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Body image
What is healthy?
What is beautiful?
Back in the 16th centur y, fat was in. Skinny was a sign of poverty and ill-health.Today it’s the opposite. Fat is not
only a feminist issue, but a class issue, too. Research shows that middle class families are more likely to be health
conscious eaters, and chances are the shops in their neighbourhoods offer a wider range of healthy food. How far
someone goes in education is also a strong indicator to the level of exercise someone does.
The Facts
The Government is worried about a
growing ‘obesity epidemic’, and
announced that there will be compulsory
practical cookery lessons in secondary
schools from 2011.The then Children’s
Secretary Ed Balls said:“Obesity is the
biggest long-term health issue facing this
country. It is hard to believe but the
experts say that nine out of ten children
today could be obese or overweight by
In February 2009 a headline in The
Independent warned: “Diabetes threatens
to overwhelm NHS as cases soar by 70
per cent”.The paper repor ted on a
study published in the Journal of
Epidemiology and Community Health
showing that Britain has one of the
fastest-growing diabetes epidemics in
the world. New cases rose by 74 per
cent between 1997 and 2003.This was
attributed to the country’s expanding
At the same time, girls and women in
par ticular are under so much pressure
to be fashionably thin that many have
The same news ar ticle claimed this
anxiety was spreading to boys, and
repor ted a widening use of anabolic
steroids by young men for cosmetic
developed an unhealthy obsession with
their weight and appearance. Eating
disorders are a national concern.
Research has shown that media models
are typically 20 per cent underweight,
even though 15 per cent underweight is
one of the diagnostic criteria for
Anorexia Nervosa.
Susie Orbach, author of the 1978 classic,
Fat is a Feminist Issue, says that the
problems she described 30 years ago
have mushroomed. “Eating problems and
body distress now constitute an
ordinary par t of everyday life for many
people and many families,” she told The
Times. She accused “industries that
depend on the breeding of body
insecurity” of promoting a “beauty
terror” among the populace.
Further information
Worries about the influence of stylesetters such as fashion models led to the
banning in 2007 of ultra thin models
from fashion shows in Madrid and Milan.
In the UK, the Culture Secretary Tessa
Jowell urged London Fashion Week to
do the same but the British Fashion
Council refused, saying it had asked
designers to use only ‘healthy’ models.
Such debates have raged across the
developed world.
Two news stories about Australian
Fashion Week highlight the
contradictions in today’s attitudes
towards weight and beauty. One
repor ted that in 2006 the label
MaraJoara bucked the trend and used
models size eight to 12. But a year later, a
model just turning 13 years old
dominated the headlines.The headline in
the New York Daily News proclaimed:
“13 year old Maddison Gabriel is the
kitten of the catwalk”.