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Tag: Eating Disorders

What price perfection?

This month, alarming research was published showing that eating disorders now plague very young children. The study’s findings included a child only 5 years of age who was hospitalised with Early Onset Eating Disorder (EOED).

It was Dr Sloane Madden from The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, New South Wales, who raised the alarm: “What we are seeing clinically, and what is being reported anecdotally around the world is that kids are presenting in greater numbers at a younger age,” he said in a recent interview. “They certainly will tell you that they believe that they are fat, that they want to be thinner, and they have no insight into the fact that they are malnourished and they are literally starving themselves to death.”

Dr Madden went on to say that the number of EOED cases is expected to rise unless there is a change in the media’s obsession with fat and weight. “I think that there needs to be a move away from this focus on weight and numbers and body fat, and a focus on healthy eating and exercise,” he said in a Sydney Morning Herald interview. “You can see that in current (television) programs like The Biggest Loser, where it is all about numbers and weight, it’s not helpful for those people and it’s certainly not helpful for this group of kids.”

Not helpful either is Australia’s Next Top Model. Early reports about this season’s show indicate it will, once again, feature bullying and an unhealthy preoccupation with weight. In the first episode, to air on April 28, Perry tells his fellow judges – the model agent Priscilla Leighton-Clark and former model Charlotte Dawson – that some contestants look like “Frankenstein”, “a wild pig”, “fat”, “a moose” and that one has “something spaz [spastic] with her teeth”. All this from a show hosted and produced by Sarah Murdoch, a member of the Federal Government’s newly formed advisory group on body image.

Richard Eckersley in his excellent book Well and Good – Morality, Meaning and Happiness voices the concerns of many:

No sensible person would argue that there is a simple, direct relationship between media content and people’s behaviour. But nor should any sensible person accept the proposition, implied by some cultural commentators, that what we see, hear and read in the media has no effect on us. Maybe children today are savvy, sophisticated consumers of media – as we are often told – but this does not mean that we can be complacent about media influences.”

It is more important than ever that we give our young people the skills they need to deconstruct the many media images they are bombarded with every day. With this in mind, the following books and web sites provide ways to begin this essential dialogue with the young people you care for:

Web sites

Enlighten Education – http://enlighteneducation.com: My company’s web site. We deliver in-school workshops for girls on self-esteem, body image, managing friendships, personal safety and career pathways for girls.

The Butterfly Effect – http://enlighteneducation.edublogs.org: My blog, featuring weekly posts targeted to educators and parents of teen girls. Check out “Danielle Miller’s videos”, “My Book Collections” and the “Articles of interest” page for suggestions.

Girlpower Retouch – http://demo.fb.se/e/girlpower/retouch: A site that shows how easy it is to distort the images we see in magazines to change someone’s appearance.

Jean Kilbourne – http://jeankilbourne.com: Writer and documentary maker who explores the way women and girls are portrayed in advertising.

The Beautiful Women Project – http://www.beautifulwomenproject.org: American art project celebrating diversity and real everyday beauty.

Girl Guiding UK – http://www.girlguiding.org.uk: The section “Girls Shout Out” has some particularly interesting reports on teenage mental health, active citizenship and the pressures girls feel growing up.

Kids Free 2B Kids – http://kf2bk.com: Australian site that raises awareness about the damage caused by the sexualisation of children and acts to combat this.

Young Media Australia – http://youngmedia.org.au: Australian organisation with a particular interest in developing media literacy in young people.

American sites that help young people develop media literacy skills to combat unhelpful media messages about beauty and body image:

American sites offering resources and professional development for teachers who want to nurture media literacy in the classroom:

Books and magazines

For girls

New Moon Girls – American magazine aimed at 8- to 12-year-old girls, with accompanying web-based activities: http://www.newmoon.com

Indigo 4 Girls – Australian Magazine aimed at 10- to 14-year-olds that describes itself as a “positive, body friendly, age appropriate magazine for girls”.  http://indigo4girls.com

Girl Stuff: Your full-on guide to the teen years – Book by Kaz Cooke, Penguin Group Australia, 2007

Body Talk: A Power Guide For Girls, Elizabeth Reid Boyd and Abigail Bray, Hodder Headline

The Girlosophy series by Anthea Paul, Allen and Unwin

The Girlforce series by Nikki Goldstein, ABC Books

For Parents and Teachers

Faking It – A special publication that deconstructs the female image in magazines, available through Women’s Forum Australia: www.womensforumaustralia.org

Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel – Book by Jean Kilbourne, Free Press

The Beauty Myth – Book by Naomi Wolf, Vintage

Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body – Book by Courtney E. Martin, Free Press

Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture – Book by Ariel Levy, Schwartz Publishing

Well and Good – Book by Richard Eckersley, Text Publishing

It is also more important than ever that we all take stock and ask ourselves whether we too are getting caught up in playing the compare and despair game. Many of us tell our children they do not need to change in order to be beautiful, while we rush for Botox. We tell them inner beauty counts, while we devour magazines that tell us beauty is really only about air-brushed perfection after all. If even the grown-ups are struggling, is it any wonder that our daughters are? Our children cannot be what they cannot see.

