Sunday, 10 June 2007

are celebrity magazines a health hazard?

Photo: bigfoto

Studies show that body image dissatisfaction is linked to poor mental and physical health, especially in women, and may lead to low self esteem, anxiety, even depression and suicide, and unhealthy weight loss practices such as crash dieting, fasting, laxative misuse and vomiting. These, in the longer term, may lead to increased risk or osteoporosis and infertility. Poor body image can also lead to binge eating and obesity.

A recent Australian study found that less than a quarter of young women with a healthy weight were actually satisfied with their weight.

Health professionals consider poor body image to be a serious problem. Professor Susan Paxton, of Melbourne University: "Body image problems and related disordered eating are serious health problems in our community and it is important they are not just seen as frivolous concerns of women but ather as frequently destructive for both men and women."

Australians are huge consumers of magazines and some of the highest-selling are built around celebrity gossip, fashion, self image and sexuality. Do these have an effect?

  • A 2005 report by Womens Health Victoria reported on a study of the impact of womens' magazines, and "found that women's body satisfaction was influenced by their exposure to the thin ideal presented in fashion magazines."
  • The Melbourne Age reported: "Media images that help to create definitions of attractiveness are often criticised for contributing to the rise in body dissatisfaction."
  • Studies by Flinders University indicate that children as young as five have an awareness of body-image issues and that young adolescents are vulnerable to the negative effects of televised images of attractiveness.
  • A 2003 study found that advertisements in magazines aimed at teenage and younger girls almost always featured an "idealistic female image" that was thin or athletic and attractive.

Increased concerns about body image are considered responsible from a large upsurge in cosmetic surgery.

What is the remedy?

A Government website advises women concerned about body image: "Give yourself a break from women’s magazines and the mass media for a while.", "Stop weighing yourself." and "Change your goal from weight loss to improving your health."

But I can't help feeling that we need to do something more positive, both as individuals and as a society. Perhaps we need to value more worthwhile personal attributes (e.g. humour, integrity, loyalty, caring) than body image, and fill our minds with more interesting and substantial things than celebrity and fashion? And surely we should make sure we value people for more than their appearance.

I would have thought men have an important part in this, although Amelia Haines, a doctor who specialises in sexual and relationship therapy, says: "Women always compare themselves with one another."

What do you think? Do we value celebrity too much? Are we growing more trivial? Does it matter?

For further reading, try this page, or this one. If you need further assistance, there are many online sources of further help, such as this one, also from Victoria in Australia.


  1. awesome post!

    it does matter, although it is difficult to combat the effects of the media, especially in young people's lives.

  2. Yes, I sort of wonder whether the only answer is for people to learn their own self discipline. In an age of junk food, we have to learn to eat with discipline or we'll get unhealthy; in an age of ready access to pornography, external controls won't work and only self discipline will; in an age of shallow fashion-based values, some will learn to see through it and some won't; in an age dominated by the various media, some will think independently and some won't.

    Thanks for your positive comment.

  3. I think that comparison thing is so key... in conversations with a dear friend, we often come back to this: we agree that it's pointless, and damaging, sometimes for those on both sides of the comparison fence, and yet it's so easy to do... we have to stop comparing ourselves, and others, and we have to learn to look at the unique set of attributes each of us has... I guess the physical one is the immediate one; it's our first impression of someone (usually - though in this internet age not always!), and is an easy way to compliment someone (or show other emotions, of course)... but yes, we absolutely SHOULD value people for more than appearance, and we should try to further this by complimenting people on other attributes, when we notice them - anything; the sound of their voice, their kindness, their sense of humour, their funky thoughtful blogs...


  4. I think there are 2 layers to this.

    Firstly, we follow the lead of Hollywood and the media to start to make judgments on externals that aren't really as important as we're pushed into thinking. This leads to silly judgments, but also to cosmetic surgery of face and body when it's not really necessary, over-expenditure on clothes and beauty/fitness, etc.

    But then, because we have been swamped with images of unnaturally "perfect" people of both genders, we can become less satisfied with the real and normal people in our lives, because they don't measure up to that inflated and artificial standard.

    It isn't easy taking a stand against those things!


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