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Your body is next: NHS cuts are an assault on our human rights


Image taken from the Human Rights in Health Care website, which states the under The Human Rights Act (established October 2000) that all public authorities, including NHS organisations, have an obligation to respect and promote peoples' human rights, which is sorely missing from the current NHS cuts discriminating against smokers and the obese.By Dr. Dana Mills, AnyBody Activist

Over the past few weeks, we have woken up to various pieces of news which employ the term “obesity” in their headlines. First, we are told, the obese cost the country more than the cost of the war on terror[1]. Then, we were told, the NHS in Devon is cutting down its funding by way of barring operations from smokers and the obese[2]. These two pieces of news are two sides of the same coin. They are the sign of the retraction of the welfare state from our lives and a continued and targeted assault on our human rights.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights starts from the right to life[3]. It elaborates this right as a right to medical care, as stated in article 25:

“(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care[4] and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.”

These rights, fundamental to our basic standard of living as well as our ability to flourish as human beings, are under an incremental but powerful attack by the current government and its funding cuts. The right to health care with no discrimination is one of the pillars of the human rights regime, and attack upon it is the worrying sign of the British government’s recession from its commitment to accountability towards its own citizens. Discrimination in access to health is a human rights violation[5]

Further, this assault should be read in the context of other connections, less popular in the daily headlines but just as important for the British citizens’ understanding of their relationship with their state as protector of their basic human rights. There have been many connections between private for-profit organizations focussing on weight loss and the NHS[6].

On Thursday, August 8, 2013, BBC2 broadcasted, “The Men Who Made Us Thin”[7], a documentary about the weight-loss industry. In the first episode, presenter Jacques Peretti captures on tape Richard Samber, former Weight Watchers (WW) finance director, acknowledging the statistics provided throughout the show, according to which only 16% of consumers using WW diets maintain goal weight over five years, and acknowledging that WW survives financially by the other 84% “who have to come back and do it again”. It may be further argued that WW sustains itself financially through creating non-consensual consumption of its product. This argument may be pushed more by drawing on a range of other evidence. In her evidence in the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Body Image, Zoe Griffiths, Head of Public Health at Weight Watchers, swiftly shifts between health-based arguments and arguments presenting the company as aiming towards inducing weight loss[8].

Thus, we must return and read the discourse around obesity as effacing, growing a dependency of the British health care system upon private corporations, and further privatization of basic services without transparency of this process towards the citizen turned consumer[9]. Whenever the next headline emerges which employs the term “obesity” the reader should be worried. Not for their BMI (Body Mass Index) definition as obese or not, or other such terms often used; but by the consistent and focussed assault on their basic human rights and further liberalization of our most basic societal support networks. It is not obese we should dread becoming; it is the self-interested, insular human beings to whom the state is no longer accountable and for whose rights there is no legal protection. We are all on the way to becoming those human beings. Your body is next. 

Editor's Note: Shortly after publishing, the BBC reported that NHS Devon will drop the proposed surgery bar on smokers and the obese. 



[3] Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

[4] Emphasis added.

[5]  More information about the connection between health care and human rights can be found at British Institute of Human Rights Further, previous work on the connection between health care and equal access to human rights can be found at "human rights are about how public authorities, such as NHS organisations, must treat everyone as human beings"; "the bottom line is that human rights, like the right to life, are not a gift the NHS staff can give to patients. NHS must respect the law and all the rights contained in the Human Rights Act in everything that they do”.


[7] 45:06

[8] “A when you come to Weight Watchers and reach a healthy weight we support you free for the rest of your life, and the reason we do that is because we know that evidence shows that when you continue the support, of however it was that you lost weight in the first place, that is a key indicator for long-term success and that’s why we’ve build the system. We want you to come to Weight Watchers and when you reach your goals, to come back and regularly check in, check up on your weight, check up on your healthy behaviours so that you can sustain that weight loss”.

[9] It should be mentioned in this context that the funding towards human rights in healthcare has been discontinued since 2013. 


Why is Body Confidence Worthy of a Public Health Campaign?

The Be Real Campaign in the UKBy Holli Rubin, MSW, Psychotherapist, AnyBody/Endangered Bodies activist

If you ask me, I’ve been on my own body confidence campaign for over 35 years - long before the term had entered the public consciousness and well before awareness grew of the link between body confidence and maintaining a healthy relationship with food. I am very excited to have witnessed how we as a society are beginning to change and notice how important body confidence is in living our lives more freely.

The Government-backed Body Confidence Week took place October 13-17, 2014. One of Body Confidence Week’s initiatives is an awards event recognizing brands, organisations and individuals who have positively contributed to healthy body image. On October 16, the Body Confidence Awards were held at The House of Commons, hosted by Caroline Nokes MP, who currently chais the All Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image that I have been part of for the past few years.  The very fact that there is an entire week dedicated to body confidence demonstrates the importance and gravity of this topic today.

I was asked to be a member of a panel to judge the nominees for The Body Confidence Awards. As I sat in a room with other experts representing organizations all involved with body image and its impacts, like Girl Guiding UKUKactive, Central YMCA, Unilever and The Centre for Appearance Research, we all tried to articulate what exactly we wanted the awards to represent. In comparison with the 2012 event, which was Body Confidence Award’s first year, the amount of nominees and panel experts have grown by more than 50 per cent, demonstrating the growing momentum behind the Body Confidence movement. People are waking up to the critical role it plays in the disruption of healthy living.

Body image is a complex phenomenon and affects us all on so many different levels.

At first glance, we are our bodies.

We are evaluated on what we look like in that moment in time.

We are who we appear to be.  

But what happens when we connect or engage with someone? There is another opportunity to get to know beyond or beneath appearance. That requires time, and in our “time poor” lives, this proves challenging. We are bombarded by visual imagery and are forced to make judgements instantaneously. It is where we are seeing men and women, boys and girls portrayed in very unrealistic terms.

So… if you do not fit the very narrow beauty ideal well… too bad! Out goes the job, the date, the opportunity, the account!

Well, that is how it used to be but actually we have found a way around that, too. If you don’t fit, you can change that! Once again technology has facilitated this and through our smartphones, we can all be the masters of our own trickery as we Photoshop our pictures to fit more with what we think others want to see, never minding what we actually feel about how we look.

Is changing how we look the answer? For whom are we making these changes? Hopefully, through public awareness, we are beginning to widen the beauty ideal to include more than our current female stereotype of 5’10, blond, 26’ inch waist… because I have a secret to share with you and I want you to share this secret… the average size in the UK is a 16! This is a secret because there is shame around that number, that size. Shame because it does not fit with the fashion industry’s warped perception of who they are dressing. That is why All Walks Beyond the Catwalk exists to disband these myths by rewriting the fashion curriculum and changing the thinking of big business to incorporate a variety of mannequin sizes to realistically represent the people buying their clothing. That is what Susie Orbach, the psychoanalyst/feminist/activist and I are doing by lobbying government to make them listen to what five-year-old girls are feeling when they say their bodies are fat; when charities like Endangered Bodies are relentlessly pushing government to help support mothers during pregnancy so they can freely attach to their babies and provide them with the security and care their lives depend on; when Shape Your Culture, a project of AnyBody/Endangered Bodies UK is tirelessly approaching schools to engage with young girls to explore creatively who they are and how they feel about their bodies and to hook them in enough so they can become activists and change the world they live in. And it is why Dove continues to fund the Self-Esteem Project they began over 10 years ago….

This is all happening now and that for me shows that we are in a state of positive change. However, behind my door, I see parents who tell me their 13-year-old daughter is fussy with food so much so that she cannot focus in school, or my client who has a one-year old and sneaks around waiting for the nanny to leave so she can throw up in the bathroom before her husband comes home, or a woman who is still trying to get over her son’s traumatic birth 11 years ago and restricts her food believing that this will undo the guilt she has for having an emergency C-section. I can tell you that, ‘yes we are changing’ but these issues run deep and we have a long way to go.

Body confidence is a pressing concern that we must address, so we don’t lose a handle on another generation,

so we can give women and girls their bodies to live in,

so we can learn to love food and listen to our appetites,

so we can stop punishing ourselves for not eating the right thing,

so we can begin to recognise that skinny is not a sign that all is well, the same way that obesity is a sign that all is unwell,

so we can quiet the voices in our heads and begin to live the lives we were meant to, and

so we can stop wasting time and energy on the ‘achievement’ of being skinny but rather focus on the positive goal of body confidence.

Body confidence and how we feel about how we look is anything but trivial..... So, on October 16, when I sat in the House of Commons amongst like-minded positive body image advocates, I celebrated each and every nominee and winner, but more than their personal awards, I celebrate that the platform now exists to support the change that is so desperately needed and to continue to educate people about why body confidence matters so much! 



A Small But Significant Revolution: The Reaction to Philip Hensher's Review of ITV Drama 'Prey'

By Dr. Roanna Mitchell AnyBody/Endangered Bodies Activist UK
Image source: Screenshot

Typecasting, judging on appearance, idealizing certain physical types, the morality of the disciplined body — there is a part of me that is tired of discussing these.

I have had my share of time with them: A thesis, four years working with body activists AnyBody, and many, many conversations with all kinds of people in the performance industry and in the industries surrounding that industry.


I am tired of them, because the conversation is often circular, typical when raising anything that questions the status quo: ‘hard-wiring’ versus social construction of taste; choice versus oppression; art versus business, art and business versus life. These binaries get us nowhere, and yet the temptation is to keep circling them in the hope of coming to some definite conclusion. And every now and again something happens that reminds me that the debate is worth having, such as BBC critic Philip Hensher’s review of ITV drama Prey, in which he described the actor as the ‘fat lady detective.’


