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Beautiful Bones? August 6, 2006

Posted by Winter in body politics, media.

One of the issues that concerns me most, both as a feminist and now as a doctor, is the psychologically and physically unhealthy obsession with thinness still prevalent despite over thirty years of discussion by feminist groups.

At Mind The Gap we ran a body image campaign and produced a zine on the topic. It was an interesting and challenging project, but how much actual change can we produce when for every zine we put out we face hundreds of mainstream publications saturated with examples of anorexic-chic? Has feminism failed to make an impact on eating disorders and obsessional thinness? Have we been trying to tackle this problem in the wrong way? Could we be doing more? If you have any thoughts on this they would be gratefully received.

The following is a paragraph from this Sundays Observer’s ‘Woman’ suppliment. The whole article is here and worth reading if you have a spare moment.

“As long ago as 2000, the BMA, in its report ‘Eating Disorders, Body Image and the Media’, noted that the extreme thinness of celebrities was ‘both unachievable and biologically inappropriate’, observing that the gap between the media ideal and the reality appeared to be making eating disorders worse. ‘At present, certain sections of the media provide images of extremely thin or underweight women in contexts which suggest that these weights are healthy or desirable,’ it stated, recommending that normal women in the upper reaches of a healthy weight should be ‘more in evidence on television as role models for young women’. Television producers and those in advertising should review their employment of very thin women, and the Independent Television Commission should review its advertising policy, the report recommended. Six years on, the converse has happened.”
I was pleased to see that the British Medical Association was at least was talking sense on the subject. That report is six years old though so it can’t have made much impact. If people won’t listen to feminists, and they won’t listen to their doctors it begs the question, who will they listen to?


1. Winter - August 7, 2006

Has feminism failed to make an impact on eating disorders and obsessional thinness?

Yes, in my view, feminism has manifestly failed to make an impact in this area. The situation seems to be getting worse all the time. But I think the reasons for that failure are very complex and not all feminism’s “fault.” As you point out, no one else has succeeded in dealing with it either. I suspect that we don’t yet understand eating distress well enough to prevent it.

I write this as a feminist who won’t let her weight rise above 9 stone and who can’t explain to you why that is the case.

2. Lingual X - August 7, 2006

Yes, I think so. It seems like, if anything, we again are returning to the 1960s/1970s era obsession with stars like Twiggy. The skinnier (and bonier!) the better. There’s no significant cultural discussion about “health” and “healthy weight.” Instead, we discuss weight on a purely aesthetic level.

I agree with Winter, however, that it isn’t feminism’s fault. I think this is a vast & complicated area of inquiry and cultural analysis.

3. JJ - August 18, 2006

U know this issue always confounds me. I don’t get it. How does anyone look at that pic (Kiera Knightley?) and think sexy? Or any of the many other stick thin starlets…I just don’t get it.

I”m black and southern (southern US) and growing up I was always told, “Don’t nobody want a bone but a dog.” And hell I’ve never had a problem attracting men, and I’ve never been “skinny.” Now the Black community (southerners in particular) in the US do have overweight/obesity issue that have to be addressed but still normal size black chicks, with hips, butts and boobs do just fine. We don’t have that pressure to be skinny. And the only black girls I’ve known that had that kind of pressure grew up in predominantly white neighborhoods…I just don’t get it.

4. Winter - August 20, 2006


Thanks for your perspective. I’ve really wondered about racial factors in relation to eating disorders but haven’t had time to do research.

As far as I know, in the UK at least, most people diagnosed with eating disorders are middle-class, white and female.

It would be really interesting if anorexic chic is predominantly a white condition.

I remember an african american woman telling me once that she couldn’t get it and black women just didn’t do this sort of thing to themselves.

I also don’t think it has much to do with being sexually attractive to men. This extreme thin thing is about something else, but I’m not sure what exactly.

It may be more tied up with class/wealth status because there have been several periods in history when “upper” class women have signifed their staus though thinness and it does seem that obesity is becoming ever more associated with poverty in our current cultural moment.

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