Joan Rivers is known for her bold remarks and bluntness when critiquing celebrities on E!'s Fashion Police, but her recent comments about actress Lena Dunham may have taken it a step too far.
"How could she wear dresses above the knee?" Rivers asked Howard Stern on his radio show on March 24. "You're sending a message out to people saying, 'It's OK, stay fat, get diabetes, everybody die. Lose your fingers."
She later added: "If you look the way you look, Lena, and that's fine and you're funny, don't say it's OK that other girls can look like this. Try to look better."
Yet, experts believe that celebrities like 27-year-old Dunham, with fuller figures and successful Hollywood careers, are actually positive role models for women, especially those who are at a risk for an eating disorder.
"I don't think Lena Dunham is promoting something negative at all," said Christel Parker, a psychotherapist and the executive director of the Eating Disorder Resource Center, based in New York City. "I think she's provoking a lot of people to question statements like what Joan Rivers said and what people think."
Today, the number of people in the U.S. suffering from eating disorders has reached 24 million, according to the latest statistics from the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa & Associated Disorders, based in Naperville, Ill.
Other analysis also demonstrates that there is indeed a connection between the media and female eating disorders. One study presented at the American Psychiatric Association in 1999, showed that when Viti Levu, a region in Fiji, was introduced to an American television station, women began to suffer from various eating disorders. Prior to that period, those types of health concerns were almost nonexistent in the area.
The media "is not the sole reason and there are a lot of other factors that come into your eating disorder," Parker, who has worked in the field for seven years, added. "It does make recovery all that more difficult when the culture is saying this is how you should be."
Marcia Herrin, a specialist in eating disorders with her own practice in Lebanon, N.H., works with many women who are discontent with their bodies and yearn to look like the skinny people they see on television and in magazines. She pointed out that Dunham, who confidently exposes her body on her HBO show Girls, adds a refreshing change to what's been the norm in the media for decades.
"I think it's really important that in all public aspects of life that we see more diversity in size because what is currently going on is there's one body type, or very close to one body type," Herrin said. "The message out there is 'if you don't look like this you're not going to have a good life.'"
Dunham, who covered Vogue magazine in February, has yet to respond to Rivers' comments on her weight.