Former Love Island star Zara McDermott visits youngsters at Sunderland College as part of mission to tackle eating disorders for BBC Three documentary
Former Love Island star, social media influencer and documentary maker Zara McDermott has been speaking with students at Sunderland College about her latest BBC Three production, Disordered Eating.
The documentary, which the students got to watch before taking part in a question and answer session, explores the role of social media, ‘influencers’ and celebrities in creating a culture of body image expectation which can contribute to the development of eating disorders.
Zara, who has 1.7 million Instagram followers, felt compelled to make the documentary after feeling a sense of responsibility for some of her own social media posts which could have contributed to the pressure being felt by youngsters to be “body beautiful”.
The 25-year-old said: “I used to post photographs and videos around a ‘Day with Zara’ in which there was a big focus on exercise and healthy eating.
"Since then I’ve had time to think about the diet culture which is prevalent on social media by social influencers such as myself, and I’ve become more aware of the impact it can have.
"Body image and the need to have a certain body type has always been part of the media and created pressure on both men and women to look a certain way. The documentary explores the impact social media is having and the need for people to post responsibly and consider the impact it could have on others.”
Between April and October 2021, hospital admissions for children aged 17 and under with eating disorders went up by over 40 per cent, raising concerns about the increased influence social media has on people’s lives, particularly during Covid-19 lockdowns.
The documentary follows the journey of several women with eating disorders and explores why they may have developed their conditions, as well as the trials and tribulations they face as a result.
Zara is also confronted with the reality of her own influence when she meets with a group of teenage girls who follow her social media channels and are now in an eating disorder recovery centre in Birmingham.
She said: “I didn’t really understand it at the time but I’m now much more mindful of what I post. Eating disorders can affect boys and girls. It can affect anyone and 85% of people with an eating disorder aren’t underweight.”
After making the documentary, Zara was determined to get into schools and colleges to relay her message in person.
She said: “I think the message has so much more impact when you can speak with people face to face and are able to answer their questions. If any of the kids who came along today are having their own problems, then hopefully there are parts of the film they can relate to.
"I hope the documentary creates more awareness of the issue.”
College principal Toni Rhodes added: “We were pleased to be among the select number of colleges involved in the screening. As a college, we have a responsibility for the positive mental health of our students.
"Through this experience, we will be able to challenge the misconceptions of a serious mental illness, raise awareness of symptoms and demonstrate compassion.”
Anyone who’s struggling with an eating disorder should contact Beat Eating Disorders on 0808 801 0677.
Disordered Eating will air on Tuesday, November 22, at 9pm on BBC Three.