Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Government will fix body image

The Federal Government has commissioned a group of fashion industry leaders to address body dissatisfaction levels among Australia's youth.
Editors from Cosmo and Girlfriend are involved. I am in two minds about this. They have chosen exactly the right people to tackle the worst of women-influencing-women bad body image issues, but they have also chosen the right people to make sure that whatever policy comes into play won't affect these big players.

This is being played as a young people issue, and there is no doubt that young people are the most vulnerable, but we are kidding ourselves if we think we aren't being influenced by it. I like to pretend I am above media influence, but when I find myself in tears watching real women on (English) "How to Look Good Naked", I realise how much I am just like everyone else.

I am loath to ever suggest that anything should be illegal, but airbrushing has become a weapon against ordinary women. Academically, we all know those magazine covers are bullshit, but they are speaking directly to our amygdala. They are triggering fears and insecurities that our rational minds don't even know we have - the emotional parts of our brain that were trained by the other kids that called us fat. The stand out in my past is the drawing of me in a bikini as an egg with 2 rubber bands. Despite the fact that academically, if the worst body shape I had to deal with was a smooth wide middle I'd be happy, that still brings shudders.

So where will this go? I know nothing about the people involved in this. If they have a conscience, they are in a position to really help. I'm not sure how much labelling airbrushing will help on its own, but I'm thinking that it will rapidly become a negative label. If it makes it go away, I am a happy vegemite.

The media has been the conduit to the impossible, toxic body ideals that the female of the species (at least in the western world) is currently dealing with. They may not have created it (arguably) but they have absolutely enabled it. And what I really don't get? The media sells mags regardless of what is currently in vogue. If it is a healthy, wide range of body shapes, the media sold image of sexy will still sell.

So if you have an open line to anyone on this committee, let them know that even the most cynical of us might actually buy those trashy mags if they had reinforcing, realistic images of women.

And if the monetary incentive isn't plausible, ask them to talk to 8 year olds who think they are fat. Ask those kids why they think they are fat.And then ask them why being fat is so bad anyway. And them to come back and justify their design room decisions.


  1. Very well said. I have a 10 year old at home... who thinks that she is fat. She recently told me that she is fat and that she has to suck her stomach in all day long sot aht she doesn't look fat... and that sucking in her stomach hurts. So frustrating!

  2. I've really not been looking forward to Caitlin starting to show an interest in magazines. I know I'll be torn between wanting to protect her from all the "toxic body ideal" (perfect phrase for it btw) stuff and not wanting to play unreasonable censor mum. Besides, there can be a lot of useful learning to be got from some magazines. It'd be nice to think something good might come of this.

    Nap Mom, I'm so sorry to hear that about Lulu :( It makes me so angry that this is happening to kids.

  3. I'm sorry to hear that Lulu thinks she's fat. I definitely thought I was fat at 10 (I obviously was, everybody told me so!). I don't know if it helps at 10, but I find now that a regular dose of actual, normal women (like on How to Look Good Naked, or some of those lots of naked people photos or whatever) helps to reset my reference point.

    Mim, the line between censorship and protection from insidious self-esteem killers is tricky. I'm not looking forward to dealing with it either.

    At gymnastics the other day I saw a woman say to her 9 or 10-ish year old son "You have definitely gained weight", and it wasn't in a positive tone. He sucked his stomach in and denied it. He looked slightly on the skinny side of utterly normal to me. Who says women aren't gaining ground, soon enough men will have just as many body image issues as women.