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.
Yesterday dietitian Susie Burrell made the extraordinary claim that obesity is socially contagious in an opinion piece titled ‘Wanna get skinny? Might be time to ditch your fat friends’.
Burrell cited the Framingham Heart Study as evidence that people who have fat friends are more likely to become fat themselves. She called for readers to avoid fat people, lest they become infected with this modern-day social contagion.
This is so messed up I don’t even know where to begin.
The Framingham Heart Study was a decades-long analysis of heart disease that started in 1948 in a Massachusetts town.
Nearly 40 years later, ‘social contagionist’ scientists from Harvard Medical School and the University of California dredged up the old data and performed statistical analysis, concluding that obesity is socially contagious.
The same authors have made claims in the New England Journal of Medicine and various media outlets that everything from obesity to divorce to poor sleep to loneliness is also socially transmissible.
Their conclusions have since met widespread criticism.
In a paper titled ‘The Spread of Evidence-Poor Medicine via Flawed Social Network Analysis’, the mathematician Russell Lyons reported the statistical methods used by lead author Nicolas Christakis and James Fowler to be riddled with statistical errors on many levels.
Lyons’ paper has since passed peer review and was published in the journal Statistics, Politics, and Policy. A PhD candidate at the Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University’s School of Public Health, David Merritt Jones, has been keeping a close eye on the developments as they unfold. He reports:
Two other recent papers raise serious doubts about their conclusions. And now something of a consensus is forming within the statistics and social-networking communities that Christakis and Fowler’s headline-grabbing contagion papers are fatally flawed.
Andrew Gelman, a professor of statistics at Columbia, wrote a delicately worded blog post in June noting that he’d ‘have to go with Lyons’ and say that the claims of contagious obesity, divorce and the like ‘have not been convincingly demonstrated’.
Another highly respected social-networking expert, Tom Snijders of Oxford, called the mathematical model used by Christakis and Fowler “not coherent.” And just a few days ago, Cosma Shalizi, a statistician at Carnegie Mellon, declared, ‘I agree with pretty much everything Snijders says’.
Gelman argues that the papers might not have been accepted by top journals if these technical criticisms had been aired earlier. Indeed, Lyons posted damning quotes from two anonymous reviewers of his own work. “[Christakis and Fowler's] errors are in some places so egregious that a critique of their work cannot exist without also calling into question the rigor of review process,” one of them wrote.
Christakis and Fowler have since been invited to provide an explanation of their statistical methods in the journal Annals of Applied Statistics. However, as of July 2011, this was reportedly still being revised.
It is difficult to understand why Burrell would rehash such a highly contested study and use its dubious findings to call for the hysterical and widespread discrimination against fat people.
The title of Burrell’s piece is alarming. It assumes that being skinny is what readers of The Punch either already desire or should desire to achieve.
Burrell goes on to promote stereotypes, associating ‘overweight’ with morally deficient characteristics such as laziness, while encouraging readers to seek out “thin, fit and healthy” people and “do what they do”.
Does it really need to be spelled out that not all fat people are automatically lazy, gluttonous slobs? That being “fit and healthy” is not exclusively synonymous with being thin? That we cannot assume that just because as person is thin they are engaging in healthy behaviours, or because they are fat, they are eating cheese puffs all day?
With approximately 70 per cent of our DNA contributing to our weight, why does Burrell assume everyone should – and can be – thin?
Burrell concludes that if a fat person expresses concern about their friend’s gym habits, the friend should ‘defriend’ the fat person and tell them they are ‘disappointed’ with them.
What if the fat person’s friend engages in compulsive exercise? Or is suffering from an eating disorder and really should not be exercising four hours a day? Does it really make sense to make these broad sweeping generalisations and recommendations?
Burrell’s claim that “dieting is frowned upon by those who know they too need to lose weight, but are currently making the choice not to” is grossly misleading. It is absurd to suggest that only fat people who need to lose weight are against dieting.