Is it unfair that actors are judged on their appearance? Or is this simply part of the job? Could we do away with typecasting? Or would that only make us long for the simplification of stable signifiers? Aren’t actors simply dealing with the same pressures we all face when it comes to the presentation of, and living in, our bodies? We are all exploited for the way we feel about our bodies, in deft constructions of what is desirable, acceptable, moral and admirable. All of our bodies are mined for profit and manipulated down to the most private recesses of our lives.

So actors experience this too. So what?


One of the answers to that is of course that actors provide the furniture for our imaginations. We understand life-situations through comparing them to similar situations from our experience, and if the real thing is not available, then we draw on stories to provide a template. Actor’s bodies are often the illustration in that template. The range of bodies represented in the stories we tell each other shapes the landscape of our imagination, be that through stories on the stage, in film and TV, or in specific areas within these such as musical theatre, ballet, made-for-TV period drama, romcoms or pornography.


So the boxes that actors are asked to fit their bodies into are simplifications that do not only affect them, as individuals. They shape our — the audiences’ — brain as well. With every actor that is cast ‘to type’, the possibilities that we have to imagine a place for ourselves in the world are simplified too.


This means that while art might be reflecting life — conforming to social expectations of who will be the hero, villain, best friend, or indeed remain silent in the background — art is also reinforcing and shaping life: those social expectations are themselves shaped by what we see in the stories that we tell each other.


That in itself is depressing. With no view that typecasting will be abandoned anytime soon, we can look forward to many more years of actors torturing themselves to make their bodies suitable for certain parts (or indeed any parts) — and to many more years of the rest of us feeling under pressure to make our own bodies suitable for the places we want to go and the ways we want to be understood by the world (There is another aspect of this narrative, which is the problem of everyone wanting to be the ‘hero’ in their story, and the options for what a ‘heroic’ body is allowed to be. But I leave that for another time.).


But there are moments of subversion, and at their best they are both the exception that proves the rule, and also the exception that changes the rule — one painful moment at a time.

An example of such a moment happened last week, when Philip Hensher decided it would be appropriate to discuss Rosie Cavaliero’s performance in Prey not by her skill as an actor, but by stating his fascination with the fact that the writers chose to create her character as the ‘fat lady detective’.

He might be forgiven (if we are very generous) for thinking this focus on the actor’s physicality apt — it is done all the time. However, in this case the critic made two misjudgements: firstly, in the real world, there is no sense in which ‘fat’ is an accurate description of Cavaliero (although again, we leave for another time the discussion about why, in the first place, it is seen as so offensive to be called ‘fat’). That he deems her fat, and that this is his main fascination with her work on Prey, demonstrates how urgently he and his kind need to be exposed to a wider range of bodies in a wider range of roles.

Secondly, reactions to his comments show that audiences expect something more from a discussion of the actor’s craft than an airing of the critic’s prejudice. Even when invited at a later stage in the programme to comment on Cavaliero’s performance the best he has to offer is ‘I wanted her to have her own series called ‘fat lady inspector’’.

Outrage on Twitter against Hensher’s review, from the makers and cast of Prey as well as its audience, caused Matthew Hemley to question in The Stage whether critics should comment on an actor’s size. Hemley makes a no-nonsense dismissal of Hensher’s comment and warns that ‘Dangerously, comments like this could also force some actors, particularly young ones, who are already working in a difficult and unstable profession, to believe they need to change their appearance and conform to an image people like Hensher believe they should have.’

Crucially, Hemley points out that ‘What Hensher might have commented on is the fact Cavaliero, in Prey, is playing against type… But did Hensher notice? Did he heck. He only seemed to notice her physical appearance.’

Hemley’s article and the debate that surrounds it are a welcome public airing of a pertinent issue, and as such there is a silver lining to Henshaw’s comment as it offered a vent for this discussion. It is gratifying to see that this instance of an actor doing a sophisticated job of playing against her conventional ‘type’ has received the support that it did, particularly when comparing it with other discussions in public forums of the pressures that actor’s face. Perhaps, through this support, the notion that only certain bodies are allowed to be seen doing certain things, has been dismantled by one more little brick. And by subverting the expectations of a critic who thinks in little boxes, a further pocket of possibilities has been opened for us, the audience.

I hope that the many actors I work with have been following this debate, and that they take courage from it. These battles are fought for all of us, and they are fought on the site of actors’ bodies who — let us not forget — are people like the rest of us.






Being female and successful, the double fault for an athlete

By Jo Harrison, AnyBody/Endangered Bodies UK activist Edited by Sharon Haywood

How are girls going to achieve or enjoy sport, movement or most importantly their bodies, if their potential role models are being savaged on social media, mocked in the press and disrespected or treated idiotically by commentators?

There is some kind of twisted logic at play here, and forgive me if I play devil’s advocate for a bit. Apparently there’s an obesity crisis in town, accompanying it there’s a hefty enough portion of steaming bile to be shared equally amongst everyone who ‘appears’ to be creeping above an ‘acceptable’ BMI, because obviously just looking at someone is a reliable way to assess their place on the discredited assessment scale (but that’s a whole other blog).

Women especially are judged harshly about their appearance, their weight in particular. This cultural attitude accounts for shouts in the street of ‘fat cow’ and ‘try a f*cking salad luv’ to unsolicited and earnest concern from colleagues ‘my sister’s just done this new weight loss plan, she looks great, do you want the details?’ to hateful bullying (online and off) of teens by their peers, which sometimes has fatal consequences. So one could be forgiven for thinking that our culture really values health and fitness*, despite having a really, really funny way of showing it.

So, when women excel and achieve in sport, we can again be forgiven for thinking that a culture which has misguided, unpleasant or hate-filled things to say about what is considered to be excess flesh, would be ecstatic that women are upping their metabolisms by running, jumping, kicking and hitting balls with rackets and bats and things…but no. While for the most part (straight, white) male athletes get accolades, female athletes get abuse about their appearance hurled at them on social media, as World Champion gymnast and Olympic medallist Beth Tweddle was subjected to on Tuesday morning, they receive disrespectful comments from established commentators and irrelevant questions about who’d they’d like to date.

But let’s face it, the problem isn’t whether women are fat or thin, still or moving, ‘beautiful’ or ‘ugly’—the problem is a toxic mixture of the following:

A sense of entitlement over women’s bodies, that women’s bodies exist for everyone but the women who them. Never mind that she should act as she sees fit within it; the truth is, thanks to our culture of sexual objectification and aggressive/insidious marketing techniques, many people feel they can pass judgment over a body that is not theirs, forgetting there is a person within it.

The stifling beauty ideals stuffed down the throats of us all about what a woman must look like, which incidentally is also making us sick. If a woman diverges from the ideal of the slim, white (but preferably tanned), blonde, large-breasted western aesthetic and dares to achieve things, this clearly makes a lot of people very uncomfortable—uncomfortable enough to hurl abuse. If she does conform and achieve, there's still every chance she'll receive abuse; this is not a win-win situation for anyone.

The very real backlash against the idea that women can be equal in our society, particularly within a male-dominated arena such as sport. Considering that Tweddle is British it’s interesting: in the UK we’re very proud of our sporting history and our (largely underfunded compared to men’s teams) women’s sport teams do really well, so if we celebrated them more readily, we’d have lots more reason to party!

And lastly, but certainly not least, the bizarre way that many, many people think it is acceptable to behave aggressively on social media, as if it were not part of the real world and so are not accountable for their words or actions. We’ve seen in horrifying detail the ways in which ‘trolls’ will attack women online who are promoting equality.

We’re basically sickened by the disrespect and abuse that women, who are doing nothing more controversial than excelling at what they are paid to do, have had to put up with. I have lots of friends with young children, and I want all of them, regardless of their gender, to see a wealth of opportunity in their futures, and feel they can explore their potential for achievement and enjoyment by trying all manner of things. We shouldn’t have to explain to them that they will have to learn to deal with abuse just to engage in something they love because they don’t fit a narrow stereotype. This is not something we should tolerate.

If you are on Twitter or Facebook, please join us in sharing the hashtag #respectsportswomen to show solidarity and support for female athletes everywhere. We need to change this conversation, we need to band together, support each other and enjoy doing it. We can all be role models by just refusing to accept this treatment of women, speaking out about it and telling those we admire how fantastic we think they are.


Since launching our Twitter campaign yesterday morning, GirlGuiding UK, the YWCA Scotland, Miss Representation, The Clare Balding Show and the No More Page Three campaign among others have publicly shown their support by sharing our hashtag. Will you join us?

*Health and weight are separate issues, maintaining healthy behaviours is more important that maintaining a certain number on a scale – please see this TED talk for more info. 


HAES-ed and Confused

Photo by Alexandra Bellick

*Every since its inception in 2002, AnyBody has been excited to see the HAES movement spread as it shares the same anti-dieting philosophy and spirit found in Fat is a Feminist Issue, written by AnyBody convenor Susie Orbach. We are pleased to assist in the dissemination of the HAES message with the following blog post*

By Amy Godfrey, AnyBody/Endangered Bodies activist

At the end of my Health At Every Size Facilitator training last week I was in Coventry in a room with no windows, having as close to a religious experience as a totally heathen non-believer like me could possibly manage. Like a beam of light through a glass of water, my world-view had been all bent out of shape and was refracting at strange angles, breaking up into tiny shards before my very eyes. Even surrounded by a group of like-minded individuals, the world seemed new and bewildering. At the end of the day I trailed silently down to the station and got on the train home feeling emotionally bruised, unsettled and more than a little bit overwhelmed.

Health At Every Size (HAES) might be an idea you are familiar with: it incorporates elements of mindfulness, such as intuitive eating, something Susie Orbach writes about so clearly and beautifully in her book On Eating. HAES is a philosophy on health that steers us away from assumptions based on appearance and suggests that a little more compassion for ourselves, and then others, could do wonders for our well-being, as individuals and on a wider scale.