It is up to us to show them what the state of “I am me, I am okay” looks like.

“If you are thin and beautiful you can rule the world…”

The quote above is taken from the YouTube clip below. This documentary provides an incredibly powerful insight into adolescent, and pre-adolescent, girls and their relationship with their bodies:  


 

Now consider the messages Australian teen girls will be receiving this week if they tune into channel 10’s The Biggest Loser. I wrote an Opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald on this show last year: The Burden of treating girls bodies as the enemy.  

What do I find so concerning about this program? I am not questioning the importance of maintaining a sensible diet or a fitness regime. And it is obvious that the contestants do need help in getting their health back on track. But is public humiliation, excessive dieting and exercise, and the constant obsession with numbers (calories, kilos, carbs…) helping either the participants or the viewers long term?

One of my Facebook buddies is so incensed by this show that she has set up her own Facebook page to stimulate discussion on the real issues:  Shame on you channel 10 – ‘The Biggest Loser’ should not be shown. What messages are we sending, one member of this group questions, when contestants gasp in dismay at the thought of having to consume lollies worth 80 calories as a possible ‘punishment’ for failing to get immunity?

Surely we don’t need more thinspiration. We are already bombarded with images of ultra-thin models and celebrities and surrounded by advertisements for the multi-million dollar diet industry.

What we need is more balance.

More connection to our bodies. 

More celebration of diversity.  

  

Starving for attention

Guest post by Enlighten Education NSW’s newest team member, Nikki Davis:  

Looks like thin is no longer in. Skeletal is the new body ideal judging by the physiques of the female celebrities who are hot property right now.

I have to confess that I, and a number of my friends, were more than a little excited about the premiere of the new 2008 version of 90210. We were all huge fans of the original 1990’s series. The first ever episode aired when I was 13 years old and I was immediately hooked – complete with a huge crush on Dylan and a keen eye that followed the fashion choices of my new role models.

So I must admit that the thought of catching up with Kelly and Brenda again had me refusing to take calls from 8:30pm on the first night it aired.

And yes, it was fabulous to see Kelly and Brenda again (who were reunited at the Peach Pit nonetheless!).

However, I was very distressed by the new female cast who now play the children and little sisters of the originals. They are so thin. I am talking painfully thin. The lead girl “Annie” (played by Shanae Grimes) and her friend “Silver” (played by Jessica Stroup ) are excruciatingly skinny. As one of my mates so eloquently put it in her text message to me during the show the other night, “Watching this is making me hungry”. The characters must be hungry too as the only consumables we saw in Episode 1 were alcoholic beverages, coffee and salads (Annie had salad for lunch in the cafeteria, I guess you can’t look as tiny as she does by eating carb’s/protein/fat/non-vegetable matter). Why can’t teens on TV eat real food anymore? Even The OC had the girls eating burgers, fries, milkshakes and Thai takeaway….

One of the tiny stars of new series of “90210” – Shanae Grimes

Turns out my friends and I were not the only ones who noticed how thin these new stars are; a couple of articles have popped up on Entertainment websites claiming that “sources” inside Hollywood are reporting talks on set and at the network about the girls’ weight. One article even claimed that the male stars of the program are planning to stage an intervention with the girls as they never eat and the guys think it is unhealthy. Well if this is true, then go guys I say!

Below are pics of the old and new cast… the new photo doesn’t really show just how thin the young girls are in the series (perhaps they airbrushed them to be less thin for the pics?) but oh how the concept of a “hot body” has changed over time.

 


I grew up in the Supermodel era where Cindy Crawford reigned supreme. Cindy was a genetic freak (she was so strikingly beautiful) but her shoulder blades wouldn’t have taken an eye out – she had some flesh on those bones. In the late 90’s Kate Moss rose to fame and the fashion industry deemed the “coat-hanger” was the new body ideal. In turn, this lead Hollywood down the very thin, and the carb-less, garden path.

Researcher Botta, in the 1999 study on television images and adolescent girls’ body image disturbance, made the observation that “our culture’s obsession with the thin ideals is now played out in the media via models and actresses who may have eating disorders themselves, who may have personal trainers to help them maintain a thin body, and whose bodies, as portrayed through airbrushing and camera-angle techniques, may not even be their own.” What would Botta have made of 90210 – 2008 style?

