'Impossibly Thin' Models Blamed for Anorexia Epidemic; Their Image Encourages Girls to Diet Dangerously Says BMA

Daily Mail (London), May 31, 2000 | Go to article overview

'Impossibly Thin' Models Blamed for Anorexia Epidemic; Their Image Encourages Girls to Diet Dangerously Says BMA


Byline: JENNY HOPE

'IMPOSSIBLY thin' models and actresses are fuelling an alarming increase in the number of patients with eating disorders, doctors warned yesterday.

The British Medical Association launched a searing attack on the widening gap between the shapes of real women and the promotion of undernourished, waif-like models on the catwalk, screen and printed page.

Women in the public eye often have just half the body fat of an average healthy woman, but teenagers are dieting at increasingly early ages in an attempt to emulate them, experts warned.

A report produced by the BMA's Board of Science says such images are fuelling a national epidemic of illnesses such as anorexia and bulimia, which can kill up to one in five victims.

'Successful women are only seen to be attractive if they are ultra-thin,' said Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of professional services at the BMA. But many normal women could copy their shapes only by semi-starvation, she warned.

The fashion industry could take a lead, she said, with 'more Sophie Dahls and fewer Kate Mosses' - referring to models with fuller figures rather than androgynous waifs that have dominated the catwalk in recent years.

'The images of slim models in the media are a marked contrast to the body size and shape of most children and young women, who are becoming increasingly heavier,' she said.

The report analyses evidence linking eating disorders to dissatisfaction among young women and men - one in ten sufferers is male - with their body image.

It has been estimated that the majority of models and actresses carry between ten and 15 per cent body fat, yet the average figure for a healthy woman is between 22 and 26 per cent.

The report states: 'The degree of thinness exhibited by models chosen to promote products is both unachievable and also biologically inappropriate, and provides unhelpful role models for young women.' It adds: 'Female models are becoming thinner at a time when women are becoming heavier, and the gap between the ideal body shape and the reality is wider than ever.' An estimated 60,000 Britons suffer from eating disorders - which have the highest premature death rate of any psychiatric illness.

Between 15 and 20 per cent of sufferers die within 20 years because of suicide and long-term health damage.

Dr Nathanson said low self-esteem also plays a part in causing girls as young as 11 or 12 to develop eating disorders and related psychological problems.

While the fashion industry plays a 'significant role' in causing eating disorders, it is designers rather than model

agencies who are chiefly responsible, she said.

'They should be designing for different shapes,' she added. 'It's cycle and we have to break that cycle.' A spokesman for the London-based Premier agency said agencies, advertisers and magazines are simply responding to consumer demand

by using skinny models. She added: 'It is a supply and demand thing.

Advertisers, magazines and agencies supply the image that consumers want to see.

'Statistics have repeatedly shown that if you stick a beautiful skinny girl on the cover of a magazine you sell more copies.' She said she finds it 'bizarre' that the issue has been raised at a time when models have become more rounded.

'London agencies especially are very responsible,' she added. 'We look after the girls and make sure they are on sensible diets.' Tessa Jowell, Minister for Women, has called a summit of fashion industry leaders and editors from teenage magazines at Downing Street next month amid growing concern about the impact of body image on young women's health. …

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