The online HAES community outlines a few of the basics as being:

  • Accepting and respecting the natural diversity of body sizes and shapes.
  • Eating in a flexible manner that values pleasure and honors internal cues of hunger, satiety and appetite. 
  • Finding the joy in moving one's body and becoming more physically vital.

So far, so manageable. These are all ideas I felt comfortable with—ya, ya, self-acceptance, listening to your body, blah blah, compassion—I was down with all that stuff. I couldn’t exactly completely do it, but I got the idea and I thought it was a grand plan in theory. I knew the basics, I had the t-shirt and I was ready to learn how to teach the good word to the rest of the world: “Being fat is fine, people!” I thought I was prepared.

You probably guessed, I wasn’t prepared at all. I wasn’t prepared to face myself with such honesty. I wasn’t prepared to give up the “ideal me” that I had been striving vainly towards for virtually my whole life. I wasn’t prepared to be moved and challenged by the Health At Every Size philosophy, the enormity of its meaning and its powerful argument for change, awareness and acceptance. I wasn’t prepared to be pulled apart, pummeled and reformed, a new, more resilient me.

So, I know that it sounds a little like I just got smacked out on a heady combo of mushrooms and Marxism or signed away my first born to a fantastical cult – philosophy, you say, profundity and ideals? All that can ever lead to is a terrible come down or stockpiling for Armageddon. Well, yes…. And no.

In some ways, HAES requires such a shift in world-view that it is comparable to gaining or losing a religion. It encourages the kind of switch in perspective I associate with the fuzzy, fishbowl views and sudden epiphanies of being high.

It’s not just understanding the science of why diets make you fat, it’s asking you to abandon the binary system of good/bad, healthy/unhealthy, right/wrong that we have grown up with, and grown into, that forms the basis of our ability to categorise and understand the world. It’s asking that you not only throw out all the pots and pans of the BMI as a tool to measure health, it’s asking that you burn down the kitchen and rebuild from scratch our concept of what health is and the ways in which we affect changes to it. It’s not just re-evaluating which nutritional expert is the best. It’s insisting that we interrogate the way we value information, and make a system where different forms of knowledge, such as lived experience, are just as valuable as biomedical or academic knowledge, where teaching and learning are one and the same. It’s not just about size, it’s not just about food, shit, it’s not even just about health–it’s huge.

But on the other hand, HAES is also the small fry, the every day. HAES is having a bad day, eating a whole packet of biscuits and, crucially, not feeling bad about it. Because the problem is not eating the biscuits, the problem is the judgment that leads to the cycle of shame and guilt that follows. HAES is being able to tune in to what you need right now to enable you to do whatever it is you’re doing; to begin to unpick the difference between a tool that serves a useful purpose for you and a learned behavior. For me, part of HAES is beginning to understand when I’m mistaking a non-food need as hunger. I might think I’m hungry for cake but I might just be feeling angry and have learned to self-soothe always with food. It’s also reassuring to know that food can serve many purposes including nutritional, social and emotional, all of them valid. HAES is a tool that can help you to choose whether it’s ironing, or running or cheese—whatever it is that nourishes you and helps you fill the needs you have. HAES is keeping the faith and staying open to possibilities. More than anything, it’s giving yourself options.

It’s not easy. Sometimes I wish that I hadn’t set my feet on this path and that I could return to the comfortable discomfort of knowing that all I needed was the “right” kind of hair to be happy. It’s been a grieving process to give up the perfect me I knew I could become one day, to let go of the familiar smokescreen of fat as the root of all my unhappiness and my old friend, the cycle of dieting that I knew I could fail at so successfully. It’s hard to meet yourself where you are. If, as HAES suggests, your socio-economic status and your environment have as much impact on your health as lifestyle choices, then the problem with people’s health is as much the massive inequality in the world – in education, income, rights - and what the hell do we do about that? The day after I took the course came a crash-and-burn into despair at the seemingly insurmountable obstacles of social injustice.

But I have recovered and am putting the pieces back together, renewed and hopeful. HAES gives us the tools to be proactive at every level – at a personal level, at a peer level and politically (with a small ‘p’, y’all). It gives us agency and the ability to understand why agency is crucial to health and making positive change. HAES is a philosophy of health that is relevant to everyone and it gives us options outside of hating our bodies, beyond competing fruitlessly against ourselves or each other, and the chance to be connected with others in a powerful, compassionate way. If you can just sit with the discomfort until it settles, the future looks bright.

I’m only halfway through my training and there’s a long way to go. Accepting that you are a process, a messy, non-linear process is key. To take your eye off the physical perfection that seems tantalisingly just out of reach and to fix instead on the distant goal of equality and the broad expanse of horizon, is no mean feat. But it can make the process more pleasurable in realising that, with a switch in perspective, your ultimate destination is the path you’re already on.

I’m still afraid that if I begin to believe that this really is a genuine shift in my relationship with myself, with my body and with food, then it will escape and disappear into dust like any previous dieting ‘successes’. I am terrified, and exhilarated – the possibilities for joy and pain are all too real - but for now I will just keep putting one foot in front of the other, be brave in my contentment with myself and hope that this one, this time is for keeps.


Vogue Wants Teenagers' Perceptions to Change So It Doesn't Have To



"[in] no way do we want to pretend that we're going to try and change the way that we portray fashion."


by Jo Harrison Any-Body UK Team Member & Co-Founder of Shape Your Culture

Sunday's Independent ran a story about how British Vogue's Editor Alexandra Shulman has made an educational film to show "the difference between fashion and reality and how a fashion image is constructed", so far, so good.

We shared this story on social media as we feel that, credit where credit is due, in terms of moves toward more realistic portrayals and of understanding of the constructs that can underpin feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in many people, men as well as women. This seemed positive since what would be the point of deconstructing fashion images if there were no intention of starting to do things differently? Well, this optimism was short-lived indeed. My mother rang me and seemingly quite agitated said, 'Have you been listening to PM on Radio 4??' I had not, but she gave me the gist and I hopped on iPlayer as soon as it was available to have any hope quashed that Vogue's mission was a sign of change or intention of promoting size diversity, Holly Baxter in The Guardian sadly seems to have it right:

Perhaps it's just me who sees something sinister about attempting to re-educate young people so that a business can continue pushing what they acknowledge to be a damaging agenda. But why exactly are we supposed to swallow that the problem was with the public's perception all along? These magazines exist purely to dictate to their young audience, for a fee, what is beautiful, fashionable, desirable – and largely unattainable. Trying to tell us that their content shouldn't change, but the attitudes of their disillusioned and apparently uneducated readership should, is depressing doublethink.

During the interview on PM where Eddie Mair interviewed Shulman and Helen Goodman the Shadow Media Minister (which you can listen to here at 31:10 minutes for 7 days) Shulman came across as evasive, condescending and irritated, even tutting audibly when Mair asked her for a second time why Vogue does not use and does not intend to use models more representative of the 88% of the female population who are not a size 8 or below. (See my transcript of Shulman's comments below).

An issue that also came up during the conversation was of air-brushing. Shulman, at this juncture, took the opportunity to patronise Goodman by saying air-brushing hadn't been used for decades and that now it's digital, pretty sure that's what Goodman meant as even the most hard-core Luddite will have heard of Photoshop, but I digress. Shulman went on to say that actually digital manipulation is quite often used to make the models seem fatter, she said:

It's just to make sure that if somebody is looking so… a photographer can, light can do so much to the body so you can make a perfectly ordinary person look very bony and skinny if you light it the wrong way and sometimes we have that problem. 

"Looking so..." what, Alexandra? I couldn't help but think of this slideshow on retouching featuring models whose jutting ribs are hidden digitally. This article also comes to mind, written by former Australian Vogue Editor Kirstie Clements where she recounts horrifying stories about the high fashion world such as this one:

On another shoot I was chatting to one of the top Australian models during lunch. She had just moved to Paris and was sharing a small apartment with another model. I asked her how that was working out. "I get a lot of time by myself actually," she said, picking at her salad. "My flatmate is a 'fit model', so she's in hospital on a drip a lot of the time." A fit model is one who is used in the top designer ateliers, or workrooms, and is the body around which the clothes are designed. That the ideal body shape used as a starting point for a collection should be a female on the brink of hospitalisation from starvation is frightening.

I thought she was about to say if somebody was looking so ill, but of course she didn't.

Of course there's also Dove's video which was done quite some time ago. Now, this is by no means solid evidence, but having worked over the last year with lots of teenage girls for our project Shape Your Culture  many had seen the Dove video in school before we'd met with them and sadly, this had enlightened them, but not cured their body anxiety, so what should they do with this information if nothing is going to change? In her blog on this subject, Glosswitch eloquently states, "It’s the way in which low self-esteem is defined as yet another female flaw." We need to be honest, realising there is a problem is the FIRST step, not the solution.

My initial reservations, apart from the fact that this comes from a brand specialising in selling aspiration, was this part of The Independent on Sunday article:

Vogue's publisher, Condé Nast, is keen to court British teenagers. Ms Shulman launched a fashion magazine for teenage girls this week, Miss Vogue, packed with adverts for high street labels and luxury brands.

Perhaps it is a coincidence. I hope so, because as cynical marketing ploys go something like this would really take the biscuit.

PR aside, according to Shulman "people don't buy fashion magazines to see what they look like". Ok, but fashion magazines are full of pictures of people in clothes with the make and price of them listed, yet 88% of the population cannot see from these images how they might look in the clothes being advertised. I remember being in Borders in New York and discovering Bust magazine, and among the pleasing range of articles, was a lingerie shoot. The model had similar proportions to me (I'm big busted, big bottomed etc.) and I felt so good seeing those images; I recall physically relaxing, I didn't feel like I was mentally trying and failing to look good in clothes never designed for my body. Now there are people out there who scream 'promoting obesity!!!!!!' when people mention more representative images, but we've been fed a vast banquet of ever thinner women for years and years, but people are dieting more and the population is getting bigger, so where's the logic in that? 