Numerous studies since 1959 have shown diets for weight loss carry a failure rate of 95-98 per cent after 2-5 years.
Health writer Paula Goodyer attempted to demonstrate weight loss as sustainable in an article titled ‘The Exercise Myth’ last week in The Sydney Morning Herald by citing The National Weight Control Registry which supposedly proves people can lose weight and keep it off over the long term.
Yet this registry was discredited by dietitian Joanne Ikeda and her team of researchers as far back as 2005.*
Diets don’t work, and carry unintended consequences that put a person’s health at risk. These include food and body preoccupation, weight cycling, higher than pre-diet starting weight, eating disorders, weight stigmatisation, and binge eating.
It is unethical for a health professional to recommend the discrimination and stigmatisation of fat people. It goes against the very spirit of health to promote anything that actively harms a population of people. Research has shown that shame does not lead to health-giving behaviours.
The best thing we can do for our health is focus on health-giving behaviours, and allow our weight to fall where it will.
Already a global shift away from a weight-based approach to a health-centred paradigm is happening – with the key principles including finding pleasurable physical activity, engaging in intuitive eating, and viewing health as a multi-dimensional, ongoing process including physical, intellectual, social, emotional, spiritual, and occupational aspects.
*see Ikeda et. al. (2005). The National Weight Control Registry: A Critique. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 37(4): 203-205.
Note: In response to readers’ feedback, the source of the 70 per cent statistic can be found here. What this means is that approximately 70 per cent of the outcome in weight variability in a population can be attributed to genetic causes.
“Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” is used as a source of ‘thinspiration’ for girls. It features prominently on pro-anorexia websites. The slogan is cited to strengthen the resolve of an eating disorders sufferer, to help them exercise ‘willpower’ in their quest for ultra-thinness. It is a slogan contributing to suffering and death.
But does substituting the word ‘fit’ for the word ‘skinny’ really make much difference?
Of course it’s good to be fit. I support and encourage fitness for girls. But the slightly edited slogan is still too reminiscent of the original, still too enmeshed in eating, and the taste of food, to be harmless. “Nothing tastes as good…” implies a sacrifice of the enjoyment of food for the sake of ‘fitness’ which in the minds of many girls is easily interchangeable with ‘skinniness’.
This is not new – a previous ‘inspirational’ Lorna Jane t.shirt stated “I earn my chocolate one step at a time”. These messages are blatantly irresponsible for any company, especially one which is part of the fitness industry, when we know that eating disorder populations are over- represented in women who exercise regularly. It sends the message that food must be “earnt” or “deserved”, which is a belief underlying the onset of eating disorders and the mechanism that maintains them.
This is a very intentional hijacking of this harmful phrase. It sends a double meaning as it capitalises on wording familiar to those who have been exposed to pro-ana material. It’s quite sickening for a company like this to be capitalising on diseased thought patterns.
However these messages aren’t just dangerous for a clinical population, they send the message to anyone that it is OK not to eat and contributes to our existing confusion about what “health” actually is.
As my Collective Shout colleague Nicole Jameson write on Lorna Jane’s FB page: “I guess ‘nothing feels as good as accepting your body and enjoying food’ isn’t going to sell much overpriced gym wear”.
Some other comments which perfectly capture what’s happening here:
As a young woman in recovery, seeing others succumb to such behaviours is triggering, distressing and saddening
Three years ago, if you had logged onto my computer and looked at my recent history, you would have discovered I frequently trawled through pro-eating disordered websites. There are communities of males and females of varying ages on sites such as Live Journal, Tumblr, Facebook and MySpace all promoting anorexia as a lifestyle choice, rather than a mental illness.
These websites, filled with “thinspiration” tips and tricks to achieve weight loss, fuelled both my Anorexia and Bulimia and significantly harmed my health. Many of the eating disorder sufferers only support weight loss for others, to receive the same support in return.
