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.

The problem is, the Emily in Paris audience is mostly young impressionable women and girls. The show speaks directly to the fashion industry, the importance of aesthetics and the power social media holds over us. After Season 1 aired in October 2020, audiences swooned over the outfits of the show's main stars and many flocked to Paris to get their Instagram pictures of Emily in Paris's most lavish locations. The French Tourist Board even promotes an Emily in Paris location map.

In a show with such focus on aesthetics and social media (Emily Instagrams absolutely everything), Emily in Paris inevitably risks feeding into the pressures surrounding female body image. One particular storyline preaches the benefits of a fad diet: eating only leek soup or cold-press leek juice. This could trigger audience members who have been diagnosed with Eating Disorders (ED), or risk being a contributing factor towards disordered eating. So why does a scene perpetuating a dangerous way to lose weight feature in the show?

To recap, in the scene, Emily's boss Sylvie (Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu) suggests a good way to attract an American audience is for Savior's new marketing campaign to focus on "magic leek soup". In her words, "leeks are a diet food for French women. They boil them then drink the water. Their magic trick, their little secret". Julien (Samuel Arnold) adds "It's a common drink that helps shed kilos."

Professor Glenn Waller, a clinician, and researcher in the field of eating disorders at the University of Sheffield explained to Newsweek the health dangers of embarking on fad diets, like leek soup and other liquid-based diets.

He said: "If you want to lose weight, the only real way of doing it sustainably is to cut down your food intake a little bit, increase your exercise a bit and do that for a long period of time. What happens though, is people get caught up in fad diets. Let's say it's leek juice this week, and next time maybe it's 5:2 diets or protein-only diets. They sound really good and they offer wonderful things but unfortunately what they give you is a very short-term feeling of 'oh, I'm losing weight.'

Professor Waller continued: "The problem of fad diets is it cuts out so many absolutely vital parts of what the body needs. So the body's receptors will start saying 'we can't cope' on this and then the body starts going from hunger into craving and when you move from hunger into craving, you're in real trouble because your body will eat anything it can that gives you that nutrition. So what happens is you start eating things that you've been avoiding."

Some credit has to be given to the character of Emily Cooper in the scene, who protests against the idea, saying: "I just don't think there is a magic way to lose weight" and "I just don't think we should be promoting weight loss cures. Fad diets are really dangerous and America is more about health and wellness now.". She isn't wrong but sadly, her team sideline her opposition and come to the conclusion that the best way to sell the product is to turn the leek into a cold-pressed juice, making the concept even more accessible to their clients and audiences watching at home. They even discuss getting one of the Kardashian sisters to promote it.

Sadly, Emily in Paris's attempt to raise awareness about the danger of fad diets falls completely flat.

Ironically, Lily Collins (who plays Emily Cooper) gave a critically acclaimed performance in the film To The Bone about a 20-year-old woman suffering from anorexia nervosa, and herself has spoken openly about her own personal eating disorder in the past. So it seems unusual to see Collins, as a producer on the show, give this scene the greenlight. Newsweek has approached Netflix and Emily in Paris creator Darren Starr for comment.

Emily in Paris Eating Disorders
Lily Collins in Season 2 of Emily in Paris. Episode 4 features a scene about leek-based diets. CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP via Getty Images/Netflix

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.

"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.

"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
Lily Collins and Lucien Laviscount from Emily in Paris. Season 2 is streaming on Netflix now. Netflix

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."

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.