Welcome to this week’s I Call Bullshit, a regular column on spin and skulduggery, pseudoscience and shenanigans. This week we’re looking at Mattel’s decision to make a bald Barbie.
Bald Barbie – or bald-friend-of-Barbie – will be distributed in hospitals to kids with cancer, or other conditions which make them lose their hair. Mattel said it “demonstrates Mattel’s commitment to encourage play as a respite for children in the hospital and bring joy to children in need”. Aw.
Mattel are responding to a Facebook page calling for a bald doll to help all children suffering hairloss, and only the cynical would suggest it was also responding to the February announcement that Barbie’s main competitors – Bratz and Moxie Girlz dolls – would be getting hairless friends.
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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.
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Of all the sick and creepy subcultures that flourish on the internet, few are more disturbing than the pro-ana websites devoted to the celebration of anorexia - not as a mental illness but a lifestyle choice.
There are dozens of these shocking sites. Some of them are big-production numbers with well-designed photo galleries of scrawny models and external links to websites selling food substitutes and appetite suppressants.
Many of them are just sad little blogs by individual women who diarise their battle with their own body and share tips on how best to emaciate themselves.
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Repeat after me: Models do not cause eating disorders. Really, they don’t.
The news which hit the headlines this week that nearly 100 children between the ages of five and seven had been diagnosed with eating disorders in the UK in recent years immediately prompted some stock-standard finger pointing (“It was the models wot done it!”), but it’s time to dispel a few myths about eating disorders.
For years, the scrawny, malnourished-looking girls who haunt the runways of Paris, Milan and New York have been accused of shoving women the world over just that much closer to starving themselves or sticking their fingers down their throats.
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Being the small-l liberal kind of place that it is, South Australia not only has a “thinker in residence” to help generate innovative ideas for public policy, but a kindly Catholic priest called Monsignor David Cappo who heads the Social Inclusion board to vet major government policies for their community impact.
Both of them must have been on a rostered day off when the State Government and the Health Department came up with one of the more foolish public policy ideas of recent times, which will have the effect of denying vital health care to sick young women, and forcing older women into an environment which experts believe will not help but harm their wellbeing.
SA has clocked up plenty of progressive firsts. It was the first Australian state to give women the vote, first state to recognise indigenous land rights, first state to introduce an anti-discrimination act – but now it’s about to clock up a first of a different kind as the first state to effectively shut down a cutting-edge health facility which for the past 30 years has been saving the lives of young women battling eating disorders.
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The Melbourne Spring Fashion Festival is now in full swing. In a few days it will coincide with the start of the National Body Image and Eating Disorder Awareness week.
The fashion industry has always come under fire for its use of super-skinny models, raising issues about healthy body images. In Australia, 45 per cent of women and 23 per cent of men in a healthy weight range believe they are overweight. Being in a healthy weight range doesn’t make your image perception healthy.
But this argument isn’t new. And overtime little has been done to correct these issues. We have heard the calls to ban skinny models from the world’s fashion runways, but they are still walking down the catwalk.
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