Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Body image and eating disorders awareness week

If you live in Australia,  you may know that this week is body image and eating disorders awareness week.

Unfortunately, it didn't get off to a brilliant start. Monday and Tuesday brought news pieces about an 18-year-old, size 8-10, Australia's Next Top Model contestant being labelled too big, and subsequently eliminated from the show. Based on what has been reported, this girl has a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 18.6. The World Health Organisation starts the healthy weight range at a BMI of 18.5.

Sadly, I fear that the coverage may have boosted ratings for the show rather than hampered them. 'Any news is good news', as the saying goes.

Fortunately, there have been positives too. The organisers of Melbourne Fashion Week, which is also happening as I type, have committed to using models with a BMI within the healthy weight range. This approach has been used in several European fashion shows over recent years and it's nice to see it adopted here too. Of course, it would be nicer if it had happened many years ago, but there you go.

The thing is, though, that body image and eating disorders aren't just about models and fashion.

They're not about ballet dancers and gymnasts either, or any other stereotyped group.

They're about everyone.
Consider this:
  • Body image was rated the number one concern by Australian youth in the 2010 Mission Australia survey, which was completed by over 50,000 11- to 24-year-olds.
  • Adolescents who are highly dissatisfied with their bodies are also at risk for depressive symptoms and drug and alcohol misuse (reference).
  • Going on a strict diet has been found to predict subsequent increases in weight for most adolescents (reference).
  • Approximately 10% of Australian women will experience an eating disorder in their lifetime (reference).
  • Up to 10% of individuals with eating disorders will die. Only 30 - 50% may be considered to make a "good" recovery (reference).
  • Over half of the Australian adult population is overweight or obese. Obesity (although not, necessarily, being overweight) is a risk factor for type II diabetes, cancer, and heart disease (reference).
Clearly, eating and weight are big issues. The discrepancy between current population trends in body size (increasing) and the social 'ideals' of thinness are also, however you look at things, a problematic combination.

I hope that this week can give air space to the issues, if nothing else, so that more research can be done, more interventions developed, and more support offered to those who need it. Personally, I find it heart breaking that 11-year-olds would rate body image as a number one concern - and if I ever have children, I hope that society has evolved to better manage these issues. When I was 11, my body was helping me climb trees, and I couldn't have even guessed at my weight.

Are eating disorders or body image issues things you have struggled with, or affected someone close to you?

In honour of body image issues, and healthy and  fun eating, I also thought this week would be a good time to return to vegan chocolate mousse. Stay tuned!


  1. When I was in year 12 the AEST (equivalent of the HSC) essay was about body image. As someone who has been lucky enough to always have a reasonably good body image, I just got stuck in and wrote an essay. However for several girls in my year who had eating disorders, all of whom were considered "cured" or "on the mend" it was hugely confronting. One girl had to be removed from the hall and got to re-sit the exam later. I was shocked, as much as I thought I knew about eating disorders, this woke me up to the long term effects.

    Eating disorders are so much more serious and with such longer implications that most people give them credit for. It is something that affects a person their whole life and I don't think people like Alex Perry have any idea of the impact of their words.

    I see things to do with body image that shock me on a weekly basis. From parents feeding toddlers fast food and softdrink establishing terrible eating habits, to lingree for pre-teens, to stupid media comments. All I can say is that I'm so glad I had brilliant parents who set a great example and made us feel beautiful, even at my most awkward teenage phases.

  2. Those stats make me feel quite ill. If only self-love was taught at primary school! Excellent post, Kari :-)

  3. Eating disorders just seem the tip of the iceberg of how society treats food and body image! I knew someone who had a heart attack in their 20s due to an eating disorder - really sad for her!

  4. I hadn't heard about body image and eating disorders awareness week. A cousin of mine had severe anorexia nervosa when she was a teenager and was hospitalised for quite some time. The good news is that she is fit and healthy today. Sometimes I feel lucky to have a son as they are less susceptible to these types of issues.

  5. Vegan chocolate mousse sounds great :)
    Sadly, this is something I have struggled with throughout the past year. Blogging has definitely helped me along the journey, but it's not an easy recovery process. Eating disorders and their seriousness are often overlooked.. Thank you for this post! :)

  6. It breaks my heart when I hear of children who are on diets - and more so when it's their parents leading them down that path (unless the children are obese etc). I wonder if the increasing pressure to be skinny is related to our burgeoning waistlines somehow?