After struggling with my body image for years and engaging in eating disordered behaviours, I now eat regularly, do not over-exercise, do not manipulate my diet in any way, do not binge and purge and do not abuse laxatives. I am still in recovery from my eating disorder, but have come a long way in the last six months.
Doing some research on common misconceptions about eating disorders for my recovery-focused blog R is for Recovery (and Rebekah), I stumbled across a webpage called [site name removed]. The website claims not to be a “pro-ana” site, but rather a “pro-skinny site.” Basically the site host uploads pictures of very normal and average sized celebrities and models, labels them as fat and uses insulting and crude language to articulate their hurtful (and in my opinion, downright wrong) opinions.
The site also has a “Starving Tip of the Day”. This website is not unique – there are a number of similar pages on the internet condoning eating disordered behaviour – websites that individuals frequently visit. They are harmful to everyone – not just young women or young men; not just those in recovery from eating disorders; not just parents or teenagers or children – but harmful to all those who are at risk of believing such lies about their bodies and then engaging in eating disordered behaviour.
So, after I contaced Melinda about my concerns around these sites, she posed this question: “How, as a young woman in recovery, do these sites make you feel?” Outraged! I am so angry that these sites exist and that young adults are buying into the lie that being thin should be a high priority. The fact that we disrespect our bodies; the fact that we struggle to comprehend all bodies are different and the fact that we manipulate food to love ourselves more – does it not all seem a little wrong to you?
As a young woman in recovery, seeing others succumb to such behaviours is triggering, distressing and saddening. Why do these websites that encourage restricted diets and treating our bodies in such an awful manner exist? The point is that they shouldn’t. The point is that we need to monitor what our young people are exposed to on the internet. The point is that we should be in favour of healthy bodies, healthy minds, healthy lifestyles – none of which are reflected in an eating disordered lifestyle.
I am blessed to have a wonderful support network – it has been one of the biggest and most useful things for me throughout my recovery. Having people I can be accountable to and be honest with about what was (and occasionally still is) going on in my eating disordered mind has saved me from so much. Once these friends were aware of my frequent visits to eating disordered sites and my eating disordered Facebook account, that was the end of that! Internet sites were blocked, Facebook passwords were changed and I learnt to break some of the bad habits I had been indulging in.
I also attended an outpatient program at RPAH in Sydney, and a day program associated with the hospital. Seeking medical treatment is a must for all eating disordered patients. The day program in particular helped me to normalise my eating patterns and realise I was responsible for my own choices, I could not possibly live the rest of my life entrenched in the eating disorder and I really needed to, as well as deserved to, change and deal with what was going on in my life. And so I’ve done that. Also, as I began to eat regularly and feed my brain and body again, I started to think more clearly – it’s definitely part of the process of ridding oneself of the ‘ED voice’ once and for all.
So my aim today is to create awareness of these sites so that we can take action against them. If you are a parent, please, please monitor your child’s internet history. If you are in recovery from an eating disorder and struggle to avoid opening these types of websites, let someone know. Perhaps ask a friend to block them for you. If you’re courageous enough, block them yourself. If you are a friend or sibling to someone who has struggled with body image and eating disordered behaviour, ask them how they’re going – regularly check in with them and allow them to be accountable to you.
If we can all support each other in this endeavor and choose to steer clear of pro-anorexic and bulimic sites, perhaps it will be one small but significant change to reducing the prevalence of eating disorders – and the terrible harm and suffering they cause.
