Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Body Acceptance Movement

In  Monday’s blog I discussed Dr Ellie Cannon’s, concerns that Marks & Spencer’s use of ‘real women’ models gave the impression that being overweight is normal and healthy; when the opposite was true.

In this post I would like to comment on her statement about, what she termed, the “body acceptance movement”.

“I am really concerned”, said Dr Cannon, “by this trend of supposedly empowering women by what has become known as the ‘body acceptance movement, which embraces the notion that fat is fine. While fat may be fine cosmetically, it is not fine for your health”.

Anyone who reads our site knows that we support self acceptance and empowerment; we also support physical and mental health and wellbeing. In our view, they are not a mutually exclusive set of values.

We want our readers to accept the body they were born with; whatever its genetic makeup. Not hate or resent it, reluctantly tolerate or ignore it. This approach to oneself is both physically and mentally destructive.

Instead, we want our readers to embrace their body as the only body they will ever have. We want them to take care of their body, by giving it a healthy balanced diet, sufficient exercise, keeping it clean, rested and yes presenting it to the world in a way that builds their confidence, with or without makeup and the latest designer label.

In our view the ‘body acceptance movement’ does not tell individuals that “fat is fine”. It tells them that individuality is fine and what nature intended.
Dr Cannon’ also made the following statement.

“Body shape has been hijacked, solely as a fashion issue, and as ammunition in the war of cool versus uncool.”

I agree with her that body shape has indeed been hijacked. However, I don’t agree that it has been hijacked “solely as a fashion issue”. I think it has been hijacked primarily as a prerequisite marketing tool for the health (including diet), fitness, beauty and the fashion industries.

These billion pound a year industries, survive and thrive by first creating then idealising and normalising a mythical body shape and look. An ‘ideal’ that can only be attained by purchasing their products and services.


Monday, October 29, 2012

Real women fat and health

Do adverts featuring real women complete with curves and wobbly bits, encourage obesity?

Yesterday, Dr Ellie Cannon, writing in the Mail, made it clear that she believed that Marks & Spencer’s use of ‘real women’ models to promote the retailer's Sexy Shapewear range was irresponsible, because it implied that that being overweight is healthy and normal.  Picture

“Two, if not three, are overweight, while the biggest girl is obese”, said Dr Ellie Cannon, critiquing the ad.

“Fat, truth be told, is neither a feminist nor a cosmetic issue….. It is, quite simply, a health issue. And we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be steered into losing sight of that fact”.

“It’s absolutely outrageous”, Dr Cannon added, “that, in an effort to illustrate the diversity of women, obesity has taken its place alongside ageing and differing skin colours.

Yes, these adverts have captured the notion of individuality beautifully, by using women in their 50s. But including overweight and therefore unhealthy women in the mix is downright misguided, at best”.

Ironically, just last week Marks and Spencer were criticised about another ‘real women’ ad campaign. On that occasion complaints were directed at the companies use of perfect-looking models "with no wobbly bits" to showcase its underwear range.

I showed my husband a picture of the M&S ad in question and asked him what he thought.

“All I see is a group of normal women”, he replied. “Were you expecting me to comment on anything in particular”?

I fully understand why he used the term ‘normal’. On any given day, I could walk into numerous High Street changing rooms and see women with similar body sizes and shapes.

M&S’s use of real women, in an attempt to highlight diversity is more representative of the average woman in the street, than the super thin young models that normally dominate ads.

However, it is important that in their attempts to use ‘real women’ that M&S don’t replace one type of unhealthy model i.e. super skinny/size zero with another, namely overweight or obese models.

At this stage, I need to add that no one I have spoken to (and the vast majority of the opinions that I've read) considered any of the models obese and most commented that they didn’t believe it was possible to simply look at the Marks & Spencer’s models and know how healthy they were.

The controversy does give light to the question; should models be restricted to those that fall within a healthy weight range?

This approach would have a more positive impact on teens/women’s body image and self esteem than the current system where ads normalize and elevate very thin models. It would also have the added benefit, if you hold the same view as Dr Cannon, of promoting health.

Part 2 Body Acceptance Movement


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Supermarket hypocrisy?

