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The burden of treating girls' bodies as the enemy

By Dannielle Miller - posted Monday, 11 February 2008


Stylist to the stars, Patricia Field, (she of Sex in the City fame) has an oh-so-cool web site promoting must-have items for budding fashionistas. One item, the Trash and Luxury Celebrity Diet shirt is described as:

Another amazing celeb inspired tee. The celebrity diet, and our diet. Complete with a balanced cigarette, and some pills … any pills.

Meanwhile the gossip mags tell us Hollywood’s latest must-do diet is the baby food diet. Stars reportedly swap real meals for baby food as it is lower in kilojoules, high in protein, and comes in small servings. Is the price for fortune and fame now Farax?

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It is not just Hollywood stars, who bank on their looks, quite literally, who are obsessed with the elusive body beautiful. Many of us have dieting down to an art form too: substituting real food for cigarettes, pills, and faddish concoctions; purging through vomiting, laxatives and surgery.

Health experts warn we are simultaneously in the midst of an obesity epidemic. Our relationship with food, which surely should be so simple, seems to have become incredibly complex. As many as 39 per cent of the population may be overweight, but eating disorders are widespread too and although they affect people of all ages and both sexes, they are more common in adolescent girls and young women. It is estimated that between 2-5 per cent of all teenage girls fit the diagnostic criteria for anorexia and bulimia. However, the true estimate is probably much higher - many cases of bulimia, in particular, go undetected and some recent studies have shown the true estimate may be as high as one in five among the student population.

Tragically, all this dieting and suffering does not even work. Ninety-five percent of people who go on weight loss diets (including commercial diets) regain all the weight they have lost plus more within two years. No wonder the weight loss industry is worth billions of dollars each year: once its slave, we are forever in its service.

In her book Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters American author Courtney Martin believes women now see our bodies as the enemy. She laments that fact that hating one’s body has become a rite of passage: “We can be well educated, creative, capable, experienced, and still not have the capacity to figure out how to free ourselves from guilt over every little thing we out in our mouths.”

How did this happen? Is this OK with everyone?

Back at home displaying the new normality of hating one’s body is OK as long as it rates. The Australian version of the ultimate diet show, The Biggest Loser, is cranking up for its 2008 launch with promo ads that show sad, lonely looking people - depicted in shades of grey - wanting, what seems to me, to be far more than just a healthy body. The ad that really struck me featured contestant Nicola: “I just want to be like every other girl.”

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I have no doubt that Nicola will lose weight - dramatically. Yes, after much blood, sweat, tears and a good dose of public humiliation she will get her reveal. But will she get the acceptance and love she so obviously craves? The irony is that Nicola is already like every other girl - she sees her body as the enemy.

The Biggest Loser’s theme song this year is Beck’s “Everyone’s Gotta Learn Sometimes”. The verse includes the lyrics “I need your lovin’ like the sunshine”. Isn’t that what we all really crave - love?

Some of us just get lost and think we may find love in food and then get even more bewildered when we listen to society tell us we will find it only through our hunger. The link between our emotions and our diet is nothing new yet it seems to be largely ignored by all the hype that surrounds each seductive promise of a new life through a new body. Skinny is fine, but it doesn’t guarantee you happiness or love.

Four-year-old Sophia believes that skinny won’t even guarantee you beauty.

Forget carb counting and body fat index ratios. Maybe there are more important lessons we need to learn about ourselves first before we can ever be truly beautiful.

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This piece is adapted from an article first published in The Sydney Morning Herald on January 29, 2008.



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About the Author

Dannielle Miller is the CEO of Enlighten Education, a national company that works with teenage girls in high schools on developing positive body image and self esteem. Enlighten is the 2007 Australian Small Business Champion for Children's Services. She is also the author of an award winning blog for parents and educators on girlsí issues: enlighteneducation.edublogs.org. Dannielle is author of The Butterfly Effect pblished by Random House (2009). Dannielle's website is www.danniellemiller.com.au.

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