Rebekah McAlinden, 19, is studying at Mary Andrews College in Sydney. After suffering with body image issues since the age of eight and Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa for the past three years, she now describes herself as “almost recovered!” You can find more of Rebekah’s writing at R is for Recovery (and Rebekah)
Harriet Brown: A Mother’s Plea to Shut the Hunger Sites
…If I could shut down every thinspo Tumblr and blog and site I’d do it in a heartbeat. I’d do it without giving the First Amendment another thought. Because there’s nothing free or authentic about what’s being expressed. Thinspo is not self-expression because it’s not these young women’s true selves that invite emaciation and worship at the altar of jutting hipbones. The longing for extreme thinness, for the self-annhilation of starvation, is not rational. It’s not a choice. It’s the expression of an underlying terror and compulsion that controls a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
The girls who host thinspo Tumblrs and blogs are not merely disordered eaters; they are suffering from eating disorders. How do I know? Because I know the language of eating disorders. I know the rational-sounding rhetoric (“Everyone says it’s better to be thin than fat!”) that masks the extreme anxiety of anorexia. I know that someone can be in the grip of an eating disorder at any weight and long before the signs are obvious to outsiders. I know that once a girl (or boy) falls down the rabbit hole of anorexia, she can’t “choose” to climb back up. She can’t just decide to eat, because eating has become an act fraught with fear and guilt and self-loathing. She can’t acknowledge she’s hungry because if she does, the voice in her head (which may be literal or not) will berate her, excoriate her for hours. She won’t be able to sleep, focus on schoolwork, think about anything but her own worthlessness and fear….
Every one of those girls and young women writing is someone’s daughter. Every one of them is locked in a prison she can’t get out of, in the grip of an illness that can’t be reasoned with or rationalized. In their postings of insect-like women and strategies for resisting hunger, they’re crying out for help. They’re longing to eat even as they can’t bring themselves to do it. Read full story
If you are engaging in disordered eating or think you have an eating disorder and need help, contact:
Because children don’t already feel bad about themselves enough, there’s a new book just about to be released titled Maggie Goes On a Diet. I asked Collective Shout colleague, psychotherapist and managing director of BodyMatters Australasia Lydia Jade Turner, for her views.
Written by self-proclaimed “obesity expert” Paul M. Kramer, Maggie Goes On a Diet tells the story of an ‘overweight’ teenage girl who goes from chubby-loser status to become the soccer star at her school, following significant weight loss. The cover depicts a fat child seeing a skinnier version of herself reflected in the mirror.
Yesterday in The Punch, journalist Lucy Kippist praised the book which encourages dieting for girls as young as four.
Kippist argued that widespread criticism of the book was misplaced. Pushing aside concerns about eating disorders and other negative consequences of dieting, she attempted to legitimize the story by citing the statistic that one in four Australian children are obese.
Kippist described the “courage” Kramer had given the central character Maggie to “make changes in her life” and be “rewarded” for them, She ticked off a further benefit to Maggie’s weight loss: avoiding teasing by her classmates.
As a clinician who specialises in eating disorders, I have seen the damage that diets do to children who are labelled ‘obese,’ and what happens to those children when they are grown up.
The typical presentation is anything but one of good health – whatever their size. When we get children to focus on weight loss as a goal – however well intended this may be – we are putting them at significant risk of developing food and body preoccupation, weight cycling, reduced self-esteem, mood disorders, eating disorders, and other health detriments.
Any parent concerned about an ‘overweight’ child needs to know this: no weight loss approach has been shown to be effective for more than 95% of the population after two to five years. There are no exceptions.
While this failure rate for weight loss is based on a 1959 study by Dr Albert Stunkard and Mavis McLaren-Hume, this failure rate has been reproduced by numerous clinical studies, and acknowledged at both the Australian New Zealand Obesity Society conference in 2009 and again at the inaugural International Obesity Summit in 2010.
In addition, weight loss attempts typically lead to long term weight gain – and a weight higher than one’s pre-diet starting weight. So promoting weight loss may actually be contributing to the obesity “epidemic.”
Kippist’s citing of the obesity statistic for children does not justify a weight loss approach. The idea that there are so many more ‘obese’ children out there than ones with clinical eating disorders ignores the great spectrum of young people who do not meet the strict criteria for diagnosis but who compromise their health in pursuit of weight loss in other ways. For example, the Eating Disorders Foundation of Victoria reports that eight per cent of teenage girls smoke to control their weight.
