Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Fat girls, thin girls - our confusing message to young women about weight needs to stop.


For a decade and more we've been told that the fashion industry, with its too-thin models and obsession with superficial image, has presented an unattainable body-image ideal to young people and especially to girls.

Here's an article from The Guardian in 2000:

British doctors yesterday called on the media to use female models with more realistically proportioned bodies instead of "abnormally thin" women who contributed to the rise in the numbers of people suffering from eating disorders.

A report by the British Medical Association claimed that the promotion of rake-thin models such as Kate Moss and Jodie Kidd was creating a distorted body image which young women tried to imitate. It suggested that the media can trigger and perpetuate the disease.

We have, since that time, been regaled with seemingly endless elaborations on this viewpoint - from the use of retouching in photography to cosmetic surgery - all repeating the accusation that the fashion industry presents an 'unhealthy' body image. Not only is there the direct link to eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia but we have suggested links to depression, suicide, underperformance at school and even sexual dysfunction.

Throughout this time a parallel world can be seen - one where girls are ever more overweight. Here, again from The Guardian:

The increase in obesity accelerated sharply in 2004, especially among girls, the survey said. Figures for the 11-15 age group showed the proportion of obese girls grew from 15.4% in 1995 to 22.1% in 2003. But in 2004 it shot up to 26.7%.

Over the same period, the proportion of girls who were overweight, but not enough to qualify as obese, increased from 12.6% to 14.8%. In 2004 a total of 46% of girls and 30.5% of boys were either overweight or obese.

So while we were ever more angst-ridden about Kate Moss being too skinny, the vulnerable cohort of teenaged girls was chowing down and piling on the pounds. If you asked these girls whether they want to look like Kate Moss they give the honest answer - yes - and then order another milkshake. The evidence suggests that skinny models have - at the aggregate level - had no impact at all on the weight of girls.

All this brings us right up to date with the latest piece of ridiculous nannying fussbucketry from Dame Sally Davies, the government's "Chief Medical Officer":

Dame Sally Davies wants the obesity crisis in women to be classed alongside flooding and major outbreaks of disease – as well as the threat from violent extremism.

So - despite the malign impact of Jodie Kidd - the female population are a bunch of unhealthy lard-buckets. So much so that the Chief Medical Officer wants to define it as a national crisis. So much for anything being the fashion industry's fault. But wait:

The use of plus-sized models in advertising campaigns may be fuelling the obesity epidemic, experts have warned.

A new study, by business and marketing researchers, suggested that using images of larger body types 'encourages the idea that being overweight is acceptable'.

Using fewer images of models who are underweight and aesthetically flawless can have a detrimental effect on the public's lifestyle and eating behaviour, researchers said.

Ha - gotcha! We can all relax - the use of fat models makes being fat seem OK meaning that all the girls are obese. Or at least the ones who aren't anorexic or bulimic because they want to look like a contestant on Britain's Next Top Model.

Perhaps what's needed here is a bit of balance. Instead of giving young women an message that they're too fat one day and too thin the next we should maybe try being honest about all this weight and health stuff. Such as that people who, on our standard measure, are overweight are likely to live longer than those at so-called 'normal' weight. And that so long as such folk are fit and active there really aren't any negatives to being what the nannying fussbuckets call "overweight".

What we need to stop is this implication that there's some sort of perfect weight - somewhere between Cara Delavigne and Adele. Instead we should focus on how active (not sporty but active) people are and whether their diet is balanced. We don't need sugar taxes, advertising bans or lectures from Dame Sally Davies. What we need is some common sense and a sensible, affirmative message to young women (and young men for that matter) about how to get healthy and stay healthy.


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