Following my Sunday Herald Sun column critical of ‘The Biggest Loser’ last week , I heard from a number of women in recovery from eating disorders, who wrote about the negative impact the series had on them – including Melbourne woman Belinda Davis, 38, who was happy for me to share her story here.
It all began when I was about 10-years-old. Having footage beamed into our lounge rooms every night of starving Ethiopian children just filled me with immense guilt. I would tell my mother that I would eat less so that those kids could have my share It was probably then that I developed unusual eating habits and thoughts around food.
In my 20’s I tried every bizarre new diet on the market plus a few I made up myself. There would be periods of my life that weren’t heavily dominated by the eating disorder but it was always there, lingering, waiting. That was until I was 31 and I longed for the voice to return just that little bit stronger, just to help me shed those few kilos. The eating disorder voices (demands) are strong, powerful and destructive, especially when looking for control in one’s life.
Before I knew it, this “voice” had taken over my life. Of course, there are many reasons behind an eating disorder but those childhood feelings of guilt still remain. I was severely emaciated and weighed everything before I even thought of consuming it.
With the support of great people, including an amazing clinical psychologist and a dietician who supported me daily in the initial stages of recovery, I have been able to recover. It was a long road, my general health was poor. Eating disorders are not glamourous in the slightest. Having ECGs, Dexa scans (for bone density) and regular blood tests are not what one thinks of when dreaming of “thinness”.
Since my recovery I lost my fiancé to suicide (August 2009) which lead to nervous breakdowns that landed me in hospital. But thankfully, though I was vulnerable, anorexia didn’t rear its ugly head again this time. Fortunately, I had learned that dieting didn’t bring me happiness, contentment or a life I wanted.
The Biggest Loser
I still recall the very first season. It was 2006, during the peak of my anorexia.
I was thrilled with the motivation it gave me to exercise after the episode. Obviously, I wasn’t the only one. In the beginning, my partner and I would see a number of people heading out of their houses for a brisk evening walk or jog. I thought this was a good thing. As the show continued, I saw the obsession with calorie counting, specific diets and of course, the Sunday nail biter, “the weigh in”. I wished I could lose as much as them. I couldn’t.
As the years went by, the show got worse, more extreme. Today, I cannot watch it for I learned (the hard way) how to manage a healthy weight. And I knew the show would set me back. All I see in the commercials is contestants being belittled, put down, yelled at, being sick, crying and with forlorn expressions.
The saddest part is to think that this show is aired in a very family friendly time slot. Just trying to imagine how many families sit down to watch this program together makes me hang my head in shame. What have we become? I really do feel for all those kids out there that are subject to this propaganda. The messages they must be learning could be not only damaging but life threatening. Let’s think about it (from the mind of our inner child):
It is ok if people in authority yell at me and call me names. It does make me feel bad about myself but they are “trainers” so they must be “right”.
If I am thin I am worthy of a relationship (think back to the “Singles” series that aired last year).
People cheer and get excited when I lose weight, it must be VERY important (and being ‘big’ must be VERY bad).
I am defined by my size (which is only good if I look like someone who works out at the gym for a living).
I now associate the word “loser” with someone who is bad (fat, lazy, greedy etc).
Fat shaming, the obesity ‘epidemic’ and extreme over correction is no way to control weight.
Why, as a society, can we not appreciate good deeds, intelligence, kindness and respect? It all comes down to what we/they can sell. I can only be happy that I am now in a fairly strong recovery because programs that embrace unhealthy under- eating and obsessional behaviour only serve as a trigger.
I cannot believe that this type of show is allowed on the air. With a failing public health system, it shocks me to see that people are being pushed to follow this extremism. Show me a study that says losing more than 500g per week is healthy or a study that says morbidly obese people should be expected to work out in a gym? I was so worried that “Big Kev” was going to have a heart attack.
I now know what a healthy diet consists of, how healthy weight loss works and the importance of fitness appropriate exercise. The Biggest Loser doesn’t promote any of this.
REALITY weight-loss show The Biggest Loser claims to be all about health – leading a new “social movement” against the “obesity crisis”.
But many authorities – and those suffering from disordered eating – say it actually contributes to bad health.
Parading and humiliating obese people, dangerously rapid weight loss, severe calorie restriction, pre weigh-in dehydration and punishing exercise do not develop healthy patterns for long-term health.
Whenever the series returns, Melbourne woman Jodi, 24, (who asked her surname not be used) avoids TV.
Seeing the show, or even ads for it, can trigger harmful eating patterns.
