Disney Show Jokes About Eating Disorders

Last Friday, 19-year-old Demi Lovato, who quit her starring role on the Disney Channel show Sonny with a Chance to seek treatment for bulimia and self-mutilation in the spring, publicly chided Disney regarding a joke about eating disorders on the company’s Shake It Up kids show. One of the show’s characters said “I could just eat you up, well, if I ate.”

Afterwards, Lovato wrote on her Twitter account:

“What are we promoting here? #notfunnyATALL,” Lovato tweeted on Friday. “I find it really funny how a company can lose one of their actress’ from the pressures of an EATING DISORDER and yet still make [a] joke about that very disease.”

“And is it just me or are the actress’ getting THINNER AND THINNER…. I miss the days of RAVEN, and LIZZIE MCGUIRE,” she  wrote in another Tweet.

Lovato then wrote, “Dear Disney Channel, EATING DISORDERS ARE NOT SOMETHING TO JOKE ABOUT.”

Disney got the message and a Disney representative later contacted Lovato and told her that the Shake It Up episode she had criticized, as well as one on the show So Random! that also joked about food issues, would be pulled. The Disney Channel’s official PR Twitter account then displayed the message that “It’s NEVER our intention to make light of eating disorders!” Lovato tweeted back her thanks, along with a few more remarks about eating disorders and body image:

“Just clearing things up, I have nothing against any specific actress/actor or TV show.. Nor do I think there’s anything wrong with girls who aren’t curvy,” she wrote in a series of tweets. “I just was stating a fact that there needs to be more variety on television so young girls growing up don’t feel pressured to look one specific way. Tall, thin, curvy, short, whatever you are, you are beautiful. :)”

A Fox News account about Lovato’s censure of Disney for the eating disorder jokes says that “experts say Lovato opened the Pandora’s Box about the dangerous effects television shows can have on the negative body image of young women.” In an interview, nutritionist Rania Batayneh points out that Disney should have known better than to include the ”I could just eat you up, well, if I ate” joke on a show that is specifically targeted at teens. As he said to Fox News:

“It is not a notable character trait to ‘not eat.’ We have seen time and time again Disney actresses who struggle with their weight who are a bit obsessed as adults with their physique or just lose control all together and let themselves go. There needs to be a focus on health and wellness and for teens.”

Due to the huge audience for its shows, not to mention the vast popularity of Disney in so many children’s lives through its theme parks, movies, stores, products, etc., Disney needs to be even more attuned to the messages it is communicating, directly and indirectly, to teens and to children. Certainly the numerous princesses and heroines that populate its movies have a distinctly hourglass figure. While the Mulans and Princess tiaras are more and more touted for their smarts, beauty and physical attractiveness are de rigueur traits. (Sure, Belle loved to read but she also had to be a beauty.)

More new research has also shown that eating disorders are biological in origin. Debate still rages about the extent to which culture plays a part in girls and women developing eating disorders, via societal norms equating beauty and slenderness with success and everything positive, as well as the glut of images on TV, the internet, magazines and everywhere of thin — often extremely thin — young women.

The Atlantic highlighted eating disorders in children as a top health story of 2012. 95 percent of the 24 million Americans who have eating disorders are 12 to 25 years old. Other research has shown that hospitalizations for eating disorders in prepubertal children younger than 12 increased 119 percent between 1999 and 2006. In the UK, out of 2000 children hospitalized for eating disorders in the past three years, 197 were between five and nine years old. Eating disorders occurring in younger and younger children are an open secret. What’s keeping us from directing more scrutiny and critique at the messages about beauty and body image that popular culture sends to young girls?


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Photo by Yana Lyandres


James Berryhill
James Berryhill6 years ago

I didn't fully recover from my eating disorder till i got married, often Showing a deep need. Deferentially not a laughing matter...

Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener6 years ago

Yep we live in a sick world...

Rina B.
.6 years ago

Some jokes aren't meant to be taken seriously, but this is just absurd. Did Disney even consider that Demi Levato has eating disorders? Or that many viewers of the show may have eating disorders??

Velmapearl Hawkins
Velma Hawkins6 years ago

i have a sense of humor, but kids should not be joking or seeing it on their channel, Disney, about a very serious life threatening and life altering issue.

Loretta D'ambrosio
Lore D6 years ago

Kathy, there is a difference between not being able to laugh at a joke about something you have a personal issue with, and identifying a general attitude of undermining and even accepting a seriously damaging issue as normal within a television that show is aimed at influential children and teenagers (not adults looking for a laugh).

Micha, we are talking about a kids show here, and a comment casually used within it. I personally hate censorship and adults attempting to shut people up because they don't necessarily like what they say, but this is a different issue. Children's minds are still growing and constantly learning and forming their picture of the outside world and what is acceptable, not acceptable, right and wrong. While mature adults may be able to laugh at a racist, sexist or indecent joke occasionally and still have the ingrained knowledge of how to separate that joke from reality, children are far from it. Kids do not need negative and damaging attitudes towards any of these things lurking within their favourite tv shows, presenting themselves in casual comments and "character qualities" under the guise of mere jokes.

Loretta D'ambrosio
Lore D6 years ago

Well done Demi!

I have a good respect for her after reading this. It makes such a difference to speak out against what you know to be wrong, especially when you happen to be a famous and popular figure in the eyes of the very people you are speaking out to protect. While the state of our media and society is so awful it is still very nice to read about a young actress who has some morals and awareness of the influence the very media she works in is capable of having, speaks out about it openly and directly to her fans.

Isabel Ramirez
Isabel Ramirez6 years ago

Hooray for demi:)

Debbie L.
Debbie Lim6 years ago

These stats are really scary. This is what television shows are making to young beautiful girls these days and it's disgusting and shameful.

KARLOLINA G6 years ago

Micha S needs to chill.

We really should try our best to avoid making fun of other people. I am sure an intelligent person can have fun without the cost of injuring another.

Madelaine C-H
Pete Smith6 years ago

Can I just say, in relavance to the last page, Disney Princesses are FAIRYTALES. Belle means BEAUTY. Oh, and the title is 'BEAUTY and the beast.' So making her pretty isn't a blatant attack on the ideals of womanhood, it is telling the story. If you had a notoriously ugly heroine, I have no doubt in my mind that would be attacked as 'Overly Politcally-Correct'. I am so sick of people saying a woman cannot allow herself to be pretty if she has any respect to her intelligence or feminism. Can't you be beautiful AND smart? Is that so impossible?

As for the comment, I do think Disney went too far. Bulimia and other eating disorders are a serious issue, and should not be subject to jokes. However, I would like to read further into the situation before passing judgement. I make a point about reading into something from two different sources. It's more reliable that way. In any way, shape or form, Eating disorders are nothing to be laughed at.