Can Watching the TV News Give Girls an Eating Disorder? Forget Catwalk Models. This Academic Says the Real Threat to Girls' Body Image Is Far More Insidious
RECENTLY, I sat down to watch the news with my 15-year-old daughter. Unlike some raunchy reality TV shows and soaps, you'd think there would be nothing to concern me.
And yet the images were alarming, though not in the ways most would expect: from the newsreader to the weather presenter, the women were what I term 'permarexic'.
This does not mean they stood out as shockingly thin.
It's the fact their images did not jar at all that concerned me.
They were an average size for TV personalities: no larger than a size eight -- the average in Britain is a size 16 -- with their heads slightly out of proportion to their tiny bodies and their collar bones razor-sharp.
While a small minority could claim to be this slim naturally, I'd wager they were vastly outnumbered by those who'd have to be on a permanent diet. However they had achieved it, the fact was they'd all been picked to appear on TV while having an undernourished appearance.
It's insidious, yet this normalisation of the underweight -- the constant visual backdrop of unhealthily thin TV presenters and actresses, not to mention thin celebrities online -- and the lies that surround how these slender figures are achieved are the causes of a plague of body dissatisfaction among girls.
My concerns are professional -- as a health education lecturer, I try to reduce body dissatisfaction and prevent eating disorders -- but I'm also a father.
The prospect of my daughters (the eldest is 24) being culturally bullied into assuming they're unattractive, overweight, and unworthy makes me angry.
As to the lies, they are peddled by intelligent, professional, high-achieving women. Too many beautiful 'permarexic' role models perpetuate the myth the ideal body is just within your grasp. Few tell the truth about how they actually achieve it.
U.S. model and actress Carre Otis is one of the few who has admitted the lies she told about her diet and exercise routine. In her autobiography, she describes how she would say her figure was down to: 'Jazzercise three times a week and light weights.'
In fact, she confesses: 'The heavily guarded truth was that I exercised a minimum of two hours a day, seven days a week ... my diet staple was four to six cups of black coffee a day, avoiding even a splash of skimmed milk, since I was terrified of extra calories.'
Her exhaustion (a result of lack of sleep, too much exercise and virtual starvation) was hidden with the help of airbrushing.
I can only imagine how many slender models, actresses and TV presenters are lying about how they get their figures.
These lies damage every area of women's lives: those with poor body image are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviour (they feel they don't have the power to say 'No') and less likely to enjoy sex (because their mind is on their appearance during love -making).
They are more likely to smoke to suppress appetite and less likely to exercise due to feeling self-conscious. At university, they are likely to get lower grades because they are preoccupied with their body shape. They may even be held back professionally if they feel too 'big'.
And they are more likely to develop eating disorders. Anorexia is Britain's deadliest psychological condition, killing more people than all substance misuse put together. Given current levels, between 7,000 and 14,000 girls and women will die of anorexia-related causes.
Girls aged have the incidence body dissatisfaction has become so prevalent it is being described as 'a normative discontent' -- unhappiness the majority are expected to experience.
The fashion industry has come under fire for using thin models. …