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Category: Eating Disorders

Sport – the real winners and losers

Back in 2006 we had the Senate Enquiry into female participation in sport. The enquiry concluded, amongst other things, that female sportswear might be a deterrent to participation.

The Daily Telegraph offered the following interviews with key participants:

ACT senator Kate Lundy, deputy chairwoman of the Senate committee that produced the report, said sports should do a survey of their women participants to see whether their uniform policy was suitable. ‘The main problem people expressed here was a risk of teenage girls being turned off sport because of the types of clothing they’re required to wear,’ she said. ‘It is a body image issue on one side, but by having a bit more flexibility with respect to uniforms, you can help support young women in improving their body image. If a girl is more comfortable playing in shorts and that will keep her in the sport, let’s go with that.’ Australian netball team co-captain Liz Ellis told The Daily Telegraph while fitted body-suits were good to play in because they kept players cool, young girls should play in whatever made them comfortable. ‘It would be great to see sports clubs look at their dress codes, for teenage girls, but especially for young women of the Muslim faith,’ she said. ‘Anything to promote young women to stay in sport would be positive.”

Have sportswear manufacturers cleaned up their act and focused on producing sportswear that is flattering, comfortable and practical? Are we encouraging our girls to get out there and get involved? Is this really just old news?

Recent sportswear campaigns and events both on and off the field clearly show this race has not yet been won.  

The following ads are for the Skins range of sportswear for women – can you believe these slogans?

“Men will love you, women will hate you. Lucky you’re not a lesbian. Skins delivers immediate results for the woman who wants to look and feel like a complete bitch.”    

Then there’s:

“Get a body to die for. And watch women queue up to help with your funeral arrangements. Skins are perfect for the woman who loves the feel of claws sticking into her back.”  

Or how about:

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 Note the line: “Get the body every other woman would love. To spit on.”

My Program Director for Queensland, Storm Greenhill Brown, originally pointed these ads out to me. As Storm laments, the emphasis on obtaining the PERFECT body is ugly enough, but pitting woman against woman? Grotesque. 

Need more? What about the Brooks Sports wear ad that promoted the company’s support of breast cancer (a great cause) but did so in an ad featuring two female runners with their breasts bouncing and the caption – “Nice pair!”   

The clothes may not be revealing, but the advertising campaigns certainly are – play sport just to look hot, hot, hot. These ads feed the very real risk of exercising excessively as a means of controlling weight.  Research clearly shows excessive exercise and eating disorders go hand in hand. These ads also alienate women who may not be comfortable with ruthless competition, nor with being viewed as just a pair of tits in sneakers.

And what about the treatment of the trailblazing Rebecca Wilson on The Footy Show last week? Rebecca is the first female panel member to join the traditionally blokey show. A good move from channel 9 to add her expertise – particularly when football generally is trying to reclaim its female fan base after a series of disgraceful incidents involving players indiscretions over the last few years.

So how was she welcomed to the team?  

Sam Newman used a staple gun to attach a cutout picture of Wilson’s face to the forehead of a mannequin. The life-sized doll was dressed in nothing more than a sheer, skimpy, aqua bra and underwear set. Samantha Lane from fairfax media recounts: “Inspired by a letter published in this newspaper’s Green Guide section that discussed what Wilson wears on Footy Classified, Newman made clumsy attempts to dress the mannequin but mostly he manhandled it. He flicked the top of the knickers, he put his hands squarely between the doll’s legs and he thrust it into the face of Craig Hutchison, who sits alongside Wilson on Monday nights. It was violent and vulgar.”

And this in a climate where a DVD was recently produced and launched with great fan fare for AFL players to help them develop their respect for women! Melinda Tankard Reist spoke for many women when she expressed her dismay over the need for such tuition:

So, it has come to this. We have so failed in the very basics of civilised human interaction that the Australian Football League has been forced to hire a swag of actors and a film crew to make an interactive DVD to help players understand that perhaps it’s not a good idea to pretend to be your best mate so you can have sex with his girlfriend. “R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Let’s spell it out together, boys!” The AFL wants to help the lads recognise that taking advantage of a woman who’s had too much to drink, doesn’t rank as the noblest decision they could ever made. “C-O-N-S-E-N-T: Shout it out for me, boys!”What’s next: teaching men not to bash women over the head with a club and drag them into a cave by their hair?”

Seems Sam Newman might need to spend the night in front of a good DVD… 

I’ll end on a positive.

I have praised adidas before for its fantastic portrayal of women in sport in the advertisements for their women’s range. I LOVE their latest one featuring celebrity trainer Michelle Bridges. The caption reads:

“Play a sport where the rewards are respect, self belief and inner strength. Play by your own rules.
Play gym. Impossible is nothing.”

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Michelle was made famous through her involvement with Tv’s The Biggest Loser. I have questioned this show’s emphasis on dramatic weight loss at all costs, and the promise of a new, perfect life as a direct result of the new perfect body, in a recent Opinion Piece I wrote that was published in the Herald. HOWEVER, this campaign gets it just right – the rewards for participating in sports must include self respect, self belief and inner strength. Surely the bonus is the improved fitness and toned body?

