The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Models And Magazines To Yet Again Tell You About Body Image

Posted by Cate on March 4, 2009

Was I the only one who sniggered when I read that Model and TV host Sarah Murdoch is hoping to use her experiences in the fashion industry and as a ballerina to help girls develop positive views of their bodies?

“I hope that my unique perspective can in some way help develop national strategies that promote healthy body image, especially in girls and young women.” reports

I think unique is the right word as I can hardly image that her view point represents the many women who are not models or on television. Girlfriend editor Sarah Cornish, and former Cosmo editor, Mia Freeman will also be involved.  So, a bunch of skinny white, famous women who sell images of mostly white skinny, women* are going to tell the rest of the female population, many of whom are not white and skinny, how to have a good body image?

Admittedly, and a number of representatives from health, media and youth groups are also part of the group who  are apparently considering issues such as a voluntary code of practice for portraying body image in the media, the labelling of digitally retouched or modified images, greater diversity of body shapes and sizes and mandatory model age limits.

Does this mean there will be more fat black chicks in magazines? How about women with disabilities in your favourite soapie? Have you ever seen a fashion editorial which includes women with disabilities? I don’t think I have, besides the odd Para-Olympian. Surely being in a wheelchair doesn’t negate ones desire for an outfit that makes you happy every time you put it on? What about women over thirty? And in regard to diversity, will women of different shapes and sizes be presented positively whatever their size and shape, or will their size only be sanctioned by an appearance on a weight loss show?

On what’s this about a voluntary code of practice? I wonder if this is this merely a way for various designers and industry staffers to negate any responsibility for the images they portray and how they relate to the psyche of young people. When you consider the dollars spent t trend spotting to create those edgy, quirkiness, it’s a shame they can’t make ‘fat’ the new fashion, rather than constant portrayals of underweight teens in skinny jeans and canvas shoes.

Youth Minister Kate Ellis proclaims:

“Young Australians are telling us loud and clear that they are concerned about negative body image and the impact that it has on them, their friends and the community.”

“This is not an attack on skinny models, it is a genuine attempt to tackle an issue that is harming our young Australians.”

Some stats from Eating Disorders Foundation of Victoria:

  • Currently, body image despondency is at both ends of the equation. Mission Australia’s 2007 survey of 29,000 young Australians found Body Image was the most concerning issue for young people.
  • The Australian Longitudinal Study of Women’s Health, which included 14,686 women aged 18-23 years, revealed 66.5% had a BMI within a healthy weight range, however only 21.6% of these women were happy with their weight.[li]
  • A large number (41%) of children are specifically worried about the way they look with 35% concerned about being overweight (44% of girls and 27% of boys) and 16% being too skinny.[liv]
  • A 2007 Sydney University study of nearly 9,000 adolescents showed one in five teenage girls starved themselves or vomit up their food to control their weight. Eight per cent of girls used smoking for weight control.[lv]

I’m not suggesting that the fashion industry or media or models cause body image problems or indeed eating disorders. Both involve a complex interplay of environmental, psychological and personal factors. But they certainly don’t help. Most women don’t have eating disorders. But many have poor body image which can contribute to the causation of eating disorders and a lifelong feeling is poor self esteem.

I think that to position the blame solely in the hands of the media is completely wrong. Magazines are obstensibly about marketing and selling fashion. They can only market what’s available and it’s evident that most clothing is designed for women within certain size constraints. As fashion design Elise Slater notes on the fabulous website of the Anybody Organisation:

At no other time in history has fashion’s ideal been so narrow and restricting, with identi-kit ultra-thin models being the global ideal. And this isn’t the fault of the models, it is the fault of the designers who are demanding these anorexically-thin figures.The most ridiculous aspect of the fashion industry at present is that bodies are being cut to fit the fashions, whereas it should be the cloth that is cut to fit the body.

I’m not suggesting that the fashion industry or media or models cause body image problems or indeed eating disorders. Both involve a complex interplay of environmental, psychological and personal factors. But they certainly don’t help. What I’d like to see:

– Greater representation of sizes, ethnicities and ages on the telly and in magazines.

– Depictions of plus -sized women who aren’t tall, big boned and big boobed. This is not the same as fat/curvy/chunky silhouettes and clothes move entirely differently on a larger body. I want fat women so I can see what the clothes really look like!

– Plus sized clothing that is made for plus sized women of diverse proportions. I don’t want skinny jeans or lycra pants in my size. Adding a few inches of fabric doesn’t mean the outfit will fit in a manner that is pleasing to me.

*I was pleased with Mia Freedman’s ‘body love’ efforts in Cleo and the decision to include a range of body sizes in the mag. It’s certainly better than nothing.

Some of my favourite body image resources:


6 Responses to “Models And Magazines To Yet Again Tell You About Body Image”

  1. Tricky said

    ABC Radio national had an interesting interview with Susie Orbach this morning on the topic of women’s body issues.

    Fraid I was cynical too when I saw the article. They are probably very accomplished, intelligent well meaning women but what are they going to do but provide a few motherhood statements about “we should be taking care of young girls self esteem, blah blah blah”, when really the a WHOLE industry is dependant of producing insecurity and need in the target consumers.

    It is more than a bit hypocritical of a cosmopolitan editor to be jumping on this bandwagon.

    But then again I doubt the very shallow fashion /advertising industry is going to take any notice of someone that doesn’t fit there stereotype of thin & beautiful in the first place. Do you think a standard looking women dressed in Target & Opshop chic would actually get in the door?

    What about the porn industry and the untold damage that does to the body image of women – Brazilians! Anal bleaching! – for gods sake. Doubt there would be any consensus there about taking care of women’s mental health

  2. Kat said

    It is strange how body image and capitalism combine in fashion.

    I wonder if playing on insecurities is the only way to make money. Surely happy and excited people spend money too? How many women spend hours shopping with a hot little card ready to buy up big if they could ever find anything that they liked. How many of those women would shop more often if they didn’t feel so disheartened after an unsuccessful trip.

    On the other hand, there are many many times when I think “I’ll never fit that image. I’m not going to attempt and I’m not going to care.”

  3. tina sparkle said

    yeah, I bet sarah o’hare has had a really hard time coming to terms with her body image.

    how do people expect the issue to change if it provides role models that girls and women can’t relate to?

    where are the libby gorrs, katie noonans, kate ceberanos and magda szubanski’s?

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  5. […] don’t want to bang on about that because much cleverer people than I have already done so. But more generally speaking, the problem with using celebrities to raise awareness for a cause is […]

  6. I’m actually creating a magazine to show to the editors of cosmo and cleo magazines to let them know what readers really want within the pages, and I’m including a page of testimonials about how women’s magazine make us feel as readers.
    It would be great to hear from you about what you think/feel about women’s magazines and I’m also looking for submissions in general. So if you have any ideas about articles that you think should be included in the ideal women’s mag for teens I’d love to hear them…
    The Magazine will be published online and in print in February/March of next year. For more info check out: or email me at:
    Jessica Barlow

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