As a recovering binge and restrict eater, and accredited exercise scientist, Jodi says just hearing about TBL makes her feel “sad, pathetic, not good enough”.
“My logical self knows that I’m not overweight or obese, but my eating disorder tells me I am,” Jodi says.
“Contestants receive so much praise and recognition for their weight loss, which contributes to me linking my self-worth with my weight.
“It makes me aware that other people notice my weight and might judge me on it.
This makes it harder for Jodi to trust her treatment team, which encourages her to take small steps, eat mindfully and exercise in a healthy way.
Hearing trainers screaming at contestants that they are just weak undermines professional advice.
“I’m concerned as this is being passed onto the fitness industry, where trainers now think it’s OK to train clients at those same intensities.”
The show can also scare people off exercise. Researchers in the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation found that watching a short video of The Biggest Loser fuelled negative attitudes toward exercise.
“People are screaming and crying and throwing up, and if you’re not a regular exerciser you might think this is what exercise is – that it’s this horrible experience where you have to push yourself to the limits, which is completely wrong,” says Tanya Berry, Canada Research Chair in Physical Activity Promotion.
Authorities say that because the only measure of success is scales, the show is purely about weight-loss not about overall health. The fact that contestants can’t even cover their bodies in a lightweight top during the weigh-in shows TBL is about sadistic voyeurism – and fuelling a $414 million weight-loss industry.
Eating disorder professionals say the show makes their work harder, as clients believe what they see on the show is realistic in daily life. Sarah McMahon, co-director of BodyMatters Australasia, says there is no evidence to support long-term sustained weight loss and behavioural change in most contestants.
“These clients are typically young and have poor media literacy and limited education about exercise and physiology,” she says.
“It makes a humiliating public spectacle of them under the guise of ‘self- improvement’. They will actively participate in their own persecution because the dream of being thin has been sold so convincingly”.
Dr Rick Kausman, Director of The Butterfly Foundation and author of best-selling If Not Dieting, Then What?’, says if you wanted to make a show that helped people be healthy, you’d do the opposite of TBL.
“Instead of shaming you would use compassion.
Research shows self-compassion helps us take care of ourselves much better than self-criticism.
Instead of a focus on weight, small meaningful changes in behaviour are much more likely to be sustained.”
“Rather than inspire people to make change, the show is more likely to make people mentally and physically unhealthy.
“Stigma around weight acts as a barrier for people seeking health care.
“Studies shown that patients are less likely to see their doctor for regular check-ups for fear of being told off about their weight.” he says.
“This is a disaster for preventative health”.
If we truly cared about helping people be healthy, we’d take this manipulative and highly emotional propaganda off-air immediately.
The time-wasting, body-hating self-objectification proved to go hand-in-hand with such “bold, sexy, powerful” ideals – though ideal for an industry raking in $5 billion a year and expanding across the globe – is not a great pathway to real progress as females or as a culture
You’ve probably heard VS rolled out a line of lingerie for teens called “Bright Young Things.”As part of the PINK brand for all the teenaged “things” across the world, these undies feature polka-dot hipsters with “Feeling Lucky?” printed on them, a lacey thong with the words, “I dare you” on the front, and so much more. This isn’t some conservative “too sexy, too soon!” cry. This is doctoral research into Victoria’s Secret — a company that profits by selling sexually objectifying and limiting messages to all ages and claiming it is “empowering.” This may give words to the feelings you’ve been having about how harmful this brand is, so read on.
There’s been a ton of media coverage on the adultification and sexualisation of children lately. This program aired on Channel 7’s Today Tonight Monday. Click picture below to view clip.
And just a clarification re the KMart campaign. It wasn’t actually me who was instrumental in getting KMart to pull certain items – that win was the result of grassroots protests by a number of individuals and it happened pretty quickly. However I was encouraged to receive a call from KMart CEO Guy Russo personally apologising and a short time after, with Julie Gale of Kids Free 2B Kids, to meet Guy and his staff at the company’s Melbourne headquarters. KMart was invited to sign Collective Shout’s Corporate Social Responsibility Pledge which asks corporates to sign a statement of intention not to objectify women and sexualise girls in products and services. We hope to make an announcement soon.
And great to see this issue get Page 1 treatment in the Daily Telegraph this week.
“There really is a global backlash” – MTR
Netmums website finds parents believe modern life steals kids’ childhood
PARENTS believe childhood ends at 12 and blame pressure from friends, celebrity culture and social media for rushing kids into adulthood.
Almost 90 per cent of parents think modern children grow up faster than previous generations, while one in two parents admit their daughters worry about their Facebook popularity, a survey by the Netmums website has found.
