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Dear ‘Emily in Paris’: Making Light of Eating Disorders Is No Joke

While Emily in Paris won’t quite reach the icon status of Ugly Betty or The Devil Wears Prada, it will once again probably be watched by millions across the world on Netflix—and quite rightly. Emily in Paris isn’t supposed to be a cinematic masterpiece, no matter what that controversial 2020 Golden Globe nomination may suggest. There is no doubt Emily in Paris is enjoyable. It’s a light-hearted, easy-watching drama about the life of 20-something-year-old American marketing executive Emily Cooper (played by Lily Collins) set in très beautiful Paris.

Along the way, Emily in Paris treads the fine line between being set in the real world and taking place in complete fantasy land. Emily in Paris is more than aesthetically pleasing. It has high fashion, a talented (and attractive) cast, and in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, audiences can switch off and escape to Paris for 30 minutes at a time, whenever you want. What’s not to like?

However, Emily in Paris is not without its faults. Audiences may be able to turn a blind eye to the many insults to French people and their culture, predictable storylines, and cringe-inducing moments but unfortunately, at times, Emily in Paris risks doing more harm than good. Here’s why.

Emily in Paris Eating Disorders

Chelsea Kronengold from the National Eating Disorders Helpline in the U.S. reflected on the scene in greater detail. She told Newsweek: “While Emily attempted to educate her client and colleagues about the harms of fad diets and unhealthy weight-loss, Westernized societies are so indoctrinated into diet culture that her effort to provide awareness about these dangers fell flat.

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“The decision to move forward with promoting a leek-based drink or soup for weight-loss is irresponsible and sends a dangerous message to viewers, as dieting and body dissatisfaction are among the greatest risk factors for the development of an eating disorder. Many people affected by eating disorders report that their illness started with a seemingly harmless diet; thus, promoting any type of fad diet or “cleanse” in mainstream media can inadvertently serve as a “how-to guide” for vulnerable viewers.

“The media has the tendency to sensationalize thinness and weight-loss, which can trigger disordered eating and potentially turn into a full-blown eating disorder. The viewer may be learning unhealthy tips and tricks from their favorite television show or movie, such as Emily in Paris, without realizing what is wrong with commentary and/or endorsements about fad diets.”

This isn’t the first time Emily in Paris has entered dangerous territory in relation to eating disorders. You may remember in Season 1 of the show, Emily was encouraged to not eat her lunch and instead smoke a cigarette (another classic French stereotype). Emily in Paris almost normalizes fat jokes—being cracked by slim people—with emphasis on the cliché that French equals thin and American equals fat. What sort of message does this body-shaming send to young viewers?

Professor Waller explained the inclusion of fad diets and disordered eating in the media plays into the Western concept of the “thin-ideal” and risks sending the wrong message to audiences, particularly women.

Rebecca Sparks, a registered psychotherapist who specializes in eating disorders at the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy added: “These sorts of diets set up an extremely unhealthy approach to food and body image. They normalise the idea that we need to do something extreme (harmful even) to obtain perfection.

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“It is normalizing damaging and dysfunctional behavior. Especially a show like Emily in Paris where the heroine and her new life are aspirational.”

Emily in Paris Season 2

While the scene is very unlikely to cause much offense, it is certainly problematic for those who have an eating disorder or are in the process of recovery. It’s also not great for those who know may know someone with an ED, who will be watching the series.

According to statistics provided by U.S. nonprofit organization Project HEAL, one person dies every 52 minutes as a result of an eating disorder. Project Heal spokesperson, Rebecca Eyre, explained to Newsweek: “Research is clear that dieting doubles the risk of developing an eating disorder. Eating disorders typically onset before the age of 24, so it’s most important to protect the mental health of our vulnerable youth. “

She added: “Unfortunately, fad diets are specially targeted to these very young people, who are already struggling with identity development against a backdrop of unrealistic beauty ideals perpetuated by both social media and popular media.”

Eyre continued: “It’s disheartening to see a show like Emily in Paris, whose audience is primarily young people, depicting and inadvertently promoting dangerous weight-loss tactics like this. Not only are diets proven to fail 97 percent of the time (i.e. 97 percent of people who diet regain the weight they lost, and over half weigh more 2 years post-diet than before they dieted), they’re one of the most common risks factors for developing eating disorders. It’s on all of us to do our part to contradict these dangerous messages — not perpetuate them.”

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Maybe the leek soup recommendation in Emily in Paris would not have stood out if it served a purpose to the show’s plot, but unfortunately, it does not. Perhaps a trigger warning would have helped. Or just maybe the scene shouldn’t have been included at all.

Emily in Paris Season 2 is streaming on Netflix now.

If you identify with the themes in this article, confidential help is available for free at the National Eating Disorders Association. Call (800) 931-2237 or text text “NEDA” to 741741. The line is available 24 hours, every day. You can also chat to them online here.

Specialists from the Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation are also available via email. You can contact them here.