Surely it’s not just me being alarmist, and surely the new “Beverly Hills waifs” provide just one example of how much worse have things become.

We are now seeing children as young as 8 hospitalized with eating disorders. Dieting, detoxing, purging…all have become normalized. I have been engrossed in the work of Courtney E Martin; her book “Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters” really sums it up as she points out just how “normal” it has become to equate thinness, food deprivation and excessive exercise with success. Martin also looks at just how much time women spend thinking and obsessing about dieting and their bodies – is this what we want for our young women? To rate “thinness’ over wit, intelligence, talent, warmth? To waste their energy thinking about how they look in skinny leg jeans? No way!

I am hoping the backlash over the body shapes presented on the new 90210 continues to grow. We need to be speaking about this! We need to open our eyes and minds to a broader concept of gorgeous.

Because this look is killing us – literally.

Finally, on a lighter note, if you do still pine for your fix of 90210 (there are rumours of Dylan making an appearance so I can’t tune out yet!) or one of the array of other crappy American shows of this genre – do as my friend does in her share house with the four young women she lives with. Make Monday nights “90210 and cookies” night. Indulge in all the fun, fashion and cute boys without the starvation.

It’s much more fun.

It’s beautiful.

Guiding the way…

This week I want to share extracts from “Teenage Mental health: girls shout out!”, the third research report recently released by GirlGuiding UK:

Teenage mental health: Girls shout out! is an investigation into girls’ experiences of both hard-to manage and challenging feelings and recognised mental health problems. The report considers a new generation of potential triggers for mental health problems in girls – premature sexualisation, commercialisation and alcohol misuse – and also some of the more longstanding issues like bullying and family breakdown. It examines the impact of such factors on girls’ feelings and behaviour at home and in their communities, and asks young women themselves what might be done to help.”

Some of the statistics are frightening and yet they are consistent with the many other studies that have also examined the impact our toxic culture is having on young women:

• Half the girls questioned know someone who has suffered from depression (51 per cent).
• Two-fifths know someone who has self-harmed (42 per cent).
• A third have a friend who has suffered from an eating disorder (32 per cent).
• Almost two in five have a friend who has experienced panic attacks (38 per cent).
• A quarter know someone who has taken illegal drugs (27 per cent).
• Two-fifths have experience of someone drinking too much alcohol (40 per cent).

It would be easy to feel overwhelmed wouldn’t it? But girls don’t need our dismay – they need us to get active.    

What types of things can be done to support girls’ emotional well being? The report also offers some practical suggestions:

1. Give girls things to do: from adventure playgrounds to kung fu or street dancing.
2. Create safe places where girls can have freedom without parents worrying.
3. Boost confidence by giving girls opportunities to succeed outside school.
4. Encourage girls to try something new.
5. Make girls feel normal and accepted – whatever problems they might have.
6. Don’t overwhelm them with advice – give them space.
7. Help them understand that they can’t always help the way they feel.
8. Initiate a young mayor scheme – giving girls a say in important decisions.
9. Make information about where to turn for help easily available.
10. Use the Girlguiding UK website to offer advice and support.

I would add to this the following ideas:

1. Empathise – don’t dismiss her fears and anxities, nor think of her as a mere “drama queen.” Being a teen girl is challenging at times, and I believe this generation of girls have it even harder than we did. A great exercise that may help you reconnect with what it feels like to be a teenager was offered in one of my previous posts: Letter To My Teen Self. Do take the time to read the letters other Butterfly Effect readers contributed – they are so insightful. Add a letter of your own!
2. Help girls develop a language to describe how they are feeling; develop their emotional literacy.
3. Encourage girls to seek out a “Fairy Godmother” – a mentor who can help her navigate these tumultueous years. Enlighten’s Program Director for Victoria, Sonia Lyne, discussed this with great honesty and warmth in her previous guest post True Colours.
4. Get informed. Read books from
My Library, read some of the articles on my Article of Interest page, watch some of the films in my Video Pod, visit some of the other web sites I recommend.
5. Encourage girls to critique the media messages that surround them. This blog has offered a variety of great practical activities that get girls active eg: my post on Talking Back to the Media. 

The entire GirlGuiding report is so well worth reading that I am providing the PDF here for you and a “virtual treat” for you to have whilst taking 5 minutes to really think about how you can respond intelligently and compassionately to the pressing needs of the girls you care for…

Guiding UK Report on Teenage Mental Health

 

Beauty is not about how skinny you are.

 trashcelebdiet_small.jpg

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:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/fULtU2NfPQA" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

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.  

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