Modern tweens prefer to play alone on iPads, with 83 per cent of their parents saying their favourite activity was playing outdoors.
Boys are under pressure to be “macho” and “good at everything” while girls are under “immense strain to be thin” and sexy before being mature enough to cope.
Do you agree? Tell us below.
The British survey found 54 per cent of parents were angry with retailers, saying clothing for girls was too sexual, provocative and short.
The anger against retailers who foster the “pornification of culture” was growing, said Melinda Tankard Reist, co-founder of campaign group Collective Shout. “There really is a global backlash about forcing children to grow up too fast and telling little girls they have to be thin, hot and sexy to be acceptable,” she said. Read more here.
Many girls and young women look to girl’s magazines for advice on life, relationships, bodies, health and sexuality. But too often they receive conflicting advice and mixed messages and even, sometimes, outright contradiction.
Take for example, information provided in the sealed section of Girlfriend this month, where, within four pages of each other, two medicos give different information about age of consent laws. A 15-year-old, in a relationship with a boy the same age, enquires about age of consent laws because the two want to have sex. Dr Philip Goldstone replies “generally, if you are both under the legal age of consent, it is still illegal for you to have sex.” However Dr Sally Cockburn, under the heading ‘What if you’re both under the age of consent?’ writes: “If two people are both under the age of consent, but are the same or similar age, and both decide to engage in sexual activities, it’s not a legal issue – as long as there’s no coercion, violence or power imbalance involved. Basically, as long as you’re both in control and making informed decisions, there are no legal problems.” So who is the reader to believe? Isn’t this important enough to get right? How does the editing process work at Girlfriend for a contradiction like this not to be noticed? Girls don’t need confusing advice about where they stand under the law.
Not a matter of legal confusion, but something that is consistent is that I have to comment on the ‘Project You Reality Check’ again like I have to on the equivalent in Dolly. The logo is used so inconsistently I have little choice. On the front cover the ‘Reality Check’ provides the vital information that a tag was removed from fashion girl Kylie’s top and that the water in the background was darkened. Seriously, why bother? Then inside, ‘Style School’ features four girls with the ‘Reality Check’ telling us “We haven’t retouched any of these images – we didn’t need to! All the girls look great just the way they are”. So if that’s the case, does it mean that when girls are airbrushed they didn’t look ‘fine the way they were’? Do some need to be airbrushed while others don’t? Also confusing is that the young women featured are specifically clothed to highlight and play down certain parts of their bodies. For example Alex, 15, is dressed to give “the illusion of longer legs” and a mix of large and small prints “also disguises any unwanted bumps”. Eloieese, 14, is lanky, so given curves and a defined waist and “fuller figured” Gemma, 18, is put “in a peplum top, as it draws attention to the slimmest part of her body – her waist”. No airbrushing – but they are still dressed to give the illusion of something other than what they are, and to hide unwanted bumps. I’m all for the disclosure…but it needs to be consistently applied and align with what else is in the magazine as a whole. Otherwise it loses all meaning. Read article here.
This issue contains an explanation of the ‘Retouch Free Zone’. “DOLLY is all about healthy body image – that’s why we only feature photos of girls that haven’t been altered or ‘perfected’ in any way. Whenever you see this stamp, you know the girls pictured are real and unretouched!”
Wonderful. But if only.
“Whenever you see this stamp”? What if you don’t see it? What does that mean? The declaration does not appear on every image of every female in the magazine. It occurs inconsistently, which raises doubt. Why ‘retouch’ free’ on this one and not this one? And what about the ads? They are never ‘re-touch free’.
Selena Gomes is on the cover. Not a ‘re-touch free’ logo in sight and Selena’s skin is as flawless as the day she was born. Was she re-touched? Don’t readers have a right to know that? A consistent approach would be helpful.
More helpful (though somewhat lightweight) is ‘The 7 deadly sins of facebook’, on online etiquette – how to avoid looking like a stalker, keep control of your online image by setting your privacy settings high (the context is avoid being tagged in ugly pictures of yourself posted by others prior to approval…not so helpful), taking it easy with the ‘like’ button and avoiding angry outbursts.
