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?