Mukbang: Exploring Media and the Mind

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person holding a cheeseburger
Mukbangs have become increasingly popular on YouTube. These videos consist of content creators sitting in from of their cameras, and uploading videos of them eating food. The article explores how the Mukbang trend can be very detrimental to those suffering eating disorders. Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

Mukbang. Whether you know what the word means, whether you don’t, or whether you pretend not to, the trend is growing on internet platforms such as YouTube and has a complicated, varied effect on viewers. The term, which is a portmanteau of the South Korean words “meokneun”, meaning “eating”, and “bangsong”, meaning “broadcast”, refers to online eating shows in which a person engages with an audience while eating often very large quantities of food. Prior to 2015, the phenomenon was largely limited to South Korea as a strategy to combat loneliness and foster a sense of community. As the number of people living alone has increased, many found and continue to find comfort in the “subjective closeness for those who seek companionship and a dinner partner, and fulfilment of physical and sentimental hunger”. 

“Prior to 2015, the phenomenon was largely limited to South Korea as a strategy to combat loneliness and foster a sense of community. As the number of people living alone has increased, many found and continue to find comfort in the “subjective closeness for those who seek companionship and a dinner partner, and fulfilment of physical and sentimental hunger”.”

After mukbangs were made popular in the U.S. in 2015, some YouTubers can rake in hundreds of thousands of views a day eating what has stereotypically become high-fat, processed fast food. While watching someone eat these foods can trigger unhealthy cravings, the mukbang culture has created a fascinating space for viewers, especially females who have felt insecure about their weight, to challenge traditional views surrounding women, their table manners and their restraint. Eating is no longer an action to be ashamed of, it is one to be celebrated. 

photo of cheeseburger and french fries
A photo of a burger and fries. In 2015, some YouTubers can rake in hundreds of thousands of views a day eating what has stereotypically become high-fat, processed fast food. Photo by Isaac Taylor on Pexels.com

However, while mukbangs may be harmless or even empowering for some, they can also be incredibly triggering for those with eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. It only takes a brief trip to the comments section of YouTube to see how these videos can be immensely damaging to those who suffer from disorders involving food restriction. Many viewers share, especially when the person eating is overweight, that they watch these videos to eat vicariously or disgust themselves, so they do not feel the urge to actually eat. Mukbangs further disordered all-or-nothing thinking surrounding food: You either cannot eat at all or binge to the point where weight gain is a reality. 

“It only takes a brief trip to the comments section of YouTube to see how these videos can be immensely damaging to those who suffer from disorders involving food restriction. Many viewers share, especially when the person eating is overweight, that they watch these videos to eat vicariously or disgust themselves, so they do not feel the urge to actually eat.”

While those who restrict their eating may use mukbangs for their shock value, mukbangs also normalize unhealthy eating patterns for those with bulimia or binge eating disorder. Some mukbangers eat large quantities of food without gaining weight, causing viewers to speculate that they may be purging after their binges, which can appear to some as if they have avoided the consequences of their actions despite the health risks associated with bulimia. According to researchers, videos of mukbangs are “glorifying binge eating” in a way that should be combatted like any material that promotes addiction.  

In addition to the harm these videos can have on viewers, they are also toxic for creators and the culture surrounding art and media. Social media has rewarded material that shocks, garnering as many views as possible that translate for some into income. While it is ultimately an individual’s responsibility to fight these pressures, many people, some with a history of eating disorders, have turned to mukbangs as a career. For example, Nikocado Avocado is a YouTube creator who makes his living eating large quantities of unhealthy food and performing comedy routines that are meant to bring in views regardless of what reception he ultimately receives. When James Marriot, another YouTube creator, interviewed Nikocado, he made it clear that he is aware of the hate he receives online and that he is destroying his health. Even though he believes he is ruining his life, he feels trapped in his patterns as he is ultimately rewarded with a living.  

It is easy to judge. It is less easy to think about who we are judging and why we should not be doing so. There are certainly positive aspects of mukbangs, but eating large quantities of nutrient-poor foods for others to digest triggers many people who we have a duty to protect. Creators are rewarded for these actions through a society we create. Views are currency online, and it is vital that we give them to material that will not hurt others, both the viewers and those on the other side of the screen. 

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