The social media influencer, who appeared in the fourth series of the ITV2 dating show, shared her experience of making the film, which highlights the huge rise and impact of eating disorders among children and young people.
Zara, 25, acknowledged the impact social media has on young people and their body image, and shared how she had been trolled about her appearance after appearing on Love Island.
“When thousands of people are saying things about how you look it is hard not to believe that. My own fitness and health journey came from wanting to fit into that perfect body image,” she said.
“I’m in a good place now, but when I look back now and I think it’s sad that there is such pressure to look a certain way, and that is amplified so much when you come out of show like Love Island. It’s not natural to experience that. It affected how I feel about myself, and I am sure it would affect a lot of other people too unless they were extremely resilient.”
CONEL was one of five colleges chosen to get an advanced viewing of the documentary called Zara McDermott: Disordered Eating, ahead of it being broadcast on BBC Three and on BBC iPlayer.
On her transition from reality star to TV presenter, Zara said: “Making a film like this was a really valuable learning process. I lived and breathed it for as long as it took to make. I feel so much more confident in myself than when I was 21 on Love Island, when I was extremely shy bizarrely. Now I’m doing things like this that I’d never have been able to do a few years ago.”
Disordered eating covers a wide range of complex problems including undereating or overeating, excessive exercise, focusing more on appearance and anxiety around mealtimes.
The documentary takes an in-depth look at the impact of social media, as well as speaking with young people who are living with disordered eating and those in recovery.
Elfreda Boateng, 19, who is studying for a Creative Media Production Level 3 Diploma, admitted that she had previously struggled with how she looked because of social media.
She explained how she felt conflicted between having a fuller figure favoured in Afro-Caribbean culture and the slimmer ideal of other ethnicities that she often saw online.
“The film shone a light on a topic that people don’t really talk about. I went through the same as one of the girls in the documentary, which helped me come to terms more with what happened to me,” she said.
“When I was younger, I felt the pressure to conform to what I saw on social media and force myself into an ideal that I could not fit into. I was already quite slim, but I felt I needed to be slimmer but at the same time I was being told to gain weight, so I was in a binge and restrict cycle.
“Social media affects how you think people perceive you in society. A lot of the content is pushed for you to watch, and that is something I now try to separate myself from a lot.”
After the screening, students asked several questions about eating disorders and the making of the of the programme during a Q&A session with Zara and some of the production team.
Giving his advice to the group, BBC Commissioning Editor Max Gogarty said: “There is no one route in, and the truth is a lot of it is based on your ability to hustle, knock down doors and get your first foot into a production company or a studio, or find a director or someone you look up to or aspire to be in the industry. As soon as you get that first runner job, even if it is making cups of tea, you’re in, and once you’re in there’s a path you can climb.”
He told students that it can be tough making TV programmes, which often require long days of travelling and filming, and explained that 65 hours of footage was shot for the one-hour documentary.
Zara urged students to look at the name of production companies on the end credits and contact them for work experience at evenings and weekends as well as college holidays.
The screening also provided an opportunity to introduce students to the BBC Young Reporter scheme, which helps young people develop content ideas, share their stories and find out about broadcasting careers.
Tamara Lesniewska, Curriculum Manager for Creative and Digital Media,said: “Our students were excited to meet Zara and get a preview of her new documentary. It was a powerful and emotive film that resonated with many of the students who took their chance to ask her about the making of the programme, as well as advice on working in the media.”