Fashion's Role In Body Dysmorphia

Every month it is with great excitement that I go to my favourite newsagent on Brunswick Street in Fitzroy to pick up some magazines. I’m like a kid in a candy store but instead of raspberry drops and lollipops it’s Vogue Italia and W. I stand looking over the magazine rack and there they are, each cover with a beautiful face staring coolly back at me. I want them all, even Cleo. After flicking through a few it’s decision time and it can be so hard to leave with just one or two because they’re so damn pretty, glossy, smooth….oh god yes! Magazines are fashion crack and momma needs her monthly hit.
I love fashion magazines because they’re escapism, fantasy.
According to the Australian government people are apparently now sick of the fantasy and they don’t want impossibly thin women with glowing flawless skin and legs. Apparently it’s dangerous.
On June 27 Kate Ellis the Australian Minister for Early Childhood Education, Child Care and Youth held a press conference about the Body Image Advisory Group that she formed and explained what they plan to do. The full press release can be read here.
In a nutshell (which is very hard to do and I suggest you follow the link for the full press release) an increasing number of children are suffering from body dysmorphia and developing eating disorders. The cause of this according to the group, though never explicitly stated, is the media, advertising and fashion industry.
To remedy this the group have done two things. The first is to create materials for teachers to use in school to promote positive self body image. The second is to create a body tick of approval (like the health tick of approval) which will be awarded to businesses that adhere to the guidelines set out by the Body Image Advisory Group. They can be viewed in full here. Some of the guidelines include minimal or no photoshopping, using models of different body shapes and sizes.
Now prior to reading the press release my initial response was here we go, a fat, cankly unloved weirdo with daddy issues doesn’t like fashion magazines because all the models are thin and make her feel ugly and the clothes are so pretty but they don’t fit me and designers don’t think about fat people and it’s an overlooked niche in the market making plus size clothes and I hate the fashion industry Karl Lagerfeld makes me sick wah wah wah I want some deep fried bacon. Needless to say I was completely wrong however there were many points made in the press release that just didn’t gel with me. For example:

This is about reports that kids as young as six are worrying about how many calories are in their play lunch.

What the fuck? Where is a six year old getting information on calorie intake? Marie Claire? Vogue? At no stage does Ms Ellis point the finger at the fashion industry but it’s obviously implied.

It is about teenage girls who are literally starving themselves to try and look like pictures of already thin models in magazines.

Where is the concrete proof of this? Are they really doing it to look like models in magazines or is that just an easy assumption to make? Where is the psychological research into why a girl is doing it? Surely this is far more important.

Today we are faced with pressures that were never experienced before. We are bombarded with media images every day of our lives.

That is simply not true. Every generation says that oh things are so different for kids; it wasn’t like this back in my day. Bulimia wasn’t invented yesterday.

It is not the fault of any one group or industry.

Yet this is directed squarely at the media industry.

Education Services Australia will also create supporting materials for teachers and school leaders to make sure positive body image policies and practices become embedded in school culture.

I think this is great but it needs to be directed at families too. I hope this material will filter into people’s homes because this is where positive body image begins.

This symbol is a win for consumers. It will give them the opportunity to tell the fashion, beauty, media and modelling industries what they want – that they no longer want to see already thin models who have great chunks digitally cut out of their thighs to appear even thinner, that they no longer want to buy products advertised by male models who have had extra muscles photoshopped onto their bodies.

When Ms Ellis says “they” she clearly means “me”.

In 2011 when the symbol is first awarded, I hope to be able to go to a newsagent and watch a teenage girl deciding between two magazines. She likes the actress on the cover of Magazine A better, but she prefers the headline story in Magazine B. It’s a touch choice – but she’s going with Magazine A because that magazine carries the body image friendly symbol.

Hope away because it’s never gonna happen. Teenagers simply don’t care. Teenagers don’t buy food because it’s got the healthy choice tick and they won’t do it for magazines either.

Negative body image is one of those issues that tends to excite a whole lot of strong opinions. And those opinions are usually delivered with a level of ferocity otherwise reserved for footy grand final week.
I have no doubt that in the coming days there will be critics who think this new awards scheme and symbol will amount to nothing. That is possible. But I do not think it is probable.

Yes, those critics will be the entire media industry. And does football really need to be mentioned in a government press release? Stop pandering to Ma n Pa Kettle.

I am quite angry about the press release. While I agree that something should be put in place it’s the reasons, or lack thereof for doing so that annoy me.
When a company is intentionally being deceptive to sell me something or make me believe something then that’s when a disclaimer needs to be put in place. For example, I don’t look at a Gucci ad campaign and feel like I’m being lied to. I don’t look at those ads and run to the bathroom with a toothbrush down my throat.
So in this instance I don’t see the point or the harm in having a warning that the image is shopped. If it stops a child from counting calories then its mission accomplished.
If I look at a picture of a male model who is chiseled and muscled I feel bad about myself. I feel bad about myself because I’m reminded that I don’t have abs and that I need to exercise more and eat healthy. If the model in the picture didn’t have abs and had a little fat then I suppose I wouldn’t feel ugly but it doesn’t make it right or ok that I’m overweight.
Also the problem with having a wider variety of body shapes in ads doesn’t make the product aspirational. You should look at that Gucci campaign and think, I want that bag, I want that glamour. If the model is un-retouched and average looking it makes the product less desirable. Isn’t that human nature? We naturally choose the thinner, more muscular person over the obese, ugly one?
One point that I did agree with was this: to only use people aged 16 or older to model adult clothes or to work or to model in fashion shows targeting an adult audience. I think this is totally fair. A 14 year old girl should not be modelling a $20,000 Chanel suit. They don’t wear them, they can’t afford them and they’re not marketed to them.

Overall I think this is a good idea. It’s not being forced onto designers, it is being encouraged. I do however feel that the fashion industry have obviously been singled out and it comes off as an attack. In some ways the industry deserve to be bashed because photoshopping over the last 5 years has become ridiculous in some instances. It’s snowballed from removing freckles to removing bellybuttons or a left hip and it’s like, are you serious? How is this normal and how did you think we wouldn’t find it weird?
I do feel that even though the plan addresses the fashion/media/advertising industry it makes no mention of other issues that could be causing young people to have body image issues/eating disorders etc. It simply states the problem can comes from these industries, nowhere else and they have a responsibility to change.
I believe negative body image comes from home, from your family. I can remember my sister being on a diet when she was 13 or 14. My mum even let her go to Weight Watchers. As a result my sister has been yo-yo dieting ever since and it is a constant point of conversation. I’ve lost X amount of kg this month, I’m on diet milkshakes, I got a treadmill etc. I truly believe that if my mum had told my sister that she was normal and ok and looked rad then I don’t think she would be so concerned with her weight.
Parents need to tell their kids that they look good and if they’re obese then it’s their responsibility to ensure they’re eating a healthy diet and exercising but not making them feel bad about it.
To me it comes off as being far easier to demonise the evil fashion industry and gain political kudos rather than blame mums and dads for their child’s anorexia.
Ugh, I’ve written so much about this because it’s gotten me so fired up.


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