I met Michelle Bridges briefly this week and was struck by her genuine passion for what she does and her commitment to assisting her clients to feel good, not just look good. She also told me that as a young teen girl sport was her physical and emotional outlet. It kept her sane and strong. I want more of these role models for our girls! Bring it on adidas! 

Beauty is not about how skinny you are.

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Stylist to the stars Patricia Field (she of Sex in the City fame) has an oh so cool web site promoting must have items for budding fashionistas. One item, the Trash and Luxury Celebrity Diet shirt is described as: 

Another amazing celeb inspired tee. The celebrity diet, and our diet. Complete with a balanced cigarette, and some pills… any pills.”

Meanwhile the gossip mag’s tell us Hollywood’s latest must-do diet is the baby food diet. Stars reportedly swap real meals for baby food as it is lower in kilojoules, high in protein, and comes in small servings. Is the price for fortune and fame now Farax?

It is just not Hollywood stars, who bank on their looks quite literally, who are obsessed with the elusive body beautiful. Many of us have dieting down to an art form too; substituting real food for cigarettes, pills, and faddish concoctions. Purging through vomiting, laxatives, surgery.

Health experts warn we are simultaneously in the midst of an obesity epidemic. Our relationship with food, which surely should be so simple, seems to have become incredibly complex. Up to 39% of the population may be overweight, but eating disorders are widespread too and although they affect people of all ages and both sexes, they are more common in adolescent girls and young women. It is estimated that between 2-5% of all teenage girls fit the diagnostic criteria for anorexia and bulimia. However, the true estimate is probably much higher – many cases of bulimia in particular go undetected and some recent studies have shown the true estimate may be as high as one in five amongst the student population.

Tragically, all this dieting and suffering does not even work. Ninety five percent of people who go on weight loss diets (including commercial diets) regain all the weight they have lost plus more within two years. No wonder the weight loss industry is worth billions of dollars each year: once its slave, we are forever in its service.

In her book Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters American author Courtney Martin believes women now see our bodies as the enemy. She laments that fact that hating one’s body has become a rite of passage: “We can be well educated, creative, capable, experienced, and still not have the capacity to figure out how to free ourselves from guilt over every little thing we out in our mouths.”

How did this happen? Is this ok with everyone?

Back at home displaying the new normality of hating one’s body is ok as long as it rates. The Australian version of the ultimate diet show, The Biggest Loser, is cranking up for its 2008 launch with promo ads that show sad, lonely looking people – depicted in shades of grey – wanting what seems to me to be far more than just a healthy body. The ad that really struck me featured contestant Nicola; “I just want to be like every other girl.”

I have no doubt that Nicola will loose weight – dramatically. Yes, after much blood, sweat tears and a good dose of public humiliation she will get her reveal. But will she get the acceptance and love she so obviously craves? The irony is that Nicola is already like every other girl – she sees her body as the enemy.

The Biggest Loser’s theme song this year is Beck’s “Everyone’s Gotta Learn Sometimes.” The verse includes the lyrics “I need your lovin’ like the sunshine.” Isn’t that what we all really crave – love?

Some of us just get lost and think we may find love in food and then get even more bewildered when we listen to society tell us we will find it only through our hunger. The link between our emotions and our diet is nothing new yet it seems to be largely ignored by all the hype that surrounds each seductive promise of a new life through a new body.

Skinny is fine, but it doesn’t guarantee you happiness or love.

Four Year old Sophia believes that skinny won’t even guarantee you beauty:

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Forget carb counting and body fat index ratios. Maybe there are more important lessons we need to learn about ourselves first before we can ever be truly beautiful.

This blog post is based on a piece I wrote that was featured in the Opinion section of the Sydney Morning Herald today (29/1/08): The burden of treating girl's bodies as the enemy.  

Christmas Wish….

Don’t steal childhood away this christmas:  

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Love, light and laughter at Christmas and always…

Danni and the Enlighten Education Executive Team –

Fran, Sonia, Storm, and Jane XXXX

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“It’s not just about how you play (the game)…

but about how hot you look when you win!”Sportz Bratz

I kid you not – this is the motto for the Sportz Bratz.

Research clearly shows one of the best things girls can do to promote a healthy body image is become involved in sports. enlighten actively encourages girls to get physical but also deconstructs some of the stereotypes of women in sport that are unhelpful and explores the sexualisation of female sport stars. Some information from the Government’s Australian Sports Commission web site reiterates why this holistic approach is so important:

Stereotypes influence the types of sports in which women are likely to participate. Not only are sports labelled masculine or feminine, those female athletes who participate in sports are also subject to being labelled and stereotyped as either masculine (possibly lesbian) or feminine (conforming to the ideal). Sport can be a liberating experience for women, in that it offers them a chance to be in control of their own bodies. However, when women start to develop attributes that are perceived to be masculine, for example, muscle bulk and competitiveness, they are often subject to a type of harassment that comes of stepping outside the conventional range of the idealised female body type…

Diet and exercise are used by women to alter their body in order to conform to ideal female images. These practices control women and can lead to eating disorders. There is concern regarding the relationship between eating disorders and elite female athletes, especially in sports with an emphasis on aesthetics and body presentation. Research has clearly linked negative body image with the prevalence of eating disorders, and the susceptibility of those women with negative body image to develop poor eating behaviours. The relationship is consistent, almost every person suffering from an eating disorder suffers from a severely distorted body image.

