I’m a bit confused …  J-Lo, Beyonce, Lena Horne, Marilyn Monroe, Raquel Welch … what do these women have in common? Besides being beautiful, they are all full figured.  So I really am confused with size zero – why are women still aspiring to this emaciated look when there are plenty of healthy-looking role models out there? If I’m confused, imagine what young women and teenage girls are feeling. Clearly a change is needed in the way in which society and the media glamorise this skewed ideal of the female form.

Whenever I see a model that is a size zero, from a medical point of view I actually think they look ill.  Who is controlling how women should look? Why is size zero deemed attractive? This trend undoubtedly has a detrimental effect on the young women who make up 90% of anorexia nervosa cases who are influenced by the size and weight of their peer group.

It has been well reported that photo-shopped images and excessive exposure to unattainable body types in the media has had a negative effect on body perception for young women. Researchers from London School of Economics and City University state that reducing the mass circulation of pictures of emaciated models and celebrities and restricting adverts in which they feature could lift some of the pressure women feel to be thin.

As we know, anorexia can be devastating and many women die of this disease.  Ana Carolina Reston, a Brazilian model, died from anorexia in 2006. Models often eat tissue paper and resort to surgery when dieting is not enough – this kind of behaviour is incredibly damaging not only to the models themselves but also to the thousands of girls who look up to them and aspire to be like them.

Maybe then we should focus on changing the role models. Instead of models and actresses, young women should be looking up to our elite athletes. Following London 2012 we had a perfect opportunity to boost the profile of women in sport and make our sports stars inspirational figures for the youth of today. Surely it’s preferable for teenage girls to aspire to the healthy, toned forms of athlete Jessica Ennis-Hill and netballer Sasha Corbin than the likes of Paris Hilton and Miley Cyrus.

We need to be very concerned about the issues of body image and eating disorders – there are dangerous, unrealistic messages being sent to women via the fashion Industry.  Personally, I feel that designers should go back to the 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s where the model had curves. Curves and muscles are natural and healthy for a woman’s body, and this attainable, realistic figure should be what we’re flaunting in the public domain.

There is a movement trying to ban size zero – Victoria Beckham did this in September 2010 in New York Fashion Week. In addition, Israel banned underweight models in 2012 and there is a law which stipulates that women and men hired as models must be certified by a physician as having a body mass index of no less than 18.5. The legislation also requires inclusion of an informal note in adverts using photos manipulated to make models look thinner. We need more of this. Movements like this will help young women in their quest for a more positive body image.

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Dr. Ralph Rogers

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Regenerative Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine

Health Promotion & Preventive Medicine

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