The whole package: is the media’s obsession with weight affecting our health?

The Met Gala on May 5 brought the stars out in force. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual fundraiser – fashion’s biggest night out – was attended by the likes of the Beckhams, Sarah Jessica Parker and Beyoncé.

Commentators fawned over the dresses and the style. However, the focus soon shifted to what people really want to read about – their waistlines.
Google ‘The Met Gala weight’ and articles on Kim Kardashian’s post-baby bod, Emma Stone “bearing her midriff” and Bradley Cooper’s alleged 40 pound weight gain are thrown up.

Loss, gain, and all things weight-related have become a major talking point in the media today. However, does this constant discussion of body image make it harder for people to feel content with themselves?

On one side, newspapers report on how the perfect body can only be achieved through weight loss. In the week beginning May 6, The Irish Independent published three stories relating to weight loss and dieting.

One story covered Irish celebrity Twink, who lost four stone after seeing an old picture of herself. Another featured a woman who lost 170 pounds and was refused a Shape magazine cover due to her excess skin.

A month earlier, The Journal reported that eating disorders among men in Ireland rose by 67 per cent in the last five years.
Lingerie brand La Perla recently had to pull mannequins that featured protruding ribs after outrage from the public. The Independent UK asked – “if beauty comes in all sizes, why does fashion force feed us skinny?”

Is this news for news sake, or does the media have ulterior motives when it comes to covering weight loss and slimming?

“Weight loss is only discussed in the press to sell things,” Ellen Baumann, an 18 year old eating disorder sufferer said. “There is no way they do it out of the goodness of their heart, or for the sake of people’s health.”

“The media are a huge cause of eating disorders,” she continued, “but it doesn’t matter as long as copies are flying off the shelves. People want to read about weight loss because they’ve been deceived into thinking that weight is associated with happiness.”

Despite the level of coverage on eating disorders growing, the lack of treatment facilities in Ireland remains a problem. Ellen attended the Lois Bridges’ Clinic for the Treatment of Eating Disorders in Sutton, Co. Dublin, the only clinic of its kind in Ireland outside of psychiatric admission.

“Where the individual’s psychiatric or medical needs are more acute, in-patient admission is offered within the local psychiatric services or acute medical care where necessary,” the HSE said.

“Child and Adolescent Acute Inpatient units provide evidence-based treatment to those young people requiring a period of admission by providing mulch-disciplinary care with dietetic input.”

Lois Bridges adopts a gentler approach, focusing on body image and mindfulness.

On body image, however, the media can’t seem to give the public a straight answer. Online newspaper giant The Huffington Post regularly features articles on plus size models.

Most recently, the site promoted a music video by three plus size models, Gabi Fresh, Tess Munster and Nadia Aboulhosn, titled ‘#everyBODYisflawless’
“The video opens with interviews of the three women discussing body image and their struggle to make society accept them as beautiful,” Nina Bahadur writes for The Huffington Post.

“For me, this video is to show all of my followers that you define your definition of beauty,” Aboulhosn said regarding the video.

However, criticism for the video has come just as quickly as praise. Commentators have said that the women are poor role models for health – Munster is a size 22. With Ireland set to top the obesity tables in Europe by 2030, is there truth in their words?

“I’m asked often, ‘since you are a role model, why not promote healthy living?’ Health has zero to do with your weight,” Munster wrote on her blog.
“We are constantly told that the true key to happiness is limited to the size you wear. Frankly, that’s the real problem here.”

Where does that leave the public? With up to 80,000 people now classified as obese, as well as the number of eating disorder sufferers rising, it is clear that the pressure is making it impossible for people to find a balance.

From childhood onwards, children are taught by society that looks matter. However, mattering to the point of obsessive behaviour has led to unhealthy lifestyles, both fat and thin.

However, with no end in sight for the roll out of celebrity frock-fests – no doubt the word ‘weight’ will arise in articles more than ‘award’.

Fionnuala Jones

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