Even models should not have to suck this up
Full credit to designer and Australia’s Next Top Model judge, Alex Perry, for declaring he would never call a model “fat”, and that his fashion embraces curvy women.
Perry took a media beating this week, and with what seemed good cause: Appearing to suggest that a size eight teen was too fat to model.
Not only was comparing her to “overstuffed luggage” offensive (even if he was referring more to her pose, in a coffin of all things, than to her body), it was dangerous. Mountains of research attests that “socio-cultural” pressure - ideas picked up from TV, fashion magazines and other media - is a leading cause of the eating disorder epidemic among young Australians.
Perry’s comments prompted hate mail, and even death threats. And when I read a view that if you go into “the spotlight” you should be ready to cop flak about your weight, I threw down the paper in disgust.
The idea that if you seek a profile you should take body-slights - and audiences should meekly suck it up - insults us all.
To suggest any show or commentator is exempt from the reality that there is a body image crisis confronting young Australians and they are hyper-sensitive to negative messages flies in the face of peak research and advice from our most respected doctors and fashion chiefs.
Many came together as part of the Federal Government’s National Body Image Advisory Group, which drafted guidelines on how to present and discuss body image in the interests of public health.
It took years, but medicine and fashion editors finally agree that sending unhealthy thinness messages to young people can make children of both sexes ill. Scratch that, it already is.
Mission Australia’s most recent youth survey found body dissatisfaction is the greatest cause of anxiety among those aged 12 to 24, particularly 14 to 19-year-olds.
The largest annual youth survey of its kind found one in four females and one in three males aged 12 to 24 said their body was their top worry.
The link between such worries and illness can be seen in rising hospital admissions due to eating disorders. Sydney’s pre-eminent Children’s Hospital at Westmead Eating Disorders Service saw a 270 per cent increase in such admissions between 2000 and 2009, and a 1000 per cent increase in out-patient eating disorder treatments between `03 and `09.
Between mid 2007 and 2010, the number of 12 year-olds admitted for eating disorders jumped from six per cent to 20 per cent and as of mid last year, the greatest number of admissions was among 14 year-olds, at 35 per cent.
Mortality rates for eating disorders are 12 times higher than the annual death rate from all causes in females aged 15 to 24.
“These are statistics we take very seriously,” says Danni Rowlands, education manager, prevention and awareness, at the eating disorder support group Butterfly Foundation. She said it was well acknowledged that media messages impact on children’s body attitudes.
Only three weeks ago Eating Disorders Victoria found body inferiority is now affecting pre-schoolers. Kinder kids are aware you diet to lose weight, are “scared” of eating junk food because it makes you fat and know “being fat is one of the worst things you can call someone”.
They pick this up “from the media…parents, other children and people around them” - often people who are well-meaning, but they can be too young to understand the message.
There is no justification - not even ratings - for the view that people should “harden up or don’t seek the spotlight”. With all that we know in 2011, this view is dangerously ignorant.
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