There have been a few stories in the media about New Zealand women and obesity and body image, some referenced in this editorial from the Herald on Sunday.
This article blames mothers for teaching girls to put on lip gloss. I think there is a wider context to the issue and I don’t think alternative messages from mothers are enough to solve it.
Last year, the Women’s Health Action trust raised, with the UN concerns about our lack of monitoring of discrimination in relation to body weight and no legal protections against this kind of discrimination.
“the Human Rights Commission received 39 complaints related to discrimination on the basis of body size between 2010 and 2012. The majority of complaints were in relation to employment and pre-employment with a smaller number related to health care. A 2005 study of discrimination against overweight female job applicants confirmed a general bias against overweight applicants despite years of experience and suitability for the job (Ding & Stillman, 2005).”
I think size-ism and what appears to be a narrowing of gender expression is harming us all.
Every day we are bombarded with unrealistic images of women, and increasingly men. The images portray able bodied sexy, waif like women and able bodied muscular or besuited men as the norm or ideal. These images are not healthy and the research is clear, they cause harm. All of these images suggest that for a woman to be happy she must be thin. US research has found that adolescents see over 5000 advertisements mentioning attractiveness. I would bet it’s not too different here. Often one of the first symptoms of an eating disorder that we can see is poor body image.
All of this is another reason I find the Air New Zealand ‘safety videos’ so offensive. They are further spreading these images into spaces from which we cannot escape. I pointedly do not watch it but it riles me that what is supposed to be an important safety message has been hijacked by marketing and the promotion of unrealistic body images. Where are our children safe from this?
Alongside idealised body types, increasingly narrow gender roles are being preached at children pretty much from birth. Go to any toy store and see the limited choice on offer for gender neutral toys and think about how pink and sparkly play might differ from Lego play and you can see the start of these differences. Last year I gave my favourite ‘god son’ a purple watch. It threw him into a dilemma, he really liked it but knew he would be teased for wearing a ‘girls watch’. When I was a kid girls clothes weren’t that different from boys, except for special maybe. They were practical and needed to cope with climbing trees as well as digging in the garden and playing in the playhouse. I had a Barbie but I also had a red bike, roller skates and with my friends made up most of our own adventures. Our choices and the freedom of our children are being reduced by a marketing agenda that we have little control over – and it’s hurting us.
Ultimately though this is not about choice this is about public mental health.