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Factors Causing Ill-Health in our Culture: Normal Girls Pressed to Be Abnormally Slim

Written by: Gunborg Palme, certified psychologist and certified psychotherapist, teacher and tutor in psychotherapy.
First version: 22 Jul 2008. Latest version: 22 Jul 2008.


Contradictory signals in our culture causes ill-health in teenagers.


How does media affect body image of women, and which risks are associated with these effects? What is the media effect on body image of women? Are Normal Teen Girls pressed to be abnormally slim?


A psychotherapist told me that she was at the cinema with two teenage girls who had bought large packets of sweets which they ate during the performance. Later, at a restaurant, they felt so satiated they were unable to eat any nutritious food.

The film Pearl Harbor had three leading roles:

The two male roles were played by actors of normal weight, while the actress playing the female role was extremely slim and this was frequently emphasised. Afterwards, both girls said how much they enjoyed the film and how beautiful the leading actress was. They wanted to look like her.

Nowadays, we are surrounded by tempting junk food which tends to push out the nutritious food children need in order to maintain health and strength. Seemingly abstract notions such as vitamins, mineral nutrients, amino acids, etc. lack attractiveness.

The message society gives to those girls is full of contradictions. On one hand it emphasises an abnormally slim female figure as ideal and on the other they are tempted to eat unhealthy fattening junk food. This media effect on the body image of women is dangerous. It is not surprising that some teenagers become ill when subjected to such contradictory propaganda.

Society must change its message as it is directed towards innocent children who are unable to appreciate the long-term consequences of replacing nutritious food with empty calories. Teenage girls are especially vulnerable to the idea that an attractive woman is extremely slim. In order to become as slim as the heroine in the film, many women must develop an eating disorder. Even then only a few will succeed and the rest will get bulimia nervosa and perhaps never achieve the super slim ideal.

It is imperative that society change its message concerning both junk food and the slimness ideal. Society has done this for tobacco, alcohol and drugs by means of a combination of legislation and public opinion. Many countries now have laws which in various ways, forbid or limit advertising of these harmful substances.

If society can successfully limit smoking by legislation, it should be possible to use the same method in the area of eating disorders. Self-control is insufficient. Legislation or some other action by society is essential if we are to prevent generations of young women destroying their lives by eating disorders. The idealization of unhealthily slim women in the mass media must be discussed together with restrictions on advertising harmful junk food.

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