Patients who were put on diets as children tend to tell me that as children, they felt guilty and ashamed of their seemingly oversized bodies. No matter how hard they tried to be “good,” the weight kept coming back and they blamed themselves for lack of “willpower” – rather than seeing the weight gain as a predictable course of dieting.
They felt like failures whenever their siblings were offered second helpings while they were given a list of “forbidden” foods they were not allowed. Or in cases where the family ate the same diet foods as the child in a spirit of solidarity, they felt guilty as they thought to themselves “everybody is being punished because of me.”
Many of my patients are now in a weight category that would see them labelled “obese.” I wonder what havoc has been wreaked on their metabolism, having been put on diet after diet since childhood.
Many have been so desperate to successfully lose weight that they have resorted to lap band surgery, the weight slowly creeping back three years later. They are terrified of returning to their pre-surgery weight.
When I ask them gently, “What was it like for you at that size?” the typical response is silence. Tears well up in their eyes – their pain is unspeakable.
But unlike what we are told in the “confession” sections of diet advertisements, the pain these women experience is not due to the physical experience of their large bodies. It is due to the deep sense of failure accompanied by widespread stigma and discrimination – the meaning that is attributed to their fat bodies.
Society makes assumptions that because a person is fat they must lack discipline, they must be lazy, they must be stupid and therefore worthy of our disdain. The discrimination they face in daily life is relentless – and like any population facing prejudice, risk of developing mental and physical health problems heightens as a result.
Instead of encouraging children to lose weight to avoid bullying, perhaps parents and educators should work together to change the school culture which enables the bullying to occur.
If your child has red hair and gets bullied, is the solution to dye his hair brown? If your child has big ears that stick out, is the solution to get her to undergo ostoplasty so her ears will be pinned back? There’s something illogical about fighting discrimination by getting the victim to change their appearance or behaviour.
A growing movement of health professionals and human rights advocates now recognize that promoting weight loss as a solution to the obesity “epidemic” is unethical.
About 95 percent of obesity research is funded by the weight loss industry- including research grants awarded to researchers at prestigious universities and professors who are beholden to the pharmaceutical company funding their research. This has contributed to many exaggerated health risks associated with obesity.
Then there is scientific bias- science has always been influenced by the zeitgeist of its time, and we are not free from this today. Many working within the health sector are well intended, and it can be difficult to accept that perhaps what one was taught their entire life is actually wrong.
Einstein once said “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Letting go of the pursuit of weight loss is not the same as giving up – it is recognising that what we’re doing, and have been doing for more than forty years in our war against obesity – isn’t working.
Emerging evidence shows that shifting away from a weight-based model to a health-centred one is showing promising results.
Instead of trying to get your child to lose weight, you can encourage health-giving behaviours which include finding physical activity that is pleasurable for them to engage in; learning to eat in a manner that is in tune with one’s body; accepting that bodies come in different shapes and sizes (as we would expect in any given population); and recognising that health is a multi-faceted, ongoing process that involves physical, spiritual, intellectual, social, and emotional aspects – not a number on a scale.
Helping your child to engage in these changes may not result in weight loss, but will bring about health benefits. More information on the health centred approach can be found at www.sizediversityandhealth.org
Two young women dead thanks to the fetishisation of female body parts
British woman Claudia Aderotimi was only 20 when she died last week after travelling to the US for a procedure to give her a bigger ‘booty’. She paid more than £1000 ($1600 AUD) for silicone injections to give her the look she thought would help score a part in music video clips. She’d auditioned before, and failed.
The practitioner used industrial silicone. Think sealant designed for plumbing kitchens and bathrooms. This noxious substance was injected into a vein, in error.
Claudia Aderotimi flew to Philadelphia for a cut-rate bottom enhancement in a hotel near the airport in an effort to conform to pornified ideals of women’s backsides, increasingly featured in music video clips.
The silicone injection was apparently a ‘top-up’ to a procedure carried out last November. It was arranged online and performed by a practitioner believe to be lacking qualifications.