Research in the United States has found that women who participate in sports and physical activity have a more positive body image than those who don’t. Participation in sports elicits approval from peers, family and friends, and helps women feel that their bodies are capable and competent. These positive feelings produce a positive body image. Although body image is profoundly shaped by social, political, racial, age and gender factors, these experiences are not static and are vulnerable to other more modern influences. We have the power to resist and change these stereotypes.

By refusing the stereotype, women will have access to a greater diversity of experiences that shape body image and self-concept.”

You may also find the report entitled Fit to Lead, produced by Womensport West, interesting reading.  

Findings indicate that: ” …a significant number of teenage girls perceive the sporting arena to be male-dominated. Their experience and comprehension of this domination varies, but whatever its manifestation, the interaction is frequently regarded as negative.”

What I most enjoyed reading was the possible solutions girls proposed. These include encouraging female students to design and choose their own sports clothing ( I can relate – my 8 year old daughter Teyah HATES her baggy PE shorts with a passion and has cried over these!) and providing non-traditional sports for girls.  

Teyah has embraced Taekwondo and I delight in the fact that her teacher, Di Carn, is not only fabulous at the sport  (she is a Commonwealth Gold medalist) but a wonderful teacher and female role model – patient, professional, powerful. A real life “kick butt” Princess Fiona!

What else works?   

I also believe that sport models the connection between out thoughts and our results. If we think we will achieve, we are far more likely to. All sports stars are aware of the power of positive thinking and getting in the zone. We use the analogy of the sports star psyching herself up before an event to explain to the girls how important their self talk is. Our words can heal or harm.

I applaud Adidas’s new Womens Philosophy and advertising campaign:

Sport is not an obligation

It`s a game

So play

And have fun

It`s up to you

Throw away expectations

And surprise yourself along the way.

Impossible is Nothing.”

It is up to us. We are in control. Powerful stuff.

P.S – Some interesting comments here, particularly on sportswear! Do read and offer your thoughts…

P.S.S Found excellent YouTube clip on the media’s representation of female athletes – an American one but worth a look:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/luadmO7Cugc" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /] 

National Body Image / Eating Disorder Week

You may be aware that the week commencing 3rd September 2007 was National Body Image / Eating Disorder Awareness week. I thought I would attach the following article for your interest and to assist you in your vital work in this area – it is an article from the Professional School Counseling Journal, February 2007, and is entitled counseling-adolescent-girls-for-body-image-resilience.doc

It is an American journal article but highly relevant to the Australian school context. The model identifies five protective factors that contribute to girls’ abilities to resist sociocultural pressures regarding thinness. Specific prevention and counseling strategies that school counselors (and teachers) can use to promote positive body image in adolescent girls are provided.

I was particularly interested in this finding:

Rather than a pathology-driven model that emphasizes treatment for the concerns of girls in clinical samples, the most promising programs incorporate protective factors that build on girls’ strengths, promote resilience, and buffer them from the development of body dissatisfaction and subsequent disordered eating practices.”

The article goes on to provide a number of practical strategies and presents a large body of research to support its recommendations.

Well worth a cuppa and a read.

The poignent poem below is by Claire Clements. Claire first contacted me after seeing us featured on A Current Affair in May 2006. We were profiled along with Professor Susan Paxton, Australia’s preeminent expert on girls and eating disorders. It is my understanding that Claire has struggled to gain weight and regain her health after a long period of illness.

It is really quite powerful and I thank her for sharing:
CURVES By Claire Clements

I am being reborn

Learning to breathe again

And with this comes awakening

Of the body and the mind

I have never been a woman

Though, once, I believed I was

Looking through a window

To a field I thought more green

But the window now has curtains

Which I keep shut tight

And for a while I lived in shadow

Alone

Void, even, of my soul

But now I am emerging

Not like a butterfly, no

But like a caterpillar

Feasting on fresh new leaves

Preparing for what I, eventually, will be

But now, here I am

Expanding. Growing.

And how wonderful it feels

To run your hands over your body

And feel pure meat and flesh

Not bones

To be feeding off flavours

Not internal organs

To look and see molehills

Not indentations

To breathe without fearing

For the pressure on my heart

To shower and take pleasure

In lathering my stomach

To have eyes appreciate my curves

Looking at them with relief, pride, happiness

Not eyes full of sexual hunger

Not eyes of a man

But with eyes of a friend

A parent, a sibling, a niece

To sit with my cat

Without her falling off my lap

To feel that life may actually be achievable

And not live in a cloud of despair

To have curves

Finally

Like the
Queens and beauties

In paintings from before

Like Cassandra

Like a goddess

Like a bear

Like a caterpillar

Storing up the padding

To last me through my transformation

Until I am that butterfly

To use food for its intended

A celebration of life

Of Nature

To finally be a woman

That you can look upon

Without grimacing in disgust

For I am on my way to curves

And I have never felt more beautiful.

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