The 27th Annual National Eating Disorder Awareness (NEDA) week was February 23 –
March 1.

Dissatisfaction with our bodies starts early. By [[wysiwyg_imageupload:183:]]
age six, many girls start to express concerns about their appearance. Of girls, ages six to 12 years old, 40 to 60 percent are aware of their weight or worried about becoming fat. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, nearly 24 million Americans suffer from an eating disorder.

Beauty and the images we see
Nearly 10 years ago, Dove started their Real Beauty Campaign kicking off with a video revealing significant Photoshop edits that take place after photography – from the removal of blemishes to a drastic remodeling of facial and neck structure. The mission of this and similar campaigns is succinct: to improve self-esteem and help men and women feel good about their unique inner and outer beauty.

Companies have taken notice of the response to campaigns with messaging focused on beauty - inside and out - placing similar themes at the forefront of their marketing tactics. During NEDA week, there was a definitive spike in media surrounding eating disorders and body image as well as organizations’ efforts to encourage awareness and provide positive, body image support. In addition to local-level media efforts, some of the ongoing and more recent campaigns include:

Perhaps most significant, these campaigns have impacted celebrity and public awareness of extreme Photoshopping. We now have more celebrities openly embracing their unique beauty, including Lena Dunham, Jennifer Lawrence, Lady Gaga, Brad Pitt, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kate Winslet, and Beyoncé.

But have consumers been empowered? Are they more self-confident? Do they see their true beauty? While each campaign chips away at the media-driven judgment of beauty, the public is still regularly exposed to images that skew perceptions, impacting how we see ourselves. As a culture, we are still far from accepting everyone (and ourselves) for what they look like and who they are. This ongoing dissatisfaction can have a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of men and women.

Seeing you’re beautiful – It’s psychological, too
According to the National Eating Disorder Association, eating disorders – such as anorexia, bulimia, over-exercising, and binge eating – include extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding weight and food. Eating disorders are conditions with emotional, physical, and psychological components that can have life-threatening consequences. Remembering that people with eating disorders suffer from something more than low self-esteem is the first step toward that person’s recovery. People with eating disorders likely need to seek professional help to manage and treat their condition.

Managing images and other complex topics
Recently, The Biggest Loser faced a brand-compromising event. During the season finale, the winning contestant, Rachel Frederickson, revealed her extreme weight loss of 59.62 percent of her initial bodyweight. Social media was abuzz. Viewers expressed their concerns regarding Frederickson’s health and the show’s tactics to encourage weight loss. The Biggest Loser, among other programs and organizations, is regularly subject to public scrutiny for the information and images shared under their brand, whether they are controlled or not.

So how does a communications professional manage a client’s brand as well as the integrity of their messaging? Working in public relations, we adhere to the Public Relations Society of America’s code of ethics. Our commitment to the values outlined in this code is directly reflected in the services we provide our clients. In instances of crisis communication and brand management, the importance of honest and fair communication is paramount to successfully maintaining or improving public trust. Coupling honest communication with effective strategy is at the core of an effective crisis communication plan.

Specifically, for a program like The Biggest Loser, proactive communication showcased the brand’s forthrightness, honesty, and position on the topic. Since the show’s finale, its trainers and producers have provided statements which identify the safe, health-focused training tactics the show uses and encourages. Additionally, its producers are now brainstorming tweaks that might prevent potential unhealthy weight loss in future contestants. These statements and program changes separate The Biggest Loser brand from the conflict and maintain their dedication to all and future contestants’ health.

Communication is powerful in the media we see – as well as in the content we develop. Through proactive communication that focuses on honest messaging and strategy, public relations professionals have the opportunity and responsibility to impact consumers’ thoughts and actions on behalf of the brands we represent.

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For more information about eating disorders, prevention, treatment, recovery, and getting/offering support, visit the National Eating Disorder Association.

Learn more about NEDA week and how you can spread awareness year round at NEDAwareness.org.