Last Monday she developed chest pains and was taken to hospital where she died 24 hours later from a suspected a blood clot in the lung believe to be caused by the silicone entering her bloodstream.
It’s not the first time women have been harmed from the use of cheap industrial silicone. Here’s a report about how other women were made gravely ill as a result.
Susannah Frankel observes that we fetishise the female form and then condemn the wish to improve it. She writes:
Of course, anyone with more than a passing interest in body image will know that the roundness of rump that Aderotimi aspired to is no more easily achievable than the ideal of extreme slenderness that is still more widely upheld by the media – unless, of course, one is born in possession of either. Times may be changing – it is reported that buttock implants are almost as much in demand as breast augmentation – but the emotional impulse that lies beneath the desire to change one’s body in any shape or form remains the same. And so, after years of women the world over wondering “does my bum look big in this?”, will they now be asking: “Does it look big enough?” And if anyone were ever likely to miss the cruel irony that lies at the heart of this, then Aderotimi’s story has driven it home.
But some women shouldn’t have bums at all
But of course it has to be the right kind of ‘big’ – not the ‘wrong’ kind used by the weight-loss industry to shame women into buying its products. Have a look at this add (left) seen in a Melbourne shopping mall last week (thank to Catherine Manning for forwarding).
“No hips or butts”
Apparently OptiSlim’s meal replacements will magically transform the woman on the left into the woman on the right and give her that nice, tight, pert, rounded backside so necessary to be an acceptable woman and to complete and utter happiness in life.
While OptiSlim doesn’t involve knives or needles, the female body is still broken down into problematic parts (hips, butts) which need to be transformed.
Carolin dead after sixth breast enlargement: male fans pay tribute – to her breasts.
Claudia’s death came after another woman of similar age also had her life cut short while trying to super-size her breasts. German porn actress Carolin Berger, better known as ‘Sexy Cora’, dead at 23.
Carolin Berger, who weighed a mere 46 kilos, wanted to fill a size 34G cup. During the operation by two US surgeons (do these people ever say no?) she suffered a brain hemorrhage and was put into an induced coma where she lay for nine days before dying. Sky News reported:
She went under the knife for the last time at the Alster Clinic and was having 800g (28oz) of silicon injected into each breast. But her heart stopped beating during the operation. She suffered brain damage and was put into an induced coma. Cora’s husband Tim Wosnitza remarked, “The doctors told me that she wouldn’t make it. The brain damage was too big.”
Basically every mainstream headline about her death involves the words ‘porn star’ or ‘sexy’, and few use her non-porn-industry name. A couple examples: “‘Sexy Cora’ Dead: Porn Star Dies After Sixth Breast Operation” . . . “Porn Star Dead After Breast Surgery”
She cites a post on a forum eulogising ‘Sexy Cora’ for dying in the line of duty:
She’s a hero. She died doing something awesome to an extent that most people wouldn’t dream of. She’s like a cop that died saving a bus full of babies and puppies by pushing it through the wall of a burning building.
Her death is a tragedy because it lessens the pool of new pornographic images of women with grotesque silicone mounds where there natural breasts once were, for men like him to enjoy.
Porn stars are not human beings, they are a brand of consumer sex receptacle. Thus are the dimensions of Berger’s breasts, both pre- and post-op, more germane to the announcement of her death than, apparently, the detail… that her surgeon-butchers are now up on negligent homicide charges. To find out about that, you have to go to CBS News’ lurid true crime website, where Berger’s humanity is of little importance compared to her value as a sensationalized dead TV slut. If you doubt this, you have only to observe the 38-page wealth of “Sexy Cora” images available in a CBS online photo gallery, and compare it to the amount of CBS discourse relating to Berger as a human person (barely any), or to the instances of broader CBS discussion of the murderous effects of institutionalized misogyny on the quest for human enlightenment (zilch-o).
She says Carolin died because of “rigorous adherence to deeply internalized pornographic beauty standards.”