‘The downside of YOLO’ – the motto ‘You Only Live Once’ and LWWY, ‘Live While We’re Young’ discusses the risks to young people of living by these codes. Dolly asks: “Do these cute shorthand mantras really warrant their sometimes long-term effects?” Psychologist Gemma Cribb says these mottos attempt to justify crazy behaviour regardless of consequences. “When somebody tweets ‘Oh well, YOLO’ it means they’re already aware that their decision might not be sensible.” Another psychologist Sally-Anne McCormack, says YOLO can be used as an excuse to deal with peer pressure or embarrassment. “Girls might be pushed into situations that they don’t want to face and instead of saying no, they think ‘What do I have to lose?’”. Rapper Ervin McKinness and four friends were driving in a speeding car when the 21-year-old tweeted: “Drunk…going 120 drifting corners…#YOLO.” Minutes later all were dead. Brain development is discussed. The frontal lobe – responsible for impulse control, problem solving and considering consequences – isn’t properly developed until 25. Girls are advised to think smart rather than by the YOLO mantra. Read more here
In its first edition for the year, Dolly brings readers some important content to help them launch into 2013.
‘Sexism: what’s it all about?’ examines how gender-based prejudice and discrimination is alive and well. Women continue to be paid less than men and hold a tiny proportion of board seats and CEO positions. They continue to be treated inappropriately in the workplace. A recent survey found 33% of women say they regularly experience sexism at work. Girls also experience sexual name calling and labels at school. They are encouraged to make a stand against gender stereotyping.
In ‘Inspiring Teen’s’, ‘I blitzed the HSC’ is the story of 19-year-old refugee Fatima who received 96.75 in the HSC. Fatima, her mother and five brothers and four sisters, who belonged to the minority Hazara group, arrived in Australia having fled the Taliban in 2007. Their father escaped earlier. She says she has changed from being a shy girl with no English to a “confident educated person” now enrolled in a Law/Communications degree. Stories like this can help readers value their education and aim higher. Read more here.
From Mindfulness to Masturbation: Girlfriend’s January issue
‘Switched on: Sorting out the small things’ provides readers with 10 things they need to know about 2013, which ranges fascinatingly from the Australian Federal Election and our troops exiting Afghanistan, to One Direction’s World Tour and actors Ryan Gosling and Robert Paterson in Australia.
‘Are you a late bloomer? : That awkward moment when all your friends are talking about boys and you’ve got nothing to say’ looks at why some girls are not into boys yet. Readers are told that girls usually start to think about boys romantically and sexually from the ages of 9-16 but that it’s OK to be a romantic late bloomer – there’s “no shame in that”. Good advice from clinical psychologist Serena Cauchi: Don’t force yourself, because “being an individual and doing things at your own pace is a much healthier option than conforming with others.” Girls are assured it’s fine to be single take note Dolly – see January review and that maturity means she will be better equipped for relationships and setting boundaries later on.” In light of this sensible observation, I’m not sure about the term ‘late bloomers’. Girls might make a rational and considered decision to focus on their education, or engage in causes, rather than pursue dating relationships in their early teens. It doesn’t mean anything is ‘late’, it could be perfectly ‘on time’ when and if it happens. Read more here.
After writing the multi-million best-selling Raising Boys in 2003, psychologist Steve Biddulph thought his life work was done.
But the parenting guru and father of two kept hearing sad stories of friend’s daughters and coming into contact with parents in despair about how unhappy their girls were. They were plagued by eating disorders, self-harm, and depression.
“When I was writing on boys, girls were doing fine,” says Biddulph. “Then about five years ago that started to change. We began noticing a sudden and marked plunge in girls’ mental health.
“The average girl, every girl, was stressed and depressed in a way we hadn’t seen before. Nearly one in five has a serious mental health issue during her growing up years. You can’t ignore that”.
So he didn’t, writing a guidebook - Raising Girls: From babyhood to womanhood – helping your daughter to grow up wise, warm and strong (Finch Publishing) – which shot to no.2 on UK Amazon’s charts this week (until it was knocked off by a diet book recommended by Posh Spice).
Biddulph argues that girls have to be proactively launched into healthy womanhood.
“We haven’t loved girls well enough, understood them deeply enough, or stood alongside them to face the hyenas of this world that wanted to tear them down,” he says.
Biddulph gives parents a map for how to build strength and connectedness through the five stages of girlhood: being secure, learning to explore, relating to other people, finding your soul, and taking charge of your life.
What surprised him most in the writing of the book, he tells me, was the way the world comes at them.
“It reminds me of those images of the tsunami, all that junk surging into the streets and houses. That’s what our media is like now – flooding junk into children’s heads – that your looks are all that matter, that sex is just something you trade, that you can’t be loved for yourself,” he says.
“Girls are affected by that. Everyone has heard their daughter saying ‘I hate my body, ‘I hate my life’.