To conclude, I was particularly interested when Shulman stated that one of the points of the educational material is that it "is not all about size, not everybody should want to be a model" but since digital manipulation is so sophisticated, see here and here (both enlightening and offensive in equal measure), wouldn't it stand to reason that actually--and I am playing Devil's Advocate here--anyone can want to be a model if "correcting" people is relatively simple? But that's not the point is it, despite the fact that fashion editors and art directors routinely say in defense of being un-representative that fashion is about fantasy, it's not real. Well, if stepping away from reality is the point, why can't we all get in on the act? I could be a model if Adobe Creative Suite is anything to go by, I could have four heads and wings and appear to shoot lasers from my eyes...

Interview Transcript from PM on Radio 4 with Eddie Mair Thursday 5th September 2013

[After Helen Goodman MP says she hopes that Vogue will address things like hiring more from a more diverse pool of body sizes for fashion shoots Eddie Mair asked what Vogue was doing about this issue]

Alexandra Shulman: We sell 200,000 copies of vogue a month because people want to see the images of fashion models in Vogue and er and I think no way do we want to pretend that we're going to try and change the way that we portray fashion umm interestingly in the main it's commentators that complain about it we don't get tweets, we don't get letters, we don't get emails complaining about the images in the magazine…as for the air-brushing, or the so-called airbrushing - I don't think air-brushing has been used on the magazine for several decades, what you can do is digital manipulation of types, which interestingly quite often now is actually not to make people look thinner and taller but actually quite often to make them look a little bit fatter.


Eddie Mair: Why don't you just employ fatter people?

AS: Erm because [pause, laughter] it's a good question but it's a very fine line of the fatter it's just to make sure that if somebody is looking so… a photographer can, light can do so much to the body so you can make a perfectly ordinary person look very bony and skinny if you light it the wrong way and sometimes we have that problem. 

EM: I want to ask you if I may Alexandra about the lesson plan because it's not just a video you sent [] drawn up with the help of teachers The Times says, underlining that while the average dress size of a model is an 8, only 12% of women are this size or smaller the plan urges teachers to tell pupils that only a small percentage of the population have the natural build and appearance of a model. Why not simply use some models which are more representative of the other 88% of the female population?

AS: Well I'm far more interested in talking about the lesson plan because it's the key component of… 

EM: Well this is in it so why don't you tell me why…

AS: Er um the point is that was brought up is to allow young women to discuss what they feel about the images and I think if the criticism is that we are creating any problem, what we're actually doing is we're bending over backwards to provide a forum for young girls to discuss these issues and that was the whole point of this, it's not a film. 

EM: And in this forum for discussion can you just deal with my question of why you don't use people more representative of the 88% of women.

AS: *tuts* Oh because um people don't buy fashion magazines to see what they look like, you can see what your friends look like -

EM: Have you tried?

AS: Yes we have, probably let's say we have um 150 editorial pages in every issue and I would reckon that about 60 of those 150 editorial pages are real in quotes women 

EM: What size would they be?

AS: They can be anything I mean we've had people ranging from 18 down to 8 or 6 or probably had a size 20, I mean we don't tend to ask somebody if we're doing a feature on an Opera Singer or an Engineer or a Ballerina, we don't ask them what size they are, it's not the issue, and that's one of my big points here, this is not all about size, not everybody should want to be a model.


Review of the Regulation of Cosmetic Interventions: Will They Do Enough?!

Image by Sinead FentonAnyBody has contributed to the evidence gathered as part of a review of the Regulation of Cosmetic Interventions. The call for evidence was initiated by the Department of Health after the Poly Implant Prothese PIP scandal, in which faulty implants continued to be used despite knowledge of the risks, thereby endangering patients health.

On December 31st, 2012 the Summary of this call for evidence was published and released. Beyond PIP, it highlighted other serious concerns, including:

- concerns around the products used in cosmetic procedures;

- questions around the training of those performing them;

- and the treatment and procedures for managing complications that may arise, and caring for patients who suffer from them.

When people decide to undertake cosmetic interventions they are consumers as well as patients. However, their buying-decisions may have a profound impact on their health and wellbeing, and this emphasized by the fact that the current regulatory system does not support patient safety.

Patient protection

One of the positive outcomes of the review is that now a framework is in the process of being readjusted to accurately protect the patient. This is good and welcome news.

Regulation of advertising

There needs to be a tightening of the regulations on advertising for cosmetic surgery — and this report is attempting ways in which to do this.

This is an important point, as the external influences of advertising industry and the increased visualisation of our society play enormous roles in influencing peoples perspectives on their bodies and images.

Psychological care

Are current psychological assessments accompanying cosmetic surgery sufficient? 

The review concluded that, overall, respondents acknowledged the importance of the practitioner assessing the patients motivation, but felt the current use of psychological assessments to be sufficient. But is it really enough?

Beyond the regulatory piece is the reality of the individual. To take a few steps back and take the time to understand why the individual has decided in the first place to change a part of themselves — this should be an obligatory part of the procedure. The person performing the procedure needs to ask these questions and be trained enough to know whether the patient is emotionally prepared for whatever they chose to do.

Much of the time, because these procedures are so accessible, there is not much thought put into the ramifications of being cut open and re-arranged — it has consequences both for the outside and inside of us. The outcome may be very different to the celebrated ‘growing confidence’ which many cosmetic surgery adverts promise.

Image by Sinead Fenton under a Creative Commons license. 


EATING: Encouraging Intuition not Obsession

Something we have realised with our Ditching Dieting Campaign is that ditching something you've always done, even if it's something that may not be working, is scary. So what to do instead? How to trust yourself around food without a 'plan'? Without a points structure? Meal replacements? Special recipes? We're led to believe that there's no way of doing it on our own, and enormous profits are made off the back of this common myth.

If you are moving around, living your life and listening to your own desires - eating when you are hungry, stopping when you are full, eating precisely what you need and want in that moment – then you should not feel your health threatened by being in the ‘obese’ box on a flawed BMI chart. However, this kind of intuitive eating becomes harder and harder under the onslaught of methods to make money from your body. The diet industry claims to offer comfort, support and solutions to make your world a happier, healthier place and it's completely understandable that many, many people choose to diet when in the thrall of anxiety about their bodies, something that is exacerbated by imagery in the media, gossip magazines and online news outlets that dissect bodies (women's especially) routinely as entertainment.

To help people who are dieting and are sick of it, or have given up and are not sure where to turn or for those considering dieting, we have made a free Intuitive Eating booklet to download (see below). It's based on Susie Orbach's book On Eating and gives you basic pointers to understand intuitive eating and how it might work for you. The whole book is great but it isn't practical to use discretely, so this guide has been designed (with instructions) so it can be made into a booklet or small cards, sized to fit into a credit card slot in a wallet.

Intuitive eating isn't easy and takes time, but it works for many as a way to be free of anxiety around food and to have healthy responses to all 'hungers' as we often mistake other feelings, such as boredom or loneliness for actual hunger, and food cannot alleviate such feelings for long.

Perhaps this approach might seem scary to try alone, so maybe do it with others, as one of the best things about diet groups is the mutual support people get from other members. This doesn't have to cost you a penny either: you could meet with friends to discuss how you are getting on, the breakthroughs and pitfalls, just like a regular diet meeting except you can banish the scales!

Last but not least: there are common misconceptions around the concept of eating whatever you want or are hungry for in relation to this kind of diet-free approach, and in the context of public health and the 'obesity crisis' some have criticised it as irresponsible to encourage people who are classified as "morbidly obese" to eat what they 'want'. Intuitive eating is not a free pass to stuff yourself with as much junk food as possible, or in other words, binge. Rather, it is about developing a new relationship with food and your body,

This misconception is rooted in the fact that there are no forbidden foods while practicing intuitive eating, so in the initial stages, some people’s bodies may ask for more of those “bad” foods they had previously categorized as off limits. With time and practice, those “bad” foods lose their power, so that a chocolate bar and a carrot stick ultimately can have equal appeal. Intuitive eating is about distinguishing between hungers and discovering what your body really needs by tuning into the messages we get naturally.

Learn more about our Ditching Dieting campaign and how to become part of the movement.

Download the Intuitive Eating Guide HERE.


Mini Intuitive Eating Guide


Pregnancy: A Message for Mothers-to-Be

Photo by Christian Glatz By Holli Rubin, AnyBody team member

Pregnancy is a time of hope, excitement, wonderment, anticipation as well as fragility, insecurity, and vulnerability. However you feel about it, which may actually be a combination of all those things, pregnancy is a milestone in your life.

Some women love being pregnant and enjoy their changing shape. There is a sense of joy and freedom whilst pregnant. This may be the first time you have given yourself permission to genuinely be in your body and relax about how you look. How refreshing!

Sadly, not everyone "glows" or has a neat little bump during their pregnancy. Many women feel alien to their normal sense of self. Your figure, as you once knew it, will morph into something new and different. You become your body and your body becomes a home for your unborn baby which you begin to take care of and nurture. Your body is no longer your own. Sharing yourself in that way can be amazing and warm or it may be difficult for those feeling that their space is being impinged or intruded upon. 

As you navigate your way through the trimesters your weight begins to increase and some women feel "fat" as opposed to pregnant. Acknowledging and accepting that the weight gain is a sign of health and not something abnormal is often foreign and difficult.

This may be more difficult if prior to pregnancy you exerted control over your body by restricting your food intake. However it is important to know that there are two of you now, and doing so while pregnant in an attempt to prevent any further changes to your growing body, puts you and your unborn child at risk. 

