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The BBC's James Westhead
"The first step to reducing the country's obsession with the perfect body"
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Dr Dee Dawson
"They have a very, very difficult problem on their hands"
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Wednesday, 21 June, 2000, 13:13 GMT 14:13 UK
'Superwaif' regulation call
Research shows 16% of 15-year-old girls diet
Minister for Women Tessa Jowell has said a new voluntary code regualting media images of women may ease the pressure girls feel to be thin.

Ms Jowell hosted a body image summit at Downing Street on Wednesday with fashion magazine editors, advertisers, clothes designers and teenage girls to discuss the way body image affects young girls' self-esteem, and the increasing prevalence of disorders like anorexia and bulimia.

At the news conference after the summit, the minister said the media was part of the problem but could also be part of the solution.

If an agency sent us a very thin model whose bones were showing through her skin, we would send her back

Liz Jones
Editor, Marie Claire

Backing self-regulation Ms Jowell gave her support to an industry-led group which has agreed to spearhead a campaign to "smash the stereotypical images" of women in the media.

They plan to feature a wider range of models in their magazines, insist that modelling agencies have larger girls and women on their books, and to pressurise fashion houses to provide clothes in bigger sizes for photoshoots.

Liz Jones, Editor of Marie Claire magazine, said an industry code could be very effective.

"It would mean if an agency sent us a very thin model whose bones were showing through her skin, we would send her back and write to the agency as well as other magazines telling them not to use her."

Ms Jowell also announced that the Broadcasting Standards Commission had agreed to look at carrying out systematic monitoring of television output to evaluate whether women shown on our screens are sufficiently diverse

Eating disorders

Victoria Beckham
Victoria Beckham said having a baby made her weight drop
An estimated one million people in the UK are anorexic or bulimic, although few sufferers are actually diagnosed or treated.

Identifying gaps in existing research into the growing prevalence of eating disorders was also crucial to improving the body image of girls and young women, the minister said.

Women's magazines have come in for huge criticism for featuring images of so-called "superwaifs" like models Kate Moss and Jodie Kidd.

But Ms Jowell said the summit was about stimulating debate and not placing blame.

"We are certainly not saying these industries are responsible for causing eating disorders among young girls," the minister said.

"This isn't about regulation or restriction of the freedom of any individual, any company or any industry."


According to research 58% of girls say their appearance is their biggest concern in life and two thirds of women admit to feeling inadequate compared with the media image of the ideal female shape.

Only a quarter said they were happy with their weight.

Eighty-eight percent said that there was pressure from the media to "look perfect".

This pressure has been highlighted by the dramatic weight loss of stars like "Posh Spice" Victoria Beckham and Ally McBeal actress Calista Flockhart.

Tessa Jowell and Marie Claire Editor Liz Jones
Tessa Jowell and Marie Claire editor Liz Jones

Last month the British Medical Association said television and the media shared part of the blame for rising rates of anorexia and bulimia among women.

It was the first time the group had made the link between the images and eating disorders.

But Dr Dee Dawson, medical director of Road Farm Clinic in London which treats people with eating disorders, expressed doubts about whether the summit would succeed.

"I think the only thing that can be done is to start educating children at school at a very early stage into thinking more sensibly about the shape of people around them."

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See also:

30 May 00 | Health
Models link to teenage anorexia
13 Oct 99 | Medical notes
Eating disorders
04 Feb 00 | Education
Eating disorders enter the classroom
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