Claudia and Carolin were real women whose lives were needlessly sacrificied in pursuit of a goal inspired by pornographic fantasises about what constitues a sexy woman. But all women and girls are harmed by the message that they are in need of repair, a message becoming so loud that in the end they think of their whole bodies as deformed and in need to correction.
Collective Shout colleague and Managing Director of BodyMatters Australasia Lydia Turner has written an important piece for Healthy Weight Week highlighting the conflicts of interest in anti-obesity research. She urges a health-based, not weight based approach to health.
This week marks the start of ‘Healthy Weight Week,’ brought to you by the Dieticians Association of Australia (DAA).
With the DAA claiming that 61 per cent of Australian adults and 25 per cent of Australian children are either overweight or obese, many people would think this is a great initiative. So why are a growing number of health professionals opposed to this campaign?
It is not well enough known that 95 per cent of obesity research is funded by private industry including Big Pharma. Corporations not only fund research, but entire university departments, charities, and educational programs as well. Seeing corporations jumping into bed with public health initiatives should raise suspicion. It is essentially putting the wolf in charge of the sheep.
Just last year the Centre for Obesity Research and Education (CORE) – a department of Monash University – published a study that found lap-banding procedures were appropriate interventions for obese teenagers as young as 14. What they didn’t reveal, however, was that the study was funded by Allergan, Australia’s largest manufacturer of lap-banding products. In mid-2010, Allergan sought approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to market lap bands to US teens after sponsoring clinical trials, essentially opening up the global teenage market for profit. Read more>>
What to do if you think your child is ‘overweight’
Julie Parker over at Beautiful You, has some good advice for parents who may be concerned about their child’s weight. You can read it here.
“Muffin-tops turn it on for Oprah”: mocking her female fan base
Why say this: “Thousands of women, aged between 30 to 70, gathered in Federation Square to welcome Oprah Winfrey to Australia”.
When you can say this: “…30-to 70-something women…crammed their muffin-tops into Federation Square”.
And turn it into a heading that says this: “Muffin-tops turn it on for Oprah”.
This heading and muffin-top cramming sentence appeared in a piece on page 4 of The Weekend Australia. It was also online here .
I tweeted about it on the weekend. I said it presented Oprah fans as being all the same, a particular ‘type; that it emphasised and drew attention to their bodies. The only other descriptors were a general age range and that they were “delirious daytime TV fans”. The heading didn’t even depict them as women, just ‘Muffin-tops’.
The Macquarie Dictionary defines muffin-top as “the colloquial for the fold of fat around the midriff which, on an overweight woman, spills out over the top of tight-fitting pants or skirts.”
But it’s more than the fold of fat. It also implies a woman who doesn’t know how to dress appropriately – who deludes herself into thinking that if she squeezes into a size 10 when she is really a sixe 12, this is somehow attractive.
Popularised by ‘Kath & Kim’, the term pokes fun at lower middle class females. The muffin-top stereotype is a feminized term and is is also a class term.
Responses came in rapid fire succession over a couple of hours. Many agreed. The coverage was cheap, snide and sneering. ‘Oprah viewers=fat ergo we can insult them?’, ‘Disdain for women and readers’.
But others thought this response over the top. They described their own muffin tops; Oprah wouldn’t mind – she’d turn it into advice on how to pick the right jeans; I’d had a humour bypass; ‘female body empowerment doesn’t mandate mentally airbrushing muffin tops out of life’. Perhaps I had a ‘fat phobia’ and needed to take a muffin break.
I then started getting weight loss advice (“Hope this helps!).
My reaction isn’t about fat, or individuals being fat, or about the fact that there may well have been some women there who weren’t skinny, or about Oprah and what she was wearing or whether she would mind.
It’s about treating thousands of fans as one homogenous block, all so overweight they had to ‘cram’ their large girths into Federation Square. All that female fandom not knowing how to dress appropriately to greet the “Queen of US daytime television” (Oprah’s show screens in the evening over there, but never mind).