A pregnant body has a life of its own and is meant to move and change in its own time through its own rhythm. This is nature's way of growing, protecting, and keeping your baby safe, not your body betraying you.

Being pregnant affects everyone differently. There is no right or wrong way to be pregnant. However you experience this stage of your life, it prepares and shapes who you are and who you will become as a mother.  

Image by Christian Glatz under a Creative Commons license. 


Doctors and Diet Clubs are Dangerous Bedfellows

Original image by Kenjonbro - flickr creative commons.

By Amy Anderson, AnyBody team member

As the clocks chimed midnight on December 31st the grimly inevitable diet industry wheels – oiled by millions of pounds of profits – rolled into action. Forget focusing on spending time with the important people in your life, or your work, or your interests or what you’re really hungry for – people across the UK instead woke up on January 1st to the usual soul-sucking exhortations from adverts and magazine features about shifting those pounds, toning those thighs, flattening those stomachs. 

This year however these messages have not been restricted to magazines or weekend supplements. They have been screamed at us from the main media outlets: “Bulging Britain's fatness epidemic” shrieked the Daily Express; “Fat fighters” hollered The Sun; “Fat Britain: NHS can't cope, say doctors” was the ominous headline from the Daily Telegraph.

The source of these headlines is a report by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) entitled: “Action on Obesity: Comprehensive Care For All”.

The Royal College of Physicians, a registered charity, outlines its aim as “to ensure high-quality care for patients by promoting the highest standards of medical practice”. It also advises the government, public and the profession on healthcare issues.

However, the authors do not reference the report from the Body Confidence Parliamentary Inquiry held last year. Witnesses included eating disorder specialists, Weight Watchers and Slimming World, and Dr Susie Orbach, psychotherapist and the convenor of AnyBody/Endangered Bodies UK. This report’s recommendations include:

  • A review into the use of BMI as an indicator for health
  • A reframing of health message from a focus on weight-loss to health-enhancing behaviours and the adoption of weight-neutral language
  • A review of the evidence-base to support the long-term efficacy and safety of diets

But on closer inspection of the RCP report perhaps this glaring omission isn’t so peculiar.  I was shocked to see, as stated in the report’s conflict of interests section, that some of the members of the working group that produced the report – some of whom are medical doctors - have financial links to Weight Watchers UK, the Cambridge Weight Plan, Counterweight Plc and Rosemary Conley Diet and Fitness magazine.

Is it really any surprise then the report recommends "commissioning weight management services which have proven effectiveness”?

Much has been written about the ineffectiveness of dieting and the research that backs this up. 95% of people who lose weight on diets put it all back on and more within five years. This is one of the reasons we organised our Ditching Dieting campaign outside Parliament last year, timed to coincide with the diet clubs giving their evidence. Diets don’t work because diet clubs’ profits depend on us returning again and again

We are continually scolded that we’re getting bigger and that our bodies are not acceptable as they are and we’re also blamed if we go on diets and don’t lose the weight that an external authority has deemed we must get rid of. The diet industry has infiltrated the health sector and it would seem that, judging by the RCP’s report, doctors are not immune. Indeed it has been the aim of certain diet companies to influence commissioning groups within the NHS to buy in their services for their patients. No surprise really when they are being paid by the diet clubs.

The thrust towards dieting is backed up anecdotally too. I know women who have gone to see their doctors for anything from hearing problems to smear tests who get told that they’re too heavy, that they must lose weight. This is despite the evidence which shows that our weight is not an accurate gauge of our health. Please see the latest research from the Center for Disease Control at NIH which published a major review of mortality and size in JAMA ON January 2nd. This is a very different kind of post Christmas message than the diet industry would like us to hear.

We need open and transparent conversations in the health debate and it’s absolutely imperative that, in order for these to take place, our health professionals are not financially invested in the diet industry. They need to be on the side of their patients, fairly and objectively.



Smaller Than Before: The Politics of Postpartum Bodies 

Image courtesy of Marc Samsom under a Creative Commons license

By Jessica Zucker, Ph.D., Guest Contributor

A close friend of mine from graduate school was in town over the weekend, someone I hadn’t seen since I was mid-way through my pregnancy. As we briskly walked toward each other, arms outstretched, brimming with wild enthusiasm about our long overdue rendezvous, Amalia blurts out from across the toddler trafficked park, “Oh my God, look at you, you don’t even look like you had a baby! You’re smaller than you were before.”

I wasn’t sure how I felt as we hugged, in the midst of awkwardly digesting her jubilant albeit off the cuff comment about the apparent erasure of my pregnancy. The embrace was cut short as she gently pushed me back to scan every inch of my postpartum body, unable to contain her energized description of how “little” I look, how “tiny” I am – spilling with words she defines as every woman’s dream. Or more to the point, every woman’s goal. 

I want to be marked, in some way, by pregnancy, by the birth of my child. This is not to say that I would have wanted to maintain all the weight gained during pregnancy, but I do feel the body as well as the mind/psyche/heart go through a series of metamorphoses as life is being nourished inside and outside of the body.

Women are constantly shamed for their shape. Prepartum, postpartum, and never-partum. All but the smallest sizes are viewed as less than, not driven enough to surveil every morsel of food ingested, not vigilant enough to carve out time for daily workouts. Even women I know who do embody the cultural ideal – trotting around in the smallest sizes the jean manufacturers are producing these days- even they don’t feel at home in their bodies.

The droning laundry list of things that women say about how they “got their bodies back” include and sadly are not limited to: “breastfeeding is definitely what made the baby weight fly off”, “I got the food delivery service straight away. I was determined to return to my pre-baby wardrobe as quickly as possible and that way I didn’t have to think about what I was eating, it was done for me”, “I started counting calories while in the hospital. I was surprised by how long it took for the weight to come off but I feel like it’s the only thing I can control right now so my focus is sharp”, “not even a moment goes into thinking about my food intake.  I guess I lost it all while running after my rambunctious toddler. He never gives me a break.” 

Amalia is freshly married, 38, ambivalent about having kids. As she blithely puts it as she considers raising a family, “I could take it or leave it.” The ubiquity of psychological disconnection and body disenchantment is illuminated in Amalia’s detailing of my presence. My physicality is noticed first. My size is experienced and discussed in relationship to banishing pregnancy. The absence of body change is asserted as an enviable compliment. Meanwhile, my darling toddler is resting on my hip and I look into his eyes knowing that he grew inside of me and together we altered the feel and shape of my body. And then I think to myself, “Why would we want to erase that?”

Amalia provoked me to reflect on hundreds of fragmented interactions I’ve had with women since my baby was born. Women who are mothers themselves, women dying to get pregnant, women who share their horror of giving birth, “getting fat”, “staying fat”, women who asked me how much weight I gained while pregnant, my own mother reflecting on her speedy loss of “baby weight” and curious about why mine wasn’t slipping off as quickly. The dynamics of women and what we unwittingly do to each other is devastating.  Paralyzing. A cultural vestige all too pervasive.

And then of course we are inundated with endless magazine images of emaciated post-pregnancy “stars” who “got their bodies back instantly.” They pontificate about the various ways women must expunge maternity. The pride taken in shrinking one’s body at any cost is emblematic of a cultural obsession with women not being real women.

The intimacy I experienced with my body and my developing baby during pregnancy was perhaps the most compelling transformation I have ever known. It became, in a way, a metaphor for how I feel about parenthood—a striking awareness of loss of control, simultaneity of surrendering to change on a moment-to-moment basis while experiencing more joy and more fear than the heart can contain. Pregnancy and parenthood invoke an unprecedented heightening of anxiety—excruciating awareness of vulnerability, altering one’s perspective on the fragility of life, as well as a depth of love that redefines the concept. Why would we erase all of this complexity– the physical and psychological makings and markings of pregnancy and parenthood?

I am not necessarily idealizing the experience of pregnancy. I’m not saying women should necessarily enjoy gaining weight, being tattooed with stretch marks, or relish the postpartum belly jiggle. I am attempting to call attention to cultures calamitous requirement that women erase the life-giving process.

As Amalia and I make our way through the throngs of sweaty and spirited toddlers and exit the park, she turns to me and reiterates, “You’re so lucky, you look exactly like you did before.”  There’s a pregnant pause. And I say, “Actually, my body’s changed from having a baby, and that is why I’m lucky.”   

 * * *

Dr. Jessica Zucker is a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles specializing in women’s reproductive and maternal mental health with a focus on transitions in motherhood, perinatal and postpartum mood disorders, and parent-child attachment. Jessica studied at Harvard University and New York University. She is an award-winning writer and a contributor to The Huffington Post and PBS This Emotional Life, among myriad other publications. Dr. Zucker is currently writing her first book about mother-daughter relationships and issues surrounding the body (Routledge). Jessica consults on numerous projects pertaining to the motherhood continuum.



Who is the Fairest, Fittest, Fattest, Most Flawless?  

Original image by Debs via creative commons. 


By Jo Harrison AnyBody Activist

In July, we received the news of BBC3’s planned Body Image Season with great enthusiasm, as we believe there are crucial issues within this topic that need to be made part of the public debate, and the BBC is a fantastic arena to raise important issues and question common assumptions. As an organisation that focuses on the cultural and social causes of the distressed and damaged relationship many of us today have with our bodies - relationships which can limit the full potential as of people as human beings - we know that the way we perceive ourselves has a huge effect on what we feel capable of, how we treat ourselves, how we will allow ourselves to be treated and how we treat others.

We know that there are huge problems with the representation of diversity in terms of the body in our culture, especially for women, although men are definitely feeling the burn of our culture’s very narrow ideals, and much needs to be done to make sure people see themselves first and foremost as human beings who have something to contribute to the world, not to feel their potential is rendered unworthy because they don’t match up to an ever shifting (and therefore elusive) idea of perfection.

