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The images that blur the edges of reality
A new Government-backed guide is aimed at encouraging children to be confident about their bodies, and be aware of the reality behind unattainably perfect depictions of celebrities in the media and advertising.
The pack is helping parents make their children aware that many images of pop stars, actors and models are enhanced.
The guide – which stresses that the notion of the ‘perfect body’, and the emphasis on skinniness, is a “socially and culturally constructed ideal” – contains before-and-after touched-up images of celebrities such as Britney Spears.
The parent pack is described by Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone as an important contribution to the Government’s campaign to boost body confidence among children. She said it would empower parents to “have those difficult conversations” with their children.
She added: “Young people are being set an impossible standard by images in media and advertising which can erode their self-esteem. As parents, we are often aware of these issues but may not have the advice and guidance we need to talk to our children.”
The pack follows a similar guide for primary school teachers, which has been downloaded 1,500 times since its launch last year. Both are produced by Media Smart, a non-profit organisation aiming to teach six to 11-year-olds to think critically about what they see in the media.
The guide was launched in a week that highlighted the impact of distorted media images on young people. Last week a coroner blamed the fashion industry for the death of 14-year-old Fiona Geraghty, found hanged in her home after suffering from the eating disorder bulimia.
Coroner Michael Rose called on magazines and catwalks to stop using thin models.
Also last week, headteacher Dr Helen Wright claimed American reality TV star Kim Kardashian set a bad example to young people. Dr Wright, from a girls’ school in Wiltshire, hit out at a magazine cover image of Miss Kardashian captioned ‘hottest woman in the world’, and warned that such stars were part of a culture that put physical appearance ahead of intelligence and personality.
She has a point, says Shipley mum Emma Harrison. “My two teenage daughters are obsessed with programmes like The Kardashians and The Only Way Is Essex. I don’t mind their interest in make-up and clothes, because that’s healthy for girls their age, but I’m not comfortable with them watching reality shows that glorify perfect-looking women.
“I tell my girls it takes teams of stylists, make-up artists, hairdressers and personal trainers to make these women look like they do, and that these TV shows don’t portray real life.
“But they look up to these women, their big hair, tans, false eyelashes and designer clothes, and want to be like them. They’re intelligent girls, and take pride in their appearance, but I worry they’ll measure success purely in terms of looks, clothes and cosmetic surgery.
“When I was a young woman I thought of myself a feminist. Now, when it comes to body image, we’ve regressed 30 years.”
When Pudsey student Sonia Johar was 14, her self-esteem was so low she practically starved herself. She went from being a fit, healthy teenager, a member of the school netball team, to a nervous anorexic sufferer weighing just 5st.
Now 20, Sonia says her eating disorder was largely down to feeling inadequate against images of celebrities.
“I get angry at diets in magazines, printed next to photos of skinny models and celebrities. I used to compare myself to images in magazines,” she says.
“I grew to hate my body. Controlling my eating was my way of dealing with low self-esteem. When my clothes started dropping off and I was feeling cold all the time, I knew there was a problem.”
Aged 16, Sonia was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. She was transferred from hospital to an eating disorder specialist unit, and gradually started to recover. Now studying at university, she plans to visit schools to talk about eating disorders, and contributing factors.