The Daily Mail recently reported on research that showed how teenage girls are dieting in spite of the fact that they are a healthy weight or even underweight. Many of the girls questioned during the research said that they skipped breakfast or lunch in an attempt to lower their weight. Some of these girls would be placing their lives at risk if they were to go on a diet. This is largely believed to be due to our modern-day obsession with ultra-slim figures and the perfect body, something which doesn't just contribute to eating disorders linked to weight loss but also weight gain.
Ideally we want children to grow up with a healthy body image and a healthy relationship with food, but it seems almost impossible these days to enter your teen years without being exposed to the almost unattainable, airbrushed celebrity image of perfection. However, having ‘the perfect body’ as defined by the media doesn’t always mean having the healthiest body. According to the eating disorder charity Beat, popular culture is directly to blame for our pre-occupation with body image and plays a big part in the development of eating disorders. This is not news, nor is the fact that Western culture is completely celebrity obsessed. The reality TV show The Only Way is Essex, demonstrates this quite clearly in the programmes representation of the relationship between the couple Arg and Gemma, where, in my opinion, too much of a fuss is being made around the fact that Gemma has ‘curves’. It’s the same old story; if a woman has a body shape that doesn’t fit the celebrity norm, she needs to make a big thing about ‘being proud to be curvy’ otherwise they leave themselves open to public scrutiny and criticism.
It’s sometimes difficult not to be attracted to headlines that highlight a celebrity’s cellulite, saggy bottoms and ‘love handles’. I’ve often wondered whether our fascination with headlines of this ilk doesn’t stem from the fact that we are able to see celebrities in their most natural state, without layers of make-up and the miracle of air brushing, which makes them more human. However, in reality the message these articles tend to send isn’t, ‘it’s ok, nobody’s perfect’, but rather, ‘it’s wrong to have flaws and they need to be avoided at all costs’. As can be seen from the above mentioned survey, this message tends to make it difficult for teenage girls and boys and even adults to appreciate when they are healthy.
Similarly, a lack of confidence and an understanding of what healthy eating is can result in us developing unhealthy relationships with food, which can result in weight gain. It’s also easier to become discouraged in any weight loss effort if you are unable to reach or maintain standards that were close to impossible to begin with. Everybody knows about air brushing, yet there is still that desire to be perfect in every way. The only way to save young men and women years of agony is to change our media focus to include more information on simply being healthy. However, how this will have to happen is difficult to say.