Unfortunately, upon seeing the first outcomes of the Body Beautiful Season we were concerned about some of the messages being propagated, and the opportunities missed. For one, that the season was finally titled “Body Beautiful”, we felt it sent a slightly skewed message about the cultural value of appearance. The banal tyranny of the word “beauty” stalks most women on a daily basis; in fact, the average British woman thinks about the size and shape of her body roughly every 15 minutes. Whether you’re berating yourself for not being beautiful enough or berating yourself for not waking up every morning with a body-positive “I’m beautiful” feeling of wonder at your own uniqueness, it can hover about like a bad smell. Yes, it’s a word that grabs attention and that’s probably why it was chosen, but body image is a broad topic and under such an umbrella, beauty goes hand in hand with “ugly”, in a world where the pop-cultural go-to format is relentlessly competitive we felt this had an exclusive edge. The tag line of the season, “A new season of BBC Three programmes exploring whether changing your body makes you happy” along with the title seems to suggests that changing one’s body, rather than changing one’s mind, is considered the norm in the quest for happiness.

AnyBody has been watching…


Holli Rubin, Psychotherapist specialising in Body image, watched: I Want to Change My Body

I attended a season preview of the documentary, I Want To Change My Body directed by Sam Emmery. The programme followed 30 young people aged 16-25 as they went on a personal quest to transform their bodies with the hope that the changes would make them happier. Some of the issues explored were extreme weight loss surgery, hair transplant surgery and nose jobs.  Some of the emotions revealed were anxiety, excitement, pressure and fear.  Whilst the feelings were named, they were not expanded upon with enough time and depth to genuinely understand the meaning behind why these youngsters were deciding/choosing to go forward with these drastic physical changes to their bodies. This documentary highlights body-obsessed Britain and reveals the problems through exposing the participants’ dangerous behaviors. On a greater scale, the quest for perfection is societal failure. That stops there. In fact, all of these stories might even entice more young people to consider enhancements to change their own bodies.

The question, “What happens if changing my body doesn’t change the way I feel about myself??” is asked. This is a very important and excellent question. The answers were cursory, shallow and not truly thought about. Questions like this are big and require time to reflect upon. The culture we are living in doesn’t allow for that space or time needed to properly formulate a sound decision. Besides which, there is no one facilitating this process- where are the parents? Or what about the professionals who have an obligation to ask these questions and truly be available to help young adults process the content of their feelings, and then help them weed through understanding the repercussions of their choices should they be disappointed with the outcome?

A general feeling of “needing to get rid of “or “get more of” is what the film reveals. There is no mention, no presentation or suggestion of learning to accept what you have and who you are. Learning to appreciate yourself flaws and all. The theme of striving for unattainable perfection is rampant. There was a comment made about how there is so much available to fix yourself that why wouldn’t you?

The young girl who had always wanted to have a nose job was very fixated and determined. Her excitement throughout the process was real and palpable. I could understand how desperate she was to see herself differently and that because her dissatisfaction was so specific, it felt contained and her desire reasonable; she was convinced, on side and empathic. Until a month later when she had been living in her new nose and was continuing to feel good about this new change that she revealed what I always worries about after her clients have elective surgery:  “I like my nose so much that now I think I will do my boobs - I don’t mind them really but they could be a bit more round”. Oh no, there it was,,, the moment of truth! Do these changes address underlying dissatisfaction? If after one area is “fixed” is it only replaced by yet another target for dissatisfaction? This situation mirrors what the research shows. Many of these young people were suffering from some form of Body Dysmorphia.

There was one young woman whose story was dissimilar. She was a victim of a terrible accident, which left her face scarred and disfigured. This was very different than the others who were wanting to change themselves because of their perceived disfigurement. Ironically, it was she who was the most grounded in her perspective and her reality. There was a mourning that she seemed to be going through and ultimately an acceptance of her situation. She had an accident, which left her scarred-physically and emotionally. She needs to wear a type of mask to keep her face protected and to help the skin heal. The sadness and loss were expressed. Her surgery seemed necessary, and can be validated in a different way than those of the others. 

I Want to Change my Body presented us all with a massive cultural problem, which needs addressing on many levels.


 Jo Harrison watched: Transsexual Teen Beauty Queen 

This isn’t an ideal starting point for discussing the very complex area of what it means to be transgender, since gender and sexuality are intimately linked to body image but are also enormous subjects in their own right. In an ideal world, perhaps it would not be complex at all, where gender fluidity would be an accepted human trait, and physical characteristics such as genitalia might be less of a hindrance to expressing a person’s multifaceted self. But at present such a utopia is not in sight, and what it means to be a woman is so often depressingly surrounded by on all sides by the spectre of beauty.

Eighteen-year old Jackie is seamlessly female to anyone and everyone who doesn’t have access to the chromosome codes in her DNA, and even if they did, what does that matter? She lives as she sees fit, she has done what she felt she had to do to carry on living in a world that has very divisive gender norms. She uses the term gender variant which is very pleasing, after all we know that variety spices up life, for all but lovers of absolute uniformity. The documentary was intelligent and sensitively handled, but it’s a shame that the main crux hinged on participation in a beauty pageant. Jackie’s desire to be an ambassador is brilliant, and the fact that she is funny and bolshy and stylish and swears like a sailor is awesome and shows someone well-rounded despite a very difficult childhood. However, the competitive leitmotif of this season of programming just seemed to reinforce the problems it purports to want to understand, after all, what of other transexual teenagers who may not fit the prescribed “norm” of the gender they ascribe to as successfully as Jackie?

Roanna Mitchell, Body Image Activist and Movement Director, watched: I Hate My Body: Skinny Boys and Muscle Men

This programme appeared to be merely another version of the stream of body-as-freakshow TV, comparable with Channel Four's Supersize versus Superskinny. It may make for 'good TV', however, its content encourages radical and fast-paced transformation (which can have severely detrimental psychological and physical effects). 

There are two major concerns with this programme. Firstly, it offers inspirational material for those who want to change and re-shape their muscle-mass. In the same way as individuals with anorexia may keenly retain any information that will help them to loose weight, those people whose thoughts circulate obsessively around their muscle mass may collect the 'tips and tricks' from this programme: that, if we are not mistaken, was not what the Body Image season was about.

This then leads to the second, and major concern with the programme: Skinny Boys and Muscle Men does not question the concept of an ideal body. It takes for granted that these men need to change in order to be 'happy', rather than asking the obvious question of what is wrong with a society in which a body must always  be monitored, evaluated, and forcefully transformed.

While the inclusion of men and the topic of muscle is an important part of the Body Image debate, this programme does not seem to offer anything much different to what a quick flick through Men's Health magazine can provide. Crucially, what needs to be asked iswhy these men are compelled to do what they do — simply showing how they do it, and turning it into a 'hero's journey', is not enough. 

Jo Harrison watched: Inside the Body Beautiful

The standout comment for me on this programme was the young woman, Lucy, at the beginning discussing her reason to have breast augmentation: “No, I’m not happy with the way I look and I know I can change it.” She wasn’t asked, “What if you couldn’t so easily change it?” and for many it’s not so easy, despite cosmetic surgery being more affordable than perhaps it once was, especially with many clinics offering finance, some people, approximately 3 in 10 according to a cosmetic surgery expert on another programme, are turned away from having surgery for a variety of reasons, medical and psychological. Some argue that surgery offers everyone equal access to beauty, when we do not even have equality in far more fundamental areas, this can’t possibly be true.  

Roanna Mitchell & Jo Harrison watched: Body Image & The Media on Class Clips in the Learning Zone 

This film is also offered as source material for curricular activities around body image. However, the celebrities (often role models) who told their stories within this video merely display their own dissatisfactions with their bodies, normalizing the idea that it is accepted to hate our bodies and that there will always be something we must improve on. These sorts of messages can easily serve to encourage especially young people to further doubt their adequacy (e.g. Do I have man-boobs? Should I always walk around with my chin up to hide a double chin?). What is missing here is the question of why these celebrities feel that way: where are the pressures coming from, and who is profiting from them?

In addition to this video, Nobody’s Perfect on Radio 1 Surgery website, shows deejays from Radio 1 and 1Xtra who volunteered to have their photos dramatically airbrushed to show how far images in the media are manipulated. This website offers the opportunity to distort and re-assemble bodies and faces. We believe that the playful approach to the dissembling and re-arranging of features here encourages a view of the body as an object which can be changed at will, and engages the topic of digital re-touching in a way that offers no creative and productive engagement with the subject.

Jo Harrison watched: “Free Speech” Clips “Bald vs Styled”, “Weave vs Afro”, “Buff vs Skinny”, “Implants vs Natural” and “Hairy vs Smooth”

It’s great that they got people to discuss their various choices but was a shame they added the vs element, which is frustrating, inclusiveness is key to this issue, not divisiveness. On the whole, the individuals speaking who had chosen a more natural appearance seemed more relaxed and confident than those who had chosen the more ‘high-maintenance’ route, even though some had overcome issues to get there. This is not to say that altering one’s appearance will make a person miserable, rather, it seems it is the pressure to do so that causes problems, the freely chosen modifications in some cases seemed to generate an added fear of their loss, or as a condition for being able to indulge in certain activities, like being always ready to go on holiday. On the whole good debate starters.

Jo also watched: Free Speech

Rosi Prescott CEO of Central YMCA, Sabrina Mahfouz Performance Poet and Playwright and Grace Woodward fashion creative, stylist and TV personality were thoughtful and engaging panelists. Venice Fulton, personal trainer, self-regarding “maverick” and author of 6 Weeks to OMG: Get Skinnier Than All Your Friends was largely at odds and frustrating to the rest of the panel, not least when he reduced a girl who’d nearly died from an eating disorder to tears for suggesting the title of his book promoted unhealthy attitudes and practices. He had the peculiar air of a cult leader and contradicted himself when insisting that to suggest people with eating disorders or body anxiety were vulnerable to media pressure was a dumbing-down of the issues, despite suggesting that he had to name his book very sensationally to make sure people took note, as Mahfouz insightfully pointed out. Prescott kept the debate grounded with research findings and urged for treating body distress and low self-esteem holistically: “We’ve gotta get away from ‘skinny is great’ and fat is to be vilified, we’ve got to stop stigmatising people on the basis of the way they look and their weight”. Mahfouz and Woodward were both thoughtful and sensitive in handling what for many are provocative issues.

