Glorified Overeating

How mukbang's rose in popularity and its social impacts

Glorified Overeating

   On Youtube, I’ve pretty much found every kind of video; from cat videos to how-to videos to prank videos, there is a large variety of different topics that can be features in a typical Youtube video. However, I was still surprised years ago when I saw my very first “mukbang”. A recent trend in Korea, Mukbang – Korean abbreviation for the term “eating show” – is an Internet webcast stream or recorded video of people eating large amounts of food. These people might prepare the food in front of a camera, or just simply eat; regardless, the point is for the viewer to watch strangers eat their food. Unlike eating competitions, which are comprised of eating professionals who are trained to devour food as fast as possible, mukbangs are shot by seemingly ordinary people who might eat something as simple as a McDonalds meal, although the portions are usually large.

   People from Western cultures might find this bizarre; I’m pretty sure I did the very first time I saw this, and even dismissed it as an interest of a small amount of people. Then, I was shocked to learn that these streamers would make thousands of dollars a month from viewers’ donations. In fact, there are a lot of other binge eating channels now done by American Youtubers as well, with titles of videos such as “THE 50,000 CALORIE CHALLENGE!”.

   My response to watching others engaging in everyday activities such as eating and gaming is that there is an appealing social aspect of connecting with your favorite gamer or BJ, watching them play or eat while they talk about their lives, and virtually meeting someone else who enjoys the same activities that you enjoy.

   I think what isn’t talked about as much, however, is the negative effects that mukbangs may introduce. In fact, I would even consider them to be dangerous under certain circumstances. For some people with disorders such as bulimia and binge eating disorder, mukbangs might portray massive binge eating as normal or healthy behavior. For example, when scrolling through some online forums, I found long chains of people who were discussing whether BJs would purge themselves between streaming sessions, because of how thin or fit that they looked. Some users also commented that being a BJ would be a dream job, because they would get to continue binge eating while also getting paid. These people who would normally engage in binge/purge sessions privately envision themselves earning money by simply filming the binging part, and editing out the purging part. This, however, poses a serious problem because people affected by disordered eating are now incentivized and encouraged to continue engaging in harmful and unhealthy behavior.