Body image is the number one concern of young Australian women, according to a Mission Australia survey.
“I do think media, fashion industry and the advertising industry have continued to push the idea of this perfect looking person that has started to infiltrate the lives of every single girl that you know,” Helen McCabe, Editor-in-Chief of the Australian Women’s Weekly.
Listen Now – Leigh Hatcher, presenter of Open House chats to Helen McCabe
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Six years ago, the issue of body image didn’t even rate a mention on the same survey but now the pressure on young girls to be skinny is “insane”. Helen McCabe points to some reasons for this shift.
Teen sex is a key issue contributing to body image concerns. “We know girls are having quite extreme sexual experiences at the age of 12,” Helen says. “This is a known fact among educators and parents.”
The sexualisation of younger girls adds further pressure with more pictures of young girls in provocative poses appearing in the media. “There are bras marketed to 5 and 6-year-olds,” she says.
Alongside many Australians, Helen is trying to turn the issue of body image around. She sits on the Advisory Panel for the Positive Body Image Awards, which was launched by the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth, Peter Garrett, in February.
“We needed to reward the fashion industry, the advertising industry and the media where there were good things being done,” Helen explains.
She acknowledges the young editors at Dolly and Girlfriend magazines who are at the forefront of confronting body image issues: “When they search for a model they have to be certain ages and they’re very conscious of the thinness because the eating disorder issues are immense.”
Apart from magazines and the media, parents also play a vital role in helping to ease body image concerns and pressures faced by young women. Helen urges parents to talk to their daughters early on. “If you leave them to fend for themselves they’re the ones most likely to run into strife,” she says.
Now, if you’re wondering whether body image concerns will ever go away, you might have to wait a while, “Apparently when you hit 60, you stop worrying about what you look like – you can finally relax!”
But it is possible to overcome body image issues before then, and Helen has some wonderful advice:
“If we put all that energy that you have on whether you should eat that piece of chocolate, or whether you should spend that hour at the gym, or even start going to the gym, into your family and to your relationships and to the things that you really do love doing; you will be much better off.”