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Jayne Howarth wonders why some women starve themselves to comply with media images.

How many times, over how many years, have we read that media images of ludicrously skinny models can cause psychological damage to women? That being bombarded with the idea that thin = good is damaging?
We see the photographs daily: girls wearing skin-tight couture dresses, their razor-sharp collar-bones jutting out and boyish hips supported by legs like matchsticks.

Intelligent women know this is not the norm  - yet why are so many affected by it? Why do so many rational, outwardly happy women believe they have somehow failed if they have so much as a hint of a wobble on their thighs or a roll on their tummies?

Today, The Royal College of Psychiatrists has released a report telling us something we already knew: that size zero models help to convey the message that women should be preternaturally skinny.

The organisation has now called upon the government to set up a forum comprising psychiatrists, advertisers, the media and support groups for those with eating disorders.

It is a noble ambition – and one that many people would applaud. But there will always be resistance to this; and it might well come from the very people who profess to back such campaigns.

It is easy to blame the media: but it has to be culpable. On the one hand, you have column inches dedicated to the tragedy of eating disorders, the denigration of the glossy magazines and clothes designers who use underweight girls to sell clothes.

Then turn over the page and what do you get? A photograph of a podgy (as if) celebrity who has PUT ON POUNDS and this month’s diet that promises to get you into “those” jeans within a month.

We see magazines “abandoning” skinny models and using “real women”, but more often than not it is tokenistic. Even the Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, which uses women who are closer to the average size, has come under fire as a cynical marketing ploy rather than a real attempt to challenge the notion that thin = good.

Is it any wonder that girls and women are confused? That they become upset? Is it any wonder that with so much exposure of rib-cages and bony knees that they feel inadequate, flabby, unattractive?

Even though their critical faculties are as sharp as a model’s bony elbow and they understand about photo manipulation and airbrushing, there is still deeply embedded inside many women something that leads their brains to throw out any notion of rational thinking.

It is not a modern phenomenon:  there has been sociocultural pressure on women to strive for thinness for centuries (you only have to look at the invention of the corset). It is so deeply embedded within society that it will be difficult to shake off. Trouble is, where do we start?

Jayne Howarth

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Further info: Eating Disorders Awareness Week

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