Tuesday, 3 May 2011

If Only You Looked Like Barbie You'd be Happier / 'Them and Us'

I'm scared. In this Saturday's Family section of The Guardian, Oliver James has written an article which speaks to my deepest fears. Based around a study of 500 16-year-old Fijian girls, he describes how television, and in particular social networking sites such as Facebook, are bad for girls' body image.

'At the most simple level, the cause is television. A definitive proof of this came from Fiji. Before 1995 there was no TV there and a full female figure was the preferred form. In that year, there were no cases of bulimia recorded, but within three years, dieting suddenly became widespread and 11% of young women were bulimic. The problem was three times more common in homes with a television.' - Oliver James

'However, further analysis showed that social networking was a considerably greater problem than TV, especially when combined with absorption in American culture.' - Oliver James

The researchers concluded that the consistent images of women who are happy (or who are skilled at appearing so) and who look tall, skinny, and gorgeous in that standardised way, eventually convince the subconscious minds of young girls and women that, if only they too could look more like that, they would be as happy as all these chirpy and elegant presenters, pop stars, actors, models, etc. But what they really become is bulimic.

Obviously not everyone is affected in this way, but enough are for it to be a serious problem, including the millions who never develop an eating disorder but still experience lower self-esteem because they can't match the airbrushed people. And I can't help but wonder if my gorgeous (in her wonderful non-standardised way) Ickle Pickle, who currently enjoys 'squidging' her healthy baby fat with me, will one day look at an equally healthy amount of fat on her body and feel depressed or disgusted or unworthy. 

James calls for 'an independent body to prohibit the use of exceptionally good-looking models in all advertising', but despite all my fears I still balk at this. Wouldn't that infringe our 'freedom of the press'? I'm undecided.

In the course of having a similar debate on Facebook, I did discover that the adverts on the right all have a hidden 'x' in the top right corner. Clicking this allows you to report why you didn't like that advert. I'm on a mission to report all weight-loss ads as offensive and I'd love it if you joined me.

In happier news, although strangely related, my latest artwork is an exploration of shape and titled, 'Them and Us'. Here it is:

'Them and Us'
Brush pen mosaic on canvas
5" x 7"
 What do you think about legislating to ensure more normal-looking models?

Do you have an insight into body image? Or the modeling business? 

As ever, any thoughts on my art are appreciated.

And do remember to 'x' those Facebook ads if you want to report them. 


  1. I'll have to read the whole article, but interesting - and yes, a bit depressing! :-S But I agree with your thoughts on freedom... I can't help but think, without thinking too deeply, that society of whatever country or time in history will always have it's ideas about the ideal - and it's more important to armour oneself against *any* such unhelpful fashions or social trends with strong self esteem and good emotional intelligence (at least that’s the tact I’m trying to take with my kids). If the kids have that then they hopefully can make healthy informed choices…

    Very much liking the latest! :-D Will look forward to see where this goes... Will there be more similar? liking the white!

  2. I hear you Lunar, especially with two daughters who are just discovering fashion and 'celebrities'. These images and all the advertising that's targeted at young girls is so damaging. I've actually seen my 6 year old (who is a skinny little streak and quite likely will grow up tall, like her dad) look at herself in the mirror and complain that her school jumper makes her look fat! How do we fight this? And while we're at it, it's not just body shape, it's age too. What I'd really like to see, rather than banning tall, extremely young models, is a wide range of women, of different ages, showing that beauty comes in many shapes, colours, ages and sizes. Showing happy healthy women who look like real women. I want to know what a woman my age looks like wearing some outfit, not what an 18 year old 6 foot 2 girl who weights 45 kilos looks like in it!

  3. wow. Hit a nerve with me there, Lunar. Amie's best friend in school has just spent a year in London hospital with anorexia, at 12! - so lots of relevant talking and questioning going on in our household.
    Thankfully, I am reassured by the talking we share, that Amie's attitude and understanding of media manipulation are well adjusted so far. Whenever she has occasional concerns about aspects of her physique, we discuss and action extra exercise rather than focus on food solutions. considering I am such terrible example of someone with food issues, this is a relief. So Lunar, do not underestimate the values we are gifting these very smart children of ours, and the exceptional emotional intelligence they seem to exhibit as they look outwards in the World. Trust Ember to absorb the Truths you embody for her xx

  4. yes it is depressing, though not exactly new - in victorian times women would undergo painful surgery to have their lower ribs removed just so they could have the 'wasp' figure so idealised in victorian culture!

    its frightening that some people will undergo all kinds of unhealthy habits for the sake3 of some artificial idea of beauty :(

  5. It's time thin models disappeared.They're not good for anyone, especially themselves and their eating habits.
    Eating disorders are not just about what people watch on TV, they arise from disempowerment usually provided by a style of parenting.Peer group pressure is significant too.
    Just as concerning is porno-chic and the sexualisation of young girls, beauty pageants and access to unsuitable materials.