One person watching tweeted that people should have the common sense to see that advertisements are real, but the lines between entertainment, editorial and advertising can blur to the point where a magazine article is a thin veil for an ad and a viral ad is something people share to amuse or wow their friends.

On the subject of the cause of body anxiety and media regulation, Fulton was emphatic that, “The Media” is merely a mirror of society, one that does not influence us but that is influenced by us. If that were true then advertising, marketing and spin doctoring would be not be aspirational career options. Both Prescott and Woodward disagreed explaining that the truth is more complex and we absolutely agree. In all fairness though, Fulton's metaphor was insufficient since the media's mirror-like qualities cannot be unbiased and is more comparable with a fairground hall of mirrors, mirrors after all are not all reliable in showing us our true selves, they can distort and also only present us with evidence of the two-dimensional.

At the beginning of this episode there was a great clip with Olympic athlete Zoe Smith, who publicly responded to internet trolls who criticised her appearance during the games, her attitude is great, she's smart, likeable, inspiring and accomplished, why there wasn't more of this throughout the season is anyone's guess.

Image from Wikipedia.

Beauty Sparring

The Free Speech episode was probably the high-point of the Body Beautiful season since it wasn’t concerned with maintaining any particular entertainment-heavy narrative and was open to discussion. What came up over and over again was the normalisation of cosmetic surgery, artificial enhancements and superficial “fixes”; yet the absence of questions such as, “Would you prefer to feel better without going through all of this?” or “What if there were a way to feel better without physically changing a thing?” is bewildering, especially if this is to be a one-off season rather than an introduction to more exploratory programming on what people really need to feel contented with themselves. There’s also the fact that this season, by and large, dealt with quite extreme body issues, pushing the discussion to limits where there is fear and heightened emotions around inadequacy, exclusion and health hysteria. What is also important are the issues surrounding what is becoming the norm, and many efforts to make decent change and promote body diversity (something research suggests is beneficial to all) is met with the dull thudding of obesity-scaremongering and BMI-loving tub-thumpers who insist that representing diverse body shapes promotes obesity. They seem to have failed to notice that while we’ve been fed a meagre visual diet of impossible flawlessness and ever shrinking thin models for years, we also have a very, very prosperous diet industry that seems to create more problems than it solves. 

The biggest issue was the emphasis on competition, the use of versus and pageant culture throughout the programming, the online clips and educational content reflected that which pervades much of pop-culture fare such as celeb mag staple Who Wore it Best?, or TV's Supersized versus Superskinny and Next Top Model etc. Our consumption of the idea that everything is a battle and there must be winners (which inevitable creates losers) is hugely problematic, especially when dealing with body image which is so often linked to self-esteem, a topic ill-served by lazy formatting. We’ve had a great deal of competition on our screens this year, some healthy some less so, it’s not great to see athlete’s Olympic hopes dashed, but we accept that for most people sporting prowess is only one element of a person’s worth, otherwise we’d all be racing each other to bus-stops and getting hernias showing we can carry our weekly shop to the car without a trolley. Pitting people against each other and requiring external approval, as if there is a general consensus and only a limited number of ways to being considered “beautiful” or acceptable, is one of the reasons people feel distressed enough to want to drastically change their bodies. The vested commercial interest in encouraging competition is as divisive as any means to exert or accrue power, we’re encouraged to take against one other rather than the system that suggests we’re all somehow inadequate based on a criteria that is like shifting sand.  What seemed to come up over and over was the need for those who are perceived to be somewhere outside the realms of acceptable - whether as a fat woman, a skinny man, or a transgender individual - to be able to “do what everyone else does”, which boils down to taking the format of a contest, in which there is only one winner, and apply it to themselves despite their potentially subversive power as individuals with qualities that exist beyond the edges of a mirror. Of course, being different is never easy and anyone who has ever been bullied or singled out for difference will want in some way, or at some point, to assimilate. But this is social failure on a large scale,  a failure of our society to see the beauty in people as the same and yet different, for allowing ourselves to be coerced into valuing the things that money can buy and disregarding those things which are completely recession-proof.

As an example of the media, the BBC's Body Beautiful Season seemed to be a reflection of a reflection of a reflection, suggesting we are doomed to endless demonstrations of oneupmanship, that even factual entertainment cannot see beyond the “reality” format of weeding out a “winner” from a group of hopefuls, who lay some of their self-worth at the feet of judges. If this continues, don’t we all lose?

Other related & excellent links:

Central YMCA

Girl Guiding’s role models

All Walks Beyond the Catwalk

Body Gossip

Campaign for Body Confidence

Centre for Appearance Research

Health at Every Size?



An awareness of negative messages is not enough.


Yesterday this piece: "'Ugly girl': The negative messages we send to our daughters:We tell young women that they can achieve anything they want, but the extra pressures are everywhere to be seen." by Laura Bates appeared in The Independent. It's heartbreaking and sadly very true. Most women can sympathise with the words by a 15 year old girl that prompted the piece.

"I always feel like if I don’t look a certain way, if boys don’t think I’m ‘sexy’ or ‘hot’ then I've failed and it doesn't even matter if I am a doctor or writer, I'll still feel like nothing...successful women are only considered a success if they are successful AND hot, and I worry constantly that I won't be."

As Germaine Greer wrote in her 1999 book The Whole Woman “Every woman knows that, regardless of all her other achievements, she is a failure if she is not beautiful.” I was at college when I read that book and quoted it in a presentation, I remember a fellow student named Guy being aghast at that statement, I explained that it wasn't about women being shallow, but rather that the feeling comes from societal expectations, and his precise words were "what kind of women are we raising?" Well twelve years on and things have only gotten worse. There are now a great deal of twelve year old girls who were babies when Guy and I had that conversation, who are now scrutinising and berating themselves in the mirror daily, trying to lose weight, hoping for the right kind of breasts, considering surgery once they're old enough, having absorbed so many messages throughout their young lives that makes such preoccupations not only understandable but inevitable. These messages will have come from their mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins, friends, TV programmes, advertisements, magazines, cartoons, movies, newspapers, everywhere, it's practically in the air we breathe. 

Our very own group member Holli Rubin is quoted in Bates' piece, “this is a problem of epidemic proportions. Over 60% of adults feel ashamed of how they look…when we put ourselves down in front of our children we are modelling a very negative view.  This gets passed down to children who internalize it and consequently begin to feel the same way.”

Kids listen and absorb a hell of a lot, they're sponges for information explicit and implicit, that's why most adults try not to swear around children, because they have great memories. I remember a lot of things about my mum from when I was little, I recall I was gleefully able to say "shit" over and over with impunity after she burned herself getting cake out of the oven and said..."shit"; she listened to Radio 4 a lot and I'm told I sat in my high-chair saying "Order, Order"; I remember her being tired and having headaches all the time, which I thought was normal but it was because she suffred from anxiety and depression and one of the first things I said was "Mummy I'm worried". I'm now a member of the adult anxiety and depression club, it wasn't her fault, she told me all the time that I was special and clever and I was a confident kid but her actions betrayed her words. And when school bullies swooped in, as they do for most people, perhaps there were cracks in the armour she'd tried to build for me and my confidence took a battering. But it's what we take from those external things and tell ourselves over an over that settle and spread. And those external messages come from people that love us and want to keep us safe even while they hurt themselves and they come from mass media.

Gossip magazines such as Heat and Tabloids like The Sun, that revel in celebrity culture and set out to "reveal" the truth about the lives and bodies of a privileged and notorious few, only really reveal an editorially endorsed hatred of women's bodies and a desire to capitalise on insecurities and rivalry between people who might otherwise be able to admire each other, or at least legitimately dislike each other for good reason, if for once they/we were allowed to be valued for things other than physical attributes. 

Many of us are complicit in this culture, buying these magazines even though we know they're "trashy" and mean, it can be seen as ironic, as if somehow that view renders the reader immune. The tabloid press have adapted along the same lines seeing the success of Heat and all the others (there's a reason it's often referred to by an anagram of its title "Hate" magazine) The Daily Mail's femail bar on its website drools revoltingly over the bodies of women, slavering praise on taut, post-baby bodies and spitting venom upon women who perhaps don't do their hair to go and buy stamps and so fall short of whatever contradictory ideals they're promoting that week. Like the celeb mag, the journalists peddling these opinions, who often aren't named (hmm wonder why?) write as if their inspiration is the nastiest school bully, you know, the kind who pretends to be your best friend one second only to dismiss or tear you down the next. Bullies want an audience, willing devotees, control. The best way to do that is to always make sure your victims are on the back foot, unsure of where they stand, insecure. Being consistently mean to someone is upsetting, but people can rely on consistency, you know where you stand with consistency, it's easier to say "ENOUGH" when someone's being consistent. But it's a different story with someone that charms you, promises things and tells you you're fabulous no matter what, but the next day is slagging off a girl just like you...or paying back-handed compliments. You loved the charm, you want it back, you go back for more, as long as they're poking fun at others they're leaving you alone right? Ever read The Game by Neil Strauss and the bit about "negging'?


It's a way to pick up girls. How it works is you use remarks to tap into female insecurity; Shake their confidence. Neg is a negative remark wrapped in a back-handed compliment. 