It’s not just the muffin-top depiction on its own. It’s that in combination with the sense of a delirious hysterical mob – a feminised hysterial incapable of critical reasoning.
There are other ways to inject colour into a piece that don’t sound like you are mocking women who don’t fit the thin ideal and who like Oprah.
Michael Bodey, who wrote the piece, responded on twitter:
@michaelbodey: a stupid line written in 20 min I had before deadline. Wish I came up with something better but didn’t. Sorry
@michaelbodey: it’s not hard news but soft colour piece requiring description. & as a fat white male, didn’t think the term derogatory
I appreciated that Bodey appears to recognise he should have done it differently.
But he doesn’t put the paper together. There is a detailed editing process, sub-editors go over every story forensically. One obviously saw fit to highlight ‘Muffin-top’ in the header. In this process was there not one person who thought to say: women shouldn’t be reduced to a description like this? That headlines and commentary like this could be seen as mocking Oprah’s constituency, audience and her power?
Opening up the public square
Here’s a thoughtful piece about Oprah by media lecturer Nina Funnell:
When Oprah hit the scene 25 years ago, she did something considered rather radical: she prioritised the voices of lay individuals, recognising that personal experience is a form of expertise in its own right. This drastically rearranged who had access to public space and the sort of voices that could be heard and valued within that space.
Stories of domestic violence, sexual assault, addiction and mental illness that had previously been discussed in the public sphere only by recognised authorities were now being discussed openly by afflicted individuals who had once been consigned to the private sphere. Read full story here .
“I had never hated my body before that show”: Kai Hubbard exposes the unhealthy weight loss practices that made her sick
Kai Hubbard was a season 3 finalist on the US version of The Biggest Loser. Recently she told Body Love Wellness blogger, Golda Poretsky, about the realities of being on the show. These included severe food restriction, dehydration, being forced to work out while severely injured and trainers overriding doctor’s instructions. Her hair fell out, her period stopped and she developed an eating disorder she has yet to completely recovered from.
Sort of shatters The Biggest Loser fantasy doesn’t it?
Kai’s brave revelations provide further evidence that the show is a danger to good health, as argued here in the past including in this piece by eating disorder specialist Lydia Turner of BodyMattersAustralasia . Despite a raft of waivers and contracts, Kai decided to speak out because so many people were using her as an example of what they could achieve if they tried hard enough. She wanted them to know the true nature of the show and how it made her hate her body in a way she never had before.
Here’s some extracts from Kai’s interview with Golda (used with permission):
…We were working out anywhere between 2 and 5 hours a day, and we were working out severely injured. There’s absolutely no reason to work a 270 pound girl out so hard that she pukes the first time you bring in a gym. That was entirely for good tv.
…So I got to a point where I was only eating about 1,000 calories a day and I was working out between 5 and 8 hours a day…And my hair started to fall out. I was covered in bruises. I had dark circles under my eyes…my period stopped altogether and I was only sleeping 3 hours a night. I tried to tell the T.V. show about it and I was told, ‘save it for the camera.’
..my major food groups were water, black coffee and splenda. I got to the point that when I was nervous or upset I was literally vomiting my food up…
[The show] gave me a really fun eating disorder that I battle every day, and it also messed up my mental body image because the lighter I got during that T.V. show, the more I hated my body. And I tell you what, at 144 and at 262 and at 280, I had never hated my body before that show.
Antoinette Jones – Principal – Mitcham Girls High School
“Intelligent, passionate, brilliant, fearless… I could not recommend her more highly”
Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
“You continue to reset my shock meter…”
“As a teacher and parent I recommend all parents, in fact all people, to attend a talk by Melinda- it will open your eyes and awaken your subconscious.”
Heather Douglas – Parent – Pembroke School
“Melinda’s presentations to our parents, staff and full day workshops to students was inspirational, transforming the attitudes and thinking of all involved”
Paul Teys – Principal – Hunter Valley Grammar
“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
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