In all honesty, is it really surprising that eating disorders among our young women are on the rise? Is there not a connection somewhere to why these numbers are spiralling? Eating disorders have been making the headlines since time immemorial, however, what is really shocking is that the age when girls start on this downward spiral of body dysmorphia, or in plainer terms, when they start hating their bodies and the way they look, is getting younger and younger. Disorders which were commonly associated with teenagers and young adults are now also in the remit of pre-pubescent girls.
Eating Disorders are complex disorders, generally classified as a medical illness; disorders which are influenced by a facet of factors and which I believe should be delved into with caution and then only by those who have the expertise and competency to do so. However, as a commentator and someone who follows the ebb and flow of fashion and trends for a living, I am under the impression that the extreme body fascism to which young girls are now subjected to 24/7 through carefully curated social media feeds, is wreaking havoc with young impressionable minds and their vulnerable body image and which might lead to serious issues, including eating disorders. These days, younger girls are not even waiting until their teens to start hating their bodies; tragically embarking on a vicious circle of self-loathing which at best will surely leave them psychologically traumatised for life.
Today, our young girls are indoctrinated into believing that there is only one body they should have to fit in with the Insta-generation – and that’s the body of 16-year-old boy, who has curiously sprouted double-D, pert breasts. Oh, but I forget! There is also the other extreme in body ‘ideals’; the Kim Kardashian, a body which is pumped up in all the ‘right’ places and miraculously thin, toned and fat-free in all other not-so-desirable areas. To be fair, ‘ideals’ of feminine body types have been around probably since the very first civilisations, and each era had a particular type; from Rubenesque to androgynous flapper girls to Twiggy’s waif-like silhouette. But that’s all they were, ideals. Today, the lines between what is realistic and what is pure fantasy is blurred to such an extent, that young girls cling onto the images they are bombarded with every hour upon hour, mistakenly believing that therein lies the way to self-confidence and consequently, happiness.
But it’s not only the carefully curated, rabidly filtered images on our insta-feeds which are perpetuating the myth of the ideal female form, far from it. In real life, the chipping away of a young girl’s confidence continues unabated. A quick look through most clothing offered by high street brands catering for teenagers depicts a very poignant picture. Miniscule sizes are the norm, with most lines stopping short at a very average size 12 – 14; anything above that is deemed as a plus size and therefore not available. Young girls who are even slightly bigger won’t fit into teenage lines and are obviously made to feel quite fat. One could debate that there are whole shops devoted to plus size clothing – an argument which could stand if you were talking about adult shoppers, but for young teenage customers who are already so horribly body-conscious, this sense of not fitting in with their peers plus the imagined humiliation of having to shop clothing ranges in styles which their mothers usually buy, does nothing for their self-esteem.
However, not all is doom and gloom on the horizon. Retailers are waking up to inclusivity, some of which are even opting for body positivity and diversity for their marketing campaigns and extending their teenage ranges to accommodate a curvier young girl. That said, there is still a long way to go. Being inclusive and catering for diversity does not mean having a perfect ‘curvy’ size 14, 6-foot Amazon fronting the bigger sized ranges, this quite defies the purpose, actually. If most girls do not look like the thin waif-like model in traditional campaigns, mostly neither look like the curvy goddess that is the face of the body positivity crusade.
Most girls do not fit within this very restricted narrative. It would be quite counter-productive, if in their bid to depict body positivity, retailers eliminate one demon only to resurrect another – namely, the palatable version of the plus-size model, a cellulite free version with flat belly and thin arms. Bigger girls are not all a gallery of Kim Kardashian-esque body types with impressive chests, tiny waists and rounded, perfect backsides. This again, is not representative of young girls, who obviously come in all shapes, sizes and body types.
It is high time that a concerted effort is made by all, especially the media and retail brands to be truly representative of their customers, especially young impressionable ones. It would be great if one day, young women are at a place where they don’t have to obsess about what’s right or wrong with their body, and it would be even better if they could simply relate to what the world around them is telling them; that is, that they are accepted just the way they are, whatever size or shape they may be. Maybe not in my lifetime, but hopefully the tides are changing as we speak…