Bulimia is often associated with an intense self-focus, with sufferers placing unusual amounts of attention on their own faces and body image. Some research has identified that those who suffer from eating disorders such as bulimia are often impacted by images placed before them in movies, television and advertisements.
One important study examines the effects of images specifically on bulimia sufferers. The study was led by Jon K. Maner, PhD., of Florida State University, and was published in April of 2005 in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.
The study examined the relationship between the symptoms found in bulimic individuals and biases in attention to other men and women. Biases in attention to other men and women may indicate that advertisements featuring thin women and other types of images may impact the way that some women view their own bodies.
The study recruited undergraduate women to participate in a visual cueing task. The task was designed to present a variety of faces, including both genders and a wide range of attractiveness. The participants were assessed for their response to the images.
The results of the study showed that there was a correlation between EDI Bulimia scores and attention to attractive female faces. Women who had relatively high levels of bulimotypic symptomatology were more likely to dwell on attractive faces, but not on other faces. The bias was not able to be explained by factors such as perfectionistic ideals, body dissatisfaction or self-esteem.
There was no relationship found between bulimotypic symptoms and attention to average female faces, attractive male faces, or average male faces. The women seemed to selectively prefer images of attractive women.
The findings of the study indicate that the bias in dwelling on attractive faces may be linked to a perception of threat in attractive faces. The women who spent a long time looking at the more attractive faces could be indicating a link between disordered eating and a perception of competitive threat in other attractive women.
Further research is required to determine whether viewing other attractive women as a competitive threat is consistent among non-bulimic women or if it is specifically experienced among women with this particular eating disorder. It may be helpful to study too, whether women who experience symptoms of other types of eating disorders may also have a tendency to understand attractive females as a possible competitive threat.