“Girls weren’t born hating their own bodies. They weren’t born hating life. Something was happening in the culture that was poisoning girls’ spirits”.
Biddulph says girls have lost four years of childhood peace and development, forced out of childhood before they’ve completed or fully enjoyed it.
He identifies four prime harms to girls – sexualisation, body image, alcohol abuse, and bullying.
“Being evaluated in terms of how you look, how you please others, how you are seen as a ‘product’ has taken girls back fifty years,” Biddulph says.
“Girls are in enormous pain and confusion. They are filling up the mental health clinics, the police stations and emergency rooms, the alcohol and drug treatment programs in numbers never seen before.
“Girlhood dramas should be dramas of learning and growing, not being battered and damaged”.
I ask him what he thinks is the best thing parents can do to help raise strong, resilient daughters (I have a vested interest in the answer, with three daughters of my own).
“Once you have a clear idea of the stages, it’s all about giving it the time, he says.
“Hurry is the enemy of love, because we start to not connect and our kids feel unimportant. That feeling is very common. We need to recognise parenthood is another full time activity.
“Not just to manage our children, but to actually talk them through their life’s struggles, and actively teach and encourage them. If your daughter is close to you, she will know how to be close to others.”
Girls need to be nourished physically, spiritually and emotionally, to help build resilience and be able to navigate their way through a tough world.
Biddulph says: “A girl who knows her own soul may be a gentle girl but with an iron in her that is not easily manipulated by careless boys or false friends. She will be loyal, tough, and protective of those around her. And of herself.”
Regulatory bodies have failed to help parents raise happy kids. “We need to stop marketing aimed at kids. We need to control the alcohol, junk food, fashion, and porn industries so that they don’t target children. It’s unethical,” he says.
“It’s time to stop the trashing of girlhood, equip parents to deal with the modern world and get the media off the backs of our daughters.”
Despite the extent of the problem, Biddulph remains a man of hope. He is encouraged by the growing worldwide movement to free our girls.
“There’s a great movement rising up all over the world to improve things for girls. People everywhere are waking up to the exploitation of our girls and taking action to address it.”
What is sexual objectification? Is it empowering? Watch and learn.
Chair of the politics department of Occidential College in Los Angeles, Dr. Heldman appeared in the acclaimed documentary, Miss Representation, and is co-editor of “Madame President: Are We Ready for a Woman in the White House?” She is a frequent commentator on radio and television and a regular contributor to Ms. Magazine.
“Intelligent, passionate, brilliant, fearless… I could not recommend her more highly”
Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
“You continue to reset my shock meter…”
“Melinda Tankard Reist’s presentation to Middle and Upper School students at Pymble Ladies’ College was absolutely brilliant!”
Justine Hodgson – English Faculty, Pymble Ladies’ College
“Melinda Tankard Reist has had a transformational affect on our school.”
Ms Stephanie McConnell, Principal – Turramurra High School
In this DVD, Melinda takes us on a visual tour of popular culture. “Melinda’s presentation leaves audiences reeling. She delivers her message with a clarity and commonsense without peer.” – Steve Biddulph, author, Raising Boys, Raising Girls
Purchase Big Porn Inc, Getting Real, Faking It and the Ruby Who? book and DVD in one bundle for $100 and save 20% off the individual price.
Purchase Big Porn Inc, Getting Real and Faking It in one bundle for $70 and save 20% off the individual price.
Purchase Getting Real, Faking It and Ruby Who? DVD in one bundle for $60 and save 12% off the individual price.
Purchase the Ruby Who? DVD and book together for only $35 saving 10% off the individual price.
“This powerful and humane book is a breakthrough…Big Porn Inc shows us we are poisoning our own spirits.” – Steve Biddulph
“A landmark publication” – Clive Hamilton
“Getting Real contains a treasure trove of information and should be mandatory reading for all workers with young people in health, education and welfare” – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, Adolescent Psychologist
Do you read women’s lifestyle magazines? Have you thought about how magazines might affect you when you read them? Faking It reflects the body of academic research on magazines, mass media, and the sexual objectification of women.
Ruby Who? is the sweet and innocent story of a little girl’s adventure in re-discovering her identity. Ruby wishes for so many things and dreams of being like others. Will she end up forgetting how to just be herself?
Ruby Who? is the sweet and innocent story of a little girl’s adventure in re-discovering her identity. Ruby wishes for so many things and dreams of being like others. Will she end up forgetting how to just be herself?
Defiant Birth challenges widespread medical, and often social aversion to less than perfect pregnancies or genetically different babies. It also features women with disabilities who were discouraged from becoming pregnant at all.