Yesterday the government, with the support of food manufactures and the big supermarkets, released plans that will lead to the introduction of a new, simpler food labelling system.

The new "hybrid system" which has not yet been finalised, will bring together a colour coded traffic light system, the words high, medium or low to describe particular ingredients and guideline daily amounts.

On the face of it, the actions of the supermarkets to use a consistent, UK wide food labelling standard, aimed at educating their customers to enable them to make healthier choices is admirable.

However, after hearing Sian Jarvis’s (Asda’s Head of communications) comment regarding Asda’s checkouts; I can’t help feeling somewhat cynical about Asda’s (and supermarkets in general) true commitment to improving public health.

Ms Jarvis was being interview on Radio 4’s Today Programme about the new food labelling proposals. During the discussion she made a statement that revealed a lot about Asda’s checkout policy.

“One in three of our checkouts are what we call guilt-free checkouts”, she stated.

Angered, presenter Jim Naughtie highlighted Asda’s apparent hypocrisy by targeting children with confectionery at the checkouts on one hand, while claiming that they were backing healthy eating on the other.

“If you’re telling me that one out of three Asda checkouts are guilt free”, spelt out Mr Naughtie, “then by your terminology two out of three are guilty. Two out of three are guilt-laden and one is guilt-free….. You’ve got great displays of fattening and sugar loaded confectionery to tempt a mother with two children. If you’re committed to public health that’s not something you should be doing.”

To be fair to Asda, they are not the only supermarket that has ‘guilty checkout’s as a matter of policy.

Asda, Morrisons and Iceland have been pinpointed as the worst offenders in research conducted by Children’s Food Campaign. They were closely followed by the Co-op, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose.

The evidence clearly shows that supermarkets are putting profits via pester power/impulse buying before children’s / public health.

If supermarkets are serious about playing a role in improving their customer’s health; they need to acknowledge that signing up to a new food labelling system does not go far enough….. and then do more.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

British jealousy of French waistlines

A couple of days ago I listened, with interest, to a weight related discussion on local radio.

The presenters, one male and one female, were discussing the recent news that 32.3 % of the French population is overweight and 15 % are officially obese. The most noteworthy weight gain was among 18 to 24-year-olds, whose obesity levels have increased 35 % during the last three years.

The study by ObEpi-Roche identified the main culprits as the rise in junk food consumption and lack of exercise (sitting in front of TV and computer screens).

As recently as 2009 a study (France's National Institute of Demographic Studies) comparing Western Europe’s body mass indexes (A health BMI range was 18.5 - 24.9)
found that:
    - French women had the lowest average body mass index, at 23.2.
    - British women had the highest average at 26.2

The 2009 study also revealed that French women:
    - had very high ‘beauty’ standards.
    - tended to see themselves as larger than they really were.
    - had the highest proportion of women who were underweight.

Against this background, the radio presenter’s attitude during the whole segment can be summed up as gleeful.

“At last”, the male presenter gloated, before expanding on the reasons for his happiness.

The French who, he explained, have for years enjoyed a multitude of delicious cheeses such as Camembert and gallons of fine wine and champagne, were now getting their just desserts. They were getting fat, just like the British and, was the implication, it was about time too!

The programmes presenters were revisiting the long standing debate that British people have had about the weight difference between themselves and their neighbours across the channel. Several books and TV programs have been created to help British people understand why the French, especially French women, don't get fat.

…..Until now …..

Once the initial joy (news about the expanding French waistline) has subsided, I hope the emphasis will change to how both the British and the French can stay healthy.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Society’s love affair with youth and beauty

After talking to others about society’s current love affair with youth (or being youthful) and beauty, it is easy to be left with the opinion that the current focus is a modern day phenomenon. One birthed from recent medical, technological and societal developments.

The 1933 song, ‘Keep young and beautiful if you want to be loved’, written by Al Dubin and more recently performed by Annie Lennox, reminds us that while beauty ideals (physical attributes that are considered beautiful) have changed over time, youth and beauty have always held significant value.

Today, youth and beauty are more valuable than ever, so much so that a large portion of our society desires and eagerly seeks them out; while at the same time disdaining all else.

