Page last updated at 02:04 GMT, Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Is our obsession with size zero damaging health?

Mr Alex Yellowlees
VIEWPOINT
Dr Alex Yellowlees
Medical Director of the Priory Hospital in Glasgow and a Consultant Psychiatrist

Marilyn Monroe. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Marilyn was a curvy size 12

Figures show an 80% rise in the number of young girls admitted to hospital with anorexia in England over the last decade.

Dr Alex Yellowlees, a consultant psychiatrist specialising in the treatment of eating disorders, warns that our obsession with size zero celebrities might be fuelling the problem.

Over the decades our ideal body shape and size has changed from the voluptuous screen goddesses such as Jayne Mansfield, Marilyn Monroe, Bridget Bardot and Ursula Andress to the size zero celebrities of today.

If you look back to the 1940s and 50s the average dress size was a 12-14.

Now, in 2010, the ideal shapes of our screen icons have changed in a very worrying way towards size 8 and 00s of Victoria Beckham, Kate Moss, Paris Hilton, Madonna and Cheryl Cole.

However, living happily in our own body can be a challenge. For many women it is a constant source of dissatisfaction and distress.

Acquiring healthy self-esteem which is not based predominantly on body shape and weight is critical for lasting emotional and physical health.

Men do not experience - and have to live with - the same degree of bodily scrutiny, analysis, competition and comparison that women do.

In our modern society the relentless promotion of the idealisation of thinness has put women of all ages under intense pressure to strive after the attainment of body perfection.

In pursuit of the cultural myth of the 'thin ideal' they manipulate their body shape and form through extreme dieting and excessive exercising and subject themselves to an increasing array of cosmetic body modification procedures.

Female role models

Young women seeking a sense of self-esteem, self-identity and confident femininity are more vulnerable to society's seductive messages suggesting that in order to be worthy, sexy, successful, powerful and happy they must pursue the perfect body at all costs.

They look up to and emulate female role models for direction about how to live as a woman in our society.

Any childhood experience such as bullying, repeated harsh criticism or sexual abuse can damage growing self-esteem and increases a young person's vulnerability to developing an eating problem

Mothers also provide powerful role models for their daughters and their personal attitudes and behaviours regarding body shape and eating patterns can have a huge influence for better or worse.

Acquiring healthy self-esteem which is not based predominantly on body shape and weight is critical for lasting emotional and physical health.

Any childhood experience such as bullying, repeated harsh criticism or sexual abuse can damage growing self-esteem and increases a young person's vulnerability to developing an eating problem and trying to use it as a way to boost their low self-worth and regain a sense of control over their lives.

The media, advertising, fashion and cosmetic industries are all part of the propaganda machine promoting the myth that in order to have real value in our culture women ought to be constantly motivated towards the attainment of physical perfection.

These powerful influences serve to fuel a sense of personal and almost infectious collective body dissatisfaction amongst women and have contributed to the rise in the use of eating disorder behaviours such as obsessive dieting, calorie counting, over-exercising, self-induced vomiting, diet pill and laxative abuse.

It is estimated that 1.1 million people in the UK suffer from eating disorders. The majority are young women aged between 12 and 24 years although women of any age can develop a problem.





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