eating disorders and those affected by them as punch lines.

I said this at the beginning of the article, but I’ll say it again because it’s the most important thing in the whole article: if you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder or eating disorder behavior— seek help straight away. You deserve to be healthy.

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