Lyrics of the song ‘Keep young and beautiful if you want to be loved’:

What's cute about a little cutie?
It's her beauty, not brains...
Old father time will never harm you
If your charm still remains.
After you grow old baby
You don't have to be a cold baby...

Keep Young and Beautiful
It's your duty to be beautiful...
Keep young and beautiful
If you want to be loved!

Don't fail to do your stuff
With a little powder and a puff.
Keep young and beautiful
If you want to be loved.

If you're wise, exercise all the fat off
Take it off - off of here, off of there...
When you're seen anywhere with your hat off
Wear a Marcel wave in your hair...

Take care of all those charms
And you'll always be in someone's arms.
Keep young and beautiful
If you want to be loved.

Keep young and beautiful
It's your duty to be beautiful
Keep young and beautiful
If you want to be loved

Boopie doo, ah



Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Thinspiration vs Fitspiration

Thinspiration is the use of images/videos that depict extremely thin often emaciated people/celebrities with the intension of motivating others to pursue extreme, and often unhealthy, weight loss goals. Occasionally, thinspriational motivation comes in the form of quotes, poems or song lyrics.

Paradoxically, some images show overweight/obese individuals or calorie laden foods, with the intention of inducing abhorrence.

Supporters argue that Thinspiration highlights important issues, while others condemn the practice for encouraging negative body image and eating disorders. E.g. A 2010 survey* found that Thinspiration constituted 84% of the images on Pro-ana sites.

The use of images and videos to elevate and promote a specific body size (super slim) has extended to include the idealisation of body shape, muscular tone and level of fitness. This new development is known as Fitspiration.

Similar to Thinspiration; Fitspiration advocates often use images of overweight or unhealthy individuals (provoke disgust) as a motivational tool to encourage exercise, health and fitness.

Fitspiration images or often airbrushed and used as a marketing tool to promote fitness, exercise, diet and nutrition products and services.

“People are being brainwashed into thinking that these kind of messages are good to spread around ….. To me, it’s exercise-addiction masquerading as a healthy message and is very much like “Thinspiration”. In fact, it would appear that Fitspiration is the new Thinspiration”. [Katy:].

Being healthy is important. The goal of improving (if required) and maintaining ones health and fitness level is crucial for overall well-being. The problem occurs when the standard promotes one ‘ideal look’, is unrealistic, unattainable (except for the tiny minority who are able to make the necessary physical, mental and lifestyle changes) and impossible to sustain.

Fitspiration, while on the surface a worthy pursuit, could very easily fall into the trap of reinforcing society’s ideal beauty/body shape standards and in doing so undermine, not promote positive body image.

* Borzekowski, Dina; Schenk, Summer; Wilson, Jenny; Peebles, Rebecka (2010), "e-Ana and e-Mia: A Content Analysis of Pro–Eating Disorder Web Sites.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Skin whitening ad

This is a rather disturbing skin whitening ad, one of the many that have become common place in India.

The ad is for Clean and Dry Intimate Wash.

The manufacturer tells prospective clients that the product is:

‘Designed to address the problems women face in their private parts….. To be used while showering, its special pH-balanced formula cleans and protects the affected area, and even makes the skin fairer’.

Unable to view video? Click here

“So what that advert is basically saying is that if women had whiter intimate parts then their marriage would be better and their husbands would be happier with them; which is such a ridiculous message”. Chrissy B (Chrissy B Show Sky 203).

It is also a very dangerous message.

Together with numerous ads marketing skin lightening creams, underarm deodorants with skin lightening properties etc; advertisers are reinforcing the message to Indian females (and males) that dark skin is not good enough. That they need to be light skinned (the lighter the better), to be attractive, desirable, successful and have a happy marriage.

Ads like this gives rise to insecurity, body image and self confidence issues and very little else.


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Eating disorders rise by 16%

Today, the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) released their hospital admission figures for July 2011 to June 2012.

