Princess Diana is remembered for her beauty, selflessness and grace. Even after her tragic death over two decades ago she is still one of the most recognized and celebrated celebrities in the world. Perhaps less known is the fact that she also struggled with bulimia. Bulimia is an eating disorder in which a person purges by either vomiting or excessive exercise after eating. It may seem surprising that such a powerful and well loved woman could struggle with an eating disorder. Yet eating disorders can impact anyone.
Eating disorders are a disease. They can impact anyone no matter how powerful or well-loved. Researchers in the field of eating disorders are just beginning to understand all the causes that can create an eating disorder. Yet there are several major factors that are believed to impact developing an eating disorder which include;
Culture: Diana began following a strict diet after the media made comments about her looking “pudgy”. The average woman may not have to worry that celebrity magazines will take a picture of us eating a bagel and fat-shame us on the cover of a magazine. However, this culture of focusing on and criticizing women’s weight puts a magnifying glass on all women. We still feel the pressure to look thin and put together at all times. The consequences of not meeting these societal standards are clear. When women are publicly shamed and judged for their weight, we all live in fear of being shamed and judged. This creates a culture in which many women begin to feel anxious about their body and weight. It may make some more vulnerable eating disorders or poor body image.
Family: A family culture in which family members emphasize thinness and dieting can have a major impact on body image. Families that make comments about body or food intake, or by modeling eating disorder behaviors (ex. parents who are struggling with their own eating disorder or dieting patterns) can all make a impact. In Princess Diana’s case Prince Charles’ allegedly placed his hand around a young Diana’s waist. Charles then made a comment that she was getting ‘pudgy around the waist’ which may have triggered feelings of poor body image or not being “good enough” for Diana.
Genetics/Biology: Individuals with eating disorders often have a genetic predisposition which may make them more at risk of developing an eating disorder. These individuals may also be more at risk for anxiety or depression. Eating disorders often have a genetic, biological basis. They are not rooted in personal weakness. Princess Diana likely had genetic and biological traits that made her more susceptible to developing an eating disorder. These traits can also lead to a person being a perfectionist, struggling with anxiety or feeling “not good enough.”
Life Changes/Stressors: Princess Diana shared that she used food for comfort when going through a divorce and all the media attention that followed. Life stresses and changes such as divorce, loss of a job or moving can impact mental health. They can also make an individual more at-risk to eating disorder behaviors including emotional eating.
After struggling with bulimia for years Diana took the brave step of seeking treatment which she shared with the public. Unfortunately, there is still so much stigma and secrecy surrounding eating disorders. If you are struggling with an eating disorder or poor body image, please know this does not mean you are weak or defective. Even the most powerful women in the world can struggle with an eating disorder. Help is available and there is no shame in seeking support. You are not alone.