Unless you have a tween at home, you may not be familiar with Demi Lovato, the 19-year-old singer and actress who entered rehab last year seeking treatment for bulimia, self-injury, and other issues. Lovato is the former star of Disney’s Sonny With a Chance, one of many sitcoms marketed towards pre-teen and teenage viewers, and last week, she made headlines when she called out her former employer on Twitter.
What got Demi all riled up? A line in another popular Disney sitcom, Shake It Up, where a model quips to the show’s lead actresses “You’re adorable. I could just eat you guys up. You know, if I ate.” After which, the model and her entourage burst into hysterical laughter.
This prompted Lovato to take to Twitter asking “What are we promoting here? #notfunnyATALL.” Followed by “I find it really funny how a company can lose one of their actresses from the pressures of an eating disorder and yet still make a joke about it.” She then sent a tweet directly to Disney saying “Dear Disney Channel, EATING DISORDERS ARE NOT SOMETHING TO JOKE ABOUT.” Lovato also retweeted a response from a fan stating that a similar joke was made on another Disney sitcom, So Random, a spin-off from her original show.
When the folks over at Disney saw the angry tweets they responded “we hear you and are pulling both episodes as quickly as possible & re-evaluating them… It’s NEVER our intention to make light of eating disorders!”
When I learned of the exchange, I felt compelled to write about it in this space. A teen pop star publicly opposing a major network’s promotion of unhealthy eating habits to young girls? I couldn’t wait to virtually high-five her. However, when I started to do a little background research for the story, I couldn’t decide what appalled me more — the joke which made light of eating disorders, or the way the story of Lovato speaking out against it was being portrayed by some.
Headlines and articles included statements which seemed to shed a negative light on Ms. Lovato, saying she “attacked,” “lashed out at,” and “blasted” Disney. Some accused her of throwing a “twitter tantrum” or going on a “twitter rampage.”
The predominance of the articles I read were fact-driven, reporting only the exchange between Lovato and Disney on twitter. Very few chose to admonish Disney along with Lovato for incorporating such an irresponsible and insensitive remark into a show for young girls.
Further digging revealed that the offending episode premiered in December of 2010, airing countless times in re-runs before it was called to Disney’s attention by Lovato, which left me wondering…would the joke have given me pause if I watched the scene when not framed in controversy?
If I’m being completely honest, as a grown woman, probably not. The scene would likely have glossed over me without further thought, but here’s the problem: the show isn’t for adults. The show is for tweens, teenagers, young girls and even boys who are still learning how to be comfortable with their bodies, who are impressionable, who, whether we like it or not, make role models of the characters on their favorite television shows.
If I were to watch that same scene as a young girl, a scene in which an attractive, thin model brags about not eating while her doting entourage laugh along with her, would my response be the same? Would I be mature enough to recognize it for what I assume was it’s intention, a joke playing on the stereotype of models? Maybe, but what if I didn’t. What if making light of an eating disorder made it seem more accepted, more appealing even?
Imagine for a moment that instead of making a joke about her unhealthy eating habits, the actress was, instead, nonchalantly smoking a cigarette. Would we have allowed it to go unnoticed for a year until a pop star who suffered from lung cancer denounced it? I’m betting no, but why? Both smoking and eating disorders can result in serious health problems and even death.
Networks that cater to our youth may not be obligated to promote a positive body image. There are no regulations in place stipulating that they cast actors and actresses of all shapes and sizes, but when they choose to openly mock and make light of a disease that is rapidly becoming an epidemic, it is our responsibility to call them on it.
Amber Doty is the managing editor of Go Mighty, as well as a slightly eccentric wife and mother of two. Her interests include eating meals she had no hand in preparing, making formerly professional business meetings awkward, and perfecting the emotional outburst. One day she hopes to travel to all seven continents, but for now she lives in North Carolina happily equidistant from the mountains and the beach. You can read more from Amber on her blog, The Daily Doty.
image courtesy Idolator.com