We have all done it. We have all stared at the pages of a glossy magazine at an impossibly beautiful model, wearing this season’s new look and thought “if only that could be me…”
It is a strange fact that as the nation gets more obese, with worryingly one of the highest rates of child obesity in Europe, the models that grace our catwalks and magazines are getting thinner. Where does this obsession with the body beautiful come from? Whereas part of the population is on a quest to be the thinnest they can be, by any means possible, others are adding to the obesity statistics.
The pressure to be thin and beautiful is obviously felt by the actors and actresses in Hollywood, with many celebrities, particularly famous females shrinking before our very eyes. Many feel that if they do not conform to the so called ‘ideal’ then they will not be offered parts in the latest blockbuster.
However the pressure to be unnaturally thin is at its peak in the fashion industry where a UK size 8 or less is considered the norm. In November 2006 model Ana Carolina Reston Macan died of anorexia nervosa, her diet infamously consisting of only tomatoes and apples. Her body mass index before she died had dropped to a staggering 13.4 which is less than the World Health Organisation considers being starvation. She was only 21 years old.
The fashion industry seems reluctant to be held accountable for its part in the levels of anorexia and bulimia nervosa that are seen in the modelling industry. Although there are models who are effortlessly slim, with some being naturally a size zero (UK size 4) most have to maintain this look with some degree of dieting.
The number of images of models, with what appears to be the perfect body, in the media has lead to some critics blaming the fashion industry for the rise in cases of anorexia in general. Anorexia nervosa is a complicated physical and psychological eating disorder and therefore the fashion industry cannot be held totally responsible. However the bombardment of images, especially on vulnerable teenagers, cannot have helped the fact that many people have a very negative body image.
Going to the other extreme, the population is getting fatter, with half of all adults in the UK being overweight and 1 in 5 being obese. The availability of cheap, highly processed food and most of us leading sedentary lifestyles has been sighted as the cause for this.
It seems as a society we now equate success and wealth with slimness and body perfection, but with over 19,000 cosmetic surgery procedures carried out on women in 2005, it seems that very few people are happy with their bodies. However most of us know that being excessively thin or overweight is unhealthy.
Is it possible to be happy with what we have? Eating a wholesome balanced diet, taking regular exercise and finding clothes that flatter your body shape, is the slow but ultimately healthy approach. Hopefully this worrying trend to acquire perfection will gradually fade and we can convince the fashion industry that being ‘normal’ is ok, but first we have to convince ourselves.