  7. Love the gorgeous cats and your Mum's vegetable garden - wow!

  8. Kari, what a well written post. With half of our population overweight, I can only imagine eating disorders are going to be on the rise as well.... and ridiculous comments from model shows like this weeks one? Please people, just don't watch them.

  9. Thank you for posting about this, Kari. I've always been so grateful to my family, and my mother particularly, for never being a household of body image fanatics or dieters. It terrifies me to think of how obsessing over weight has become the norm, it seems, in today's society, and I must admit to a fair degree of anxiety about a lot of the "healthy living" blogs out there, which display key disordered behaviours. I dream of a world where we all nurture ourselves without destroying ourselves.

  10. That's fantastic, that the runway shows are having healthy BMI models. While it might be late, I'm quite impressed it's happening now!

  11. I think it's super-interesting that Oz has such a progressive week, and but you're right about the mixed messages. Earlier this year in Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper I read about how Australia was trying to shame obese people with images of their obesity... which made me cringe. Then a few months ago, that was followed up by research about how attempting to shame people backfired instead of motivated them. I was a biggish teenager and definitely had disordered patterns... and if anyone said something unkind about my weight, it totally sent me in the direction of a binge, not healthy choices. This feels so obvious to me... but I'm with Hannah---there has to be a better way to achieve health and happiness, minus the destruction. Maybe a week like this is the first step towards a better future.

  12. @Lisa
    Gosh, what a story about your AEST exam. The sad thing is, I suspect the people who set the topic thought it would be relevant and appropriate. It is sad to think how many girls may have been upset by it.

  13. @Brooke
    I know - I'm sure there are less important topics that could be taken out of primary school to make room for it!

  14. @Johanna GGG
    My gosh...that's terrible. And as you say, those severe cases really are just the tip of the iceburg.

  15. @Mel
    I'm so glad your cousin is well today. And I suspect if I ever have children, I might feel the same about daughters vs. sons! It seems like daughters could present a minefield of issues :P

  16. @spinachandspice
    I'm sorry that this is something close to you - but so glad that blogging has helped you out. It's certainly not an easy thing to come out of. I hope things continue to improve for you :)

  17. @Keely aka The Richest Girl in Bondi
    Oh me too...and I suspect the pressures around thinness really do have a backfiring effect.

  18. @cityhippyfarmgirl
    I know...I was thinking earlier in the week that it would be good if there could be censoring settings for TV shows as well as for websites. The thought of children seeing shows like that is terrifying (and so sad).

  19. @Hannah
    Thank you Hannah. I dream of that too, and am convinced that if we could all do it, weight would just take care of itself! It's great to hear that your upbringing was so positive in this regard.

  20. @Stephanie @
    Amen to all of that :) And the shaming thing makes me cringe too...I'm glad the research has shown how counter productive that would be.

  21. Hi Kari, a little late to the party but EDs seem to be on the rise in older women - there's a lot of pressure for women to be perfect, particularly post natally which is of great concern. I've grown up around EDs - both sister and brother had/have them so a lot of conscious decision not to fall into those patterns even today.

  22. I don't know if I have ever commented on your blog before so I'm a bit shy! But I just wanted to say that this is an issue far too close to my heart for comfort and those statistics are frightening but not unsurprising. I don't really know what else to say. One thing I wish it was easier to explain to people is that the body image aspect of an ED is, generally, only one tiny fragment of the story.

  23. @Liz@LastChanceTraining
    I have been amazed at the amount of postnatal pressure around - watching older friends struggle with those pressures whilst also managing a new baby is sad to see. I'm sorry to hear about your sister and brother, too, although am glad it's helped you steer clear.

  24. @Vaala ◪
    I am so glad you did comment! Thank you. And I agree, so wholeheartedly. I think body image is just one symptom of an ED, and such a small component of the overall picture. I hope more people can hear your perspective x

  25. Wow, Kari, I can't believe I missed this post! I'm so glad you are touching on this topic-I think eating disorder week here in the states is in February. We should acknowledge all of them from all over the world!

  26. I'm glad you saw it now :) And yes, I think acknowledging all of the awareness weeks worldwide would be wonderful! I'll keep an eye out for the US one next year.

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