LibLink: Christine Jardine… Stop pressuring our children to be perfect

Children in Quito, South America - Some rights reserved by epSos.deIt’s New Year and every single magazine aimed at women and girls will inevitably be full of the latest crash diet. Whether it’s claiming you’ll lose a stone in seven days, or banning carbs or suggesting you base your diet on cabbage soup or eggs, we are told that we should get rid of the excesses of the Festive Season as soon as possible with often drastic measures.

Jo Swinson recently wrote an open letter to magazine editors urging them not to promote irresponsible crash diets that simply don’t work and can have negative health consequences. The link shows a BBC News interview with her and is worth watching.

Former Special Adviser Christine Jardine, herself the mother of a teenage daughter, wrote for the Scotsman about why these images of perfection in weight and appearance are so damaging to kids. She outlines the pressures that they face:

Just at the point when their bodies are changing, their hormones are running riot and they desire nothing more than to look right and fit in, they are presented everywhere with a fashion and make-up industry-created ideal of what they should aspire to.

In the run-up to Christmas, they faced a deluge of “must haves” to help them become the perfect reflection of that ideal. In the new year, another onslaught, this time with ways to undo the damage the festive season might have done to that perfect figure.

And it’s all about that word: perfect. The perfectly slim, perfectly presented, perfectly perfect image. It’s an uncompromising, often airbrushed, picture of what our daughters should aim for, and how they should see themselves.

She goes on to talk about the recruitment process and X Factor like audition process for teenage staff in a fashion retailer in Glasgow. What messages did that send out?

For the girls who were successful, there is probably no problem. But what about the ones who were not? What impact could that perceived rejection have on their self-image, and should we expect the retailers who depend on our children’s patronage to take more account of their wellbeing?

The consequences of the continued pressure to conform to the often unachievable appearance and size can be serious:

 For some girls, that message becomes translated into the need to skip meals to lose weight, and evidence to Ms Swinson’s parliamentary committee showed extreme dieting could often be the trigger for eating disorders.

You can read the whole article here. And if you are looking for ways to combat this media pressure on your child, then there is a handy Parent Information Pack from Media Smart which will help you understand some of the issues and help promote a healthy body image.

One New Year’s Resolution we could all make would be to do what we can to call out instances of media manipulation of young children whenever we see it and be very careful in our own actions not to perpetuate it.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • tony dawson 1st Jan '13 - 12:21pm

    I am very suspicious of this well-meaning ‘you don’t have to be perfect’ message. I fully-recognise the psychological harm which can result from everyone trying to strive for the impossible. But there is a counter-message which is vitally important: not to attempt the impossible but accept your own personal responsibility to attempt the possible. The obesity epidemic is crippling this country and many others in a mire of its own making. We can all aspire to keep our weight within 20 per cent plus or minus of an ‘ideal’ an commit ourselves to take some action when our weight strays outside these limits. Doing so is not rocket science. Yes, it often requires social support but crucial to achievement is individual autonomous action and responsibility to not burden yourself as an older person with the products/costs of your own laziness while younger and more able to ‘carry’ the weight- and also to not burden the rest of society with the financial costs of your actions/inactions either.

  • Tony Dawson 1st Jan '13 - 2:10pm

    For those who are geeky about fat metabolism, this guy is incredibly balanced:

  • AlanPlatypus 1st Jan '13 - 8:28pm

    Well said Tony Dawson.

  • Stuart Mitchell 2nd Jan '13 - 1:19pm

    The body image campaign is turning into a parody of itself. First we have Jo Swinson, apparently unperturbed by the month-long glorification of greed that has just proliferated throughout our print and broadcast media, but up in arms at the idea that anybody might suggest there could be advantages to shedding a few of those recently-acquired pounds. Then we have this ludicrous article by Christine Jardine in which she writes of her feelings of “cold fear” when her perfectly healthy daughter asked for a salad.

    As usual, the most common characteristic of all this “body image” talk is the hyperbole :-

    “It’s New Year and EVERY SINGLE magazine aimed at women and girls will inevitably be full of the latest crash diet.” (my emphasis)

    Er, no they won’t. If you spend five minutes browsing the women’s magazines in any newsagent (as I did earlier today) you will see that that is nonsense. To give a few high-selling examples :-

    “Heat” devotes most of its cover to a celebration of celebrity gluttony, with various (young female) celebs revealing which ultra-high-calorie junk food they just can’t get enough of.

    The cover of “Now” has the message: “Obesity = happiness”, with the headline “Our Diet Hell” next to a story of a woman who lost six stone and then found herself depressed and miserable because her friends dumped her.

    In fact few of the magazines seem to mention diets on their covers at all. Those that doseem to be pretty responsible as far as I can tell, such as the Gino Di Campo diet in “Woman” magazine which hardly seems to be much of a diet at all. The few magazines which do promote “wonder” diets seem to be firmly at the ultra-trashy end of the market.

    The whole “body image” industry is at best an exercise in being a killjoy, and at worst a dangerous attempt to fob off vulnerable young women with unfounded explanations for (and solutions to) their feelings of low self-esteem.

  • Stuart Mitchell 2nd Jan '13 - 4:39pm

    Peter: I share your concerns about the cosmetic surgery industry. Though it’s interesting to note that Lynne Featherstone has said positive things about it. This is the major difficulty I have with the whole body image lobby: there is no consistency of logical thought, it’s all a complete hodge podge of inconsistencies and non-evidence-based prejudice. I’d sooner my daughter be Photoshopped than operated on, any day of the week.

    We are told that the media exerts huge pressure on girls to be thin, yet over the past sixty years women’s waists have expanded six and a half inches on average. Even in the early ’90s, size 12 was still the average, but now it is 16. If this is what happens when we have a media supposedly encouraging girls to be thin, one can only imagine what would happen if Jo Swinson got her way and images of thin girls went the same way as Silk Cut adverts.

    Causes of anorexia include genetic factors and personal/familial problems. Eating disorders occur within cultures that have no exposure whatsoever to Western-style media, and even among blind women. It should be clear from this that banning images of thin women will not stop eating disorders. Giving the impression that it might is unhelpful and downright dangerous. It diverts attention from the much more real and serious underlying problems, gives girls a false explanation for their problems, and stigmatises activities which are perfectly healthy and safe for most.

    Last year I saw a young girl (about 13 I think) being interviewed on BBC Breakfast. This girl had emerged from an appalling bout of anorexia that had led to long periods of hospitalisation and had nearly killed her. When questioned by Bill Turnbull, she said that her anorexia had been caused by (a) bullying, (b) a genetic disposition, and (c) inadequate support following family beareavements. (All these factors are common.) She even stated specifically that she did not believe images of thin or airbrushed girls had been a factor at all. Yet for some reason, she had come to the conclusion that the best way she could help stop other girls from suffering the same problems was to campaign against airbrushing in beauty adverts. I actually think it’s pretty shabby of the body image lobby to be hoodwinking vulnerable girls into thinking that they can solve deep psychological problems by simply banning a few adverts.

    My personal slant on this is that I have a pre-teenage daughter who is naturally extremely thin (though she eats like a horse and is perfectly healthy) and I find much of the anti-thin rhetoric emanating from the so-called “body confidence” lobby to be out of order. Many of them seem simply to be trying to replace one form of “body tyranny” with another. Just recently, my daughter has commented several times that she feels she needs to lose weight – which is pretty worrying given how thin she is to start with. I have no idea where this has come from, but it certainly has not come from girls’ magazines (she has never read any), the world of high fashion (she has had no exposure to that either), or indeed any sort of media influence, since she hardly ever watches TV or surfs the net.

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