  6. Thank you everybody.
    Nicki, that's my plan too. The fear comes from research which says peer and media are stronger influences than parental guidance. It's only a short article, by the way.
    And more white is planned when canvasses have been primed.
    Christina, yes, age is another biggy and it all feeds into the same crazy notion - that's there's one ideal way to be and the rest is failure (ie everyone over 25!).
    Sam, how lovely. I think I escaped a lot of this nonsense by seeing the state of girls at school who'd got lost in eating disorders. So maybe that's helping Amie too. And you're so conscious about what you transmit to Amie I'm not surprised she's doing so well. We plan to keep the focus on strength, health and fitness and not mention shape or size. Love to you both.
    Graham, I have a sense of body image blindness escalating, but maybe it isn't - maybe we just talk about it more now. There have probably always been women who have starved themselves to achieve a shape their bodies won't naturally assume.
    Von, I believe you're right about eating disorders coming from a more general disempowerment. That's where parents do get to have a strong influence. I have been disgusted (literally) by sexy toddler clothes and that child sexuality is present in a lot of toys and characters too. Yuk.
    Thin models do disappear sometimes. In hospitals. No-one tells the kids that.

  7. Liz PannellMay 07, 2011

    Inspired by you, I too have started clicking on the 'x' and telling FB that I find these weight-loss ads offensive.
    I do think, however, that the unhappiness that people, and it is increasingly young men too, feel about their bodies is certainly exacerbated by living in such a visual age, but is symptomatic of a deeper unhappiness that advertising seeks to exploit.
    The empty promises of a consumerist society are being exposed as we become more aware of the damage that it does to our environment and to our society, and hopefully from that will come a determination to define what really makes us happy.
    Ember will be growing up in a home where this is already understood, where her self-esteem will be firmly rooted in who she is, not what she looks like.

  8. Thanks Liz.
    Yes - men are feeling the pressure too now. I'd be interested to see a graph correlating the number of ads for male beauty products and the number of males with eating disorders over the last few years.
    And you're right that eating/body issues are just one facet of an insidious rhetoric about valuing yourself and others according to commercial compliance. Obesity and obeisance are linked.
    I do hope there's a broad re-evaluation of these values, and it is happening in some ways (e.g. Action for Happiness). We'll be doing all we can for our happy little chubster :o).

  9. Hi just popping over to say thanks for your visit and your comment on On The Road, it was very thought provoking. People often say about Catcher in the Rye that it is a book for teenagers, that reading it when you are older does not have the same impact. Maybe this is what happens, that a book can speak to a certain time in your life, when you are seeking something. Maybe On The Road is about the need to go out and find meaning, to find what life is all about, that it is somehow 'out there' and if only you look hard enough you will find it. I did recently move house, not exactly on a whim, but partly out of a need to be somewhere different. Maybe there is a bit of Jack in all of us:-)
    with much love

  10. hi there, over from claire's.

    lovely juxtaposition of curves and the linear.

    as a mama of a girl, i just hate that this is the world we are offering her when she's old enough to notice. here where i'm currently living, the girls are super slim, and i discovered just last year that bulimia is rife.

    not using good looking people is not the way to go, but rather using beautiful fuller figure women. i do hope that JLO, Beyonce, and co are asserting some influence. But women are too brainwashed towards skinny. along comes an Eva L and size zero is everything.


    talk to our daughters, let them talk to us freely, that comes first.

  11. Hey Martine, good to see you here. Yeah, I still 'nurture my inner Jack' at times :o).
    Books can be (I hope) another big influence on our children. And we can place good books in their path. I'm looking forward to that, when it's not all animal noises.
    Hi Monica. Thanks for your thoughts. You're right that there are some great role models out there too, as well as the size zero women.
    The listening - yes - that's surely as important as anything we might have to say.
    Good luck to all of us.


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