The new figures show a significant rise* in eating disorder cases:

• There were a total of 2,288 admissions for an eating disorder. A 16 per cent increase from 1,973 for the previous 12 months.
• 1,695 (74 %) for Anorexia, 149 (7 %) for Bulimia and 444 (19 %) for other eating disorders.
• 2,083 (91%) of the patients were female and 203 (9 %) were male compared to 1,744 (88 %) female and 229 (12%) male, the previous year.
• Of eating disorder admissions, 497 (26%) were admitted and discharged on the same day; 218 (11 %) spent between three and six months in hospital, while 91 (5 %) spent at least six months as an inpatient.
Children and teens:
    • The most common age was 15 for girls; the limited number of boys
      made it impractical to determine the most common age.
    • 47 children aged between five and 9 admitted in 2011/12, up
      from 17 the year before.
    • That the biggest increases were among girls aged 10 to 15,
      up from 362 in 20/11 to 522 in 2011/12.
    • Young girls aged 10 to 19 accounted for more than half of all
      admissions, up from last year.

Eating disorder admissions had longer hospital stays on average compared to admissions overall.

Tim Straughan, chief executive of the HSCIC, commented: “A person suffering with an eating disorder is cared for in the community through primary services rather than in hospital, with activity in secondary care only part of a bigger picture.

"However, our figures do suggest that hospitals in England are admitting a greater number of eating disorder cases than in previous years.

"The data points to a relatively small but nevertheless significant rise in child admissions for the treatment of an eating disorder."

In response, Beat (an eating disorder charity) made the following statement:

"Sadly we are not surprised at the increase in people having hospital treatment for an eating disorder. Beat speaks to people every day who require urgent medical attention.

"Whilst it’s good to know that people are getting the treatment they desperately need, so far as eating disorders are concerned, these latest hospital admission statistics are the tip of the iceberg. There are 1.6million people in the UK affected by eating disorders and only those who are at a life threatening stage of their illness are hospitalised”.

*The figures reflect the number of admissions, not patients, some of may have been admitted on more than one occasion.


Tuesday, October 09, 2012

5 steps to improved body confidence

The multi-billion pound combined annual earnings of the health, beauty and fashion industries is only achievable because they have successfully convinced consumers, through language and images, that the body they have isn’t good enough.

Given the constant messages that are opposed to the natural body, it is often difficult to be comfortable in your own skin.

Below are five steps that we hope will enable you to make peace with, look after and feel confident about your body what ever its size, shape or other physical attributes.

Self acceptance
You are uniquely you. Accept your body for the parts you love, the parts you can tolerate and the parts you don’t like due to perceive imperfections. Stop comparing yourself unflatteringly to others and embrace the whole you, which is much more than what you look like.

In the current celebrity, media and internet age, it is very easy to find unhealthy and unhelpful information. E.g. Celebrities endorsing fad diets, pro anorexia websites etc.

Rather than absorbing bad even toxic information; replace these messages with positive ones of your own and repeat them (to yourself) throughout the day. Better still, write them down and place them around your house in locations that you visit frequently. Hopefully, this will build your self esteem and body confidence. 

It is easy to get bogged down in the minutiae of the latest diet or beauty regime, where the focus is on your appearance. In doing so, you will inevitably not pay enough attention to what really matters ……. your health.

Family & friends
If you are unhappy, depressed or believe your have body image or a food related disorder, it is very important that you speak to supportive family, friends and seek medical help.

Don’t allow an unhappy or unhealthy situation to continue indefinitely. Help is available. E.g. Make an appointment to see your GP, who will help you directly or refer you to an appropriate professional.

Time & effort
Self acceptance is a journey that takes time. It may also take effort e.g. resisting or challenging messages that are opposed to your new commitment to self acceptance. Don’t give up; it will be worth it in the end.


Thursday, October 04, 2012

Social obligation

In our next article we ask the question: do celebrities, public and community figures have a social obligation to represent and promote a healthy lifestyle? 


Last week US news anchor Jennifer Livingston received an email that annoyed her so much that she decided to make a very public response.

The email with the subject ‘Community responsibility’ read:

Hi Jennifer,

“Its unusual that I, see your morning show., but I did so for a very short time today. I was surprised indeed to witness that your physical condition hasn’t improved for many years”.

“Surely you don’t consider yourself a suitable example for this community’s young people, girls in particular. Obesity is one of the worse choices a person can make and one of the most dangerous habits to maintain”.

“I’ll leave you this note hoping that you will reconsider your responsibility as a local public personality to present and promote a healthy lifestyle.”

Read Article


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