So your neg will confuse and intrigue them and maybe even shake their confidence a little bit...[Urban Dictionary]
Much mass media seems to be based on this very concept: "You're WORTH IT! Here's something to reflect that...some shampoo!" Might a college scholarship, job prospects, equality, respect, or something of actual worth reflect worth? Saying "you're great, but wash your hair" is not the way to sustain confidence or robust self-worth.

How do we fix this? There's lots of work being done, but the negative messages fall on us like avalanches, many are buried beneath. For starters it has to be seen as a serious problem and not just "easy" or "sexy" feminism. Tackling the machines that run on these messages is an enormous undertaking, the press, beauty and diet industries have enormous resources and advertising space everywhere but the insides of our eyelids, although having taken root in our brains seems to have been successful since in a recession guess which industries are reporting growth? The rhetoric of "choice" is used often to brush these issues under the carpet as if choosing to have breast implants means that one has chosen to have no voice as if that purchase renders debate moot. But the fact that it's a choice in the first place? That in itself is questionable. When it's a choice of either have your body cut open or hate yourself? It's like being asked if you'd prefer to be given a wedgie or an elbow drop, obvious the most appealing choice is neither but if that's out of the question you'd choose the wedgie right? Does that mean that people can't criticise whoever insisted you choose and exacted the punishments? Does choosing make you complicit? And even if it were so, does it mean there's nothing to be gained from getting people to feel fine as they are? Obviously there are some who stand to lose much if that were the case.

As well as collaborating as a movement we can do things as individuals, as families and as people out in the world. We can question our appearance-based assumptions of others; we can avoid engaging in looks one-up-womanship, y'know where someone says, "Oh I feel so faaat in this dress, I look awful!" and then you say "Oh don't be silly, I look awful!"; when we meet young girls we can try not to comment on their appearance even if they do look pretty, say nice things about what they're good at or ask them things about what they enjoy. These small acts are resistance made large by many people just thinking twice before speaking. Words are so powerful.

What needs to grow is acceptance of our bodies as OURS. Not public property to be dismissed for taking up space or celebrated for conforming. If we saw others caring for themselves and others as frequently as we see competition and negativity, it could grow and we would in turn influence those around us. We know our needs. We know our desires. But we have to find a way to drown out the brainwashing and really listen.

By Jo Harrison AnyBody UK 


Body confidence report out now

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image has today published its report into the causes and consequences of body image dissatisfaction in the UK today.

The report is based on evidence submitted to a public Inquiry which was conducted between November 2011 and February 2012.  It includes evidence from a range of organisations and individuals, including representatives from industry, the voluntary sector, healthcare professionals, academics and the general public; Professor Susie Orbach, convenor of AnyBody/UK Endangered Bodies provided evidence, as well as AnyBody member Sue Thomason. The report can be accessed here:

Central YMCA, a national health and education charity, will now be working with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image and a number of other non-commercial organisations to take forward the policy recommendations in a campaign which will be launched later this year which will raise public awareness of many of the issues contained in the report.

We would encourage you to complete a short survey on the website and to comment on the report  – it will help us inform the campaign we are launching later in the year.


Susie Orbach Speaks at the UN Commission on the Status of Women

UN Commission on the Status of Women 2012 Image © UK Home OfficeOn February 29, 2012 Susie Orbach, convenor of AnyBody/UK Endangered Bodies delivered the following speech at the event "Body Image in the Media: Using Education to Challenge Stereotypes" during the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York City.

© Susie Orbach 2012

I’m very pleased to be speaking here today on this historic occasion.

It has been customary for the west to bemoan and critique the appalling forms of violence practiced against girls and women in the rest of the world – FGM, rape as a tactic of war, forced marriage.

In this focus what has been overlooked have been the vicious body practices that girls and women have come to take on themselves in the west in the mistaken belief that they are doing good for themselves.

 These include:

  • Self-starvation and the often bulimic response--compulsive eating and vomiting.
  • The surgical transformation of breasts, legs, stomachs, cheek bones to conform to the latest beauty ideal
  • The use of diet and pharmaceutical products to suppress appetite
  • The botoxing of 5 year olds

The west congratulates itself on its distance from Eastern practices of foot binding which constrained and limited women. It fails to see the links between toe operations carried out now to enable women to fit into the latest 4 inch high heels.

The west smugly criticises FGM while sanctioning labiaplasty and the remaking of the genital lips which has become a growth area for cosmetic surgeons.

The west makes appeals about famine victims in the southern hemisphere but has failed to notice the voluntarily insane food practices that exist in their own countries.

The west hasn’t noticed that these are forms of violence and constraint for women. And they haven’t noticed for three important reasons.

The first is that the idea of beauty has been democratised – extended to all. The second is that simultaneously, the ideal of what beauty is has narrowed.

Beauty is no longer seen as intrinsic to the individual. Instead the individual is judged on how well she can shape herself to today’s aesthetic which is tall, white, blonde, long haired and big breasted.

The imperative of beauty traverses class and age. From 5 to 80, girls and women learn they need to look at themselves from the outside whatever they are doing to make sure they look good. This demand can produce severe anguish, self-alienation, eating problems, body distortions and disturbing mental health issues.

The third reason is connected to the other two in significant ways. It is the engine which feeds the tyrannical hold that beauty exercises on girls and women’s energies, dollars and sense of self. It relates to those industries which grow rich on creating body distress and body hatred in girls and women.

These industries look like they are benevolent and helpful. In fact they are quite the opposite.

The beauty companies, the fashion houses, the diet companies, the food conglomerates who also of course own the diet companies, the exercise and fitness industry, the pharmaceutical industry and the cosmetic surgery industry combine together, perhaps not purposefully or conspiratorially, to create a climate in which girls and women come to feel that their bodies are not ok. They do this through the promotion of celebrity culture, through advertising on every possible outlet from billboards to magazines to our electronic screens, through the funding of media outlets which can only exist because of their economic support.

Taking on any one of these industries is difficult and will pose the same kind of challenges as taking on tobacco who also portrayed themselves as health giving and benevolent. The profits of WW’s for example were up 25.3% in 2011[1]. We are talking big money. We are talking about a company whose product needs to fail in order for it to keep selling. If dieting worked you would only have to do it once. There would be no repeat customers.

As immoral and unethical as the activities of these companies are in and of themselves, the economics of growth as we currently conceive it depends upon their extending their markets. L’Oreal’s growth rate in China is 26%. They achieve this not by marketing their lipsticks and hair products to Chinese women per se but by marketing the western body as the body to have to Chinese women. They and the other beauty, fashion, media companies promote the western body to the new economies as a way of finding a place to belong in the maelstrom and confusion of modernity.

Alongside the disseminating of western ideals of beauty to Asia, Africa and South America, is the export of the consequences of these ideals: body hatred and body anxiety. This is the emotional fallout from the endeavours of these industries and the basis on which they make their extraordinary and obscene profits.

This is a not an easy target to attack. These industries are not small and their damage is great. They are mining bodies as though they were a commodity like coal or gold.  Women’s bodies all over the world are being designated as profit centres.  

As the western ideal becomes plastered over the globe we bear witness to the loss of indigenous bodies. This is a new frontier of colonialism. Mad eating is normalised. Western style bodies are revered and local bodies are swallowed up as fast as demise of local languages. We must stop it. And now.

Thank you.






[1] Weight Watchers International, Inc. (WTW) Q4 2011 Earnings Call February 14, 2012 5:00 PM ET


"Yes, We Carry Your Size"

Argentine Mannequins: Size 46 (L) vs. "One Size Fits All" (R) Photo Credit ©Sharon HaywoodBy Sharon Haywood, Director of AnyBody Argentina

In Argentina, I’m a size 44 (UK 16/US 14)[1]. I feel branded by this number. Last year when I was searching for a wedding dress, all I had to do was observe the saleswoman’s reaction when she looked my way and I knew that I wasn’t going to find anything. Almost always, I heard the same worn-out phrase, “We don’t carry your size.” In the majority of shops I’m lucky if I fit into the largest size. In other stores, they only offer “one size fits all”: sometimes it fits; a lot of the time it doesn’t. In spite of all this madness, I don’t have a problem saying that I use a size 44. I am one of the majority, I am part of the average female population. Even though I’m Canadian, I’m also of Italian descent and short in stature, so as long as I don’t speak, people think I’m Argentine. But many Argentine women have bodies similar to mine and they’ve said they would like to lose weight to be able to fit into a size 42 or even a 40. Others say that 38 is their ideal size.

This is what AnyBody Argentina’s[2] ongoing investigation has revealed after surveying hundreds of women between sizes 36 and 54. Through our research we discovered that more than 50% of women would like to drop a dress size. As well, approximately 65% have trouble finding fashionable clothes that fit. If we combine this information with the extreme lack of size law compliance[3], and the fact that eating disorders for Argentine girls and women are at epidemic levels, what we have is a profound health crisis.

When considering how to attack the issue of retailers not respecting the size law, we were guided by the quote commonly attributed to Albert Einstein: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” In this spirit, we decided to take a different route. Instead of punishing the brands with fines, we choose to congratulate those that are making a sincere attempt at complying. In July of 2011 we launched our campaign with the objective of positively contributing to the health of girls and women by singling out the brands that respect body diversity. Consumers can identify these retailers via the AnyBody sticker featuring the internationally recognized female symbol in shop windows. When we launched the campaign, we congratulated two Argentine brands, VER and Portsaid, and now we are extremely proud to add another national retailer, Yagmour, which now offers various items that range between sizes 38 and 54. Furthermore, Yagmour is committed to work with AnyBody Argentina until it achieves 100% size law compliance.

On a personal note, I am thrilled that these brands provide me with a wide variety of the latest fashions so I can now avoid the trauma of being rejected. It’s important to underscore that our campaign is designed for all women who fall within the average, in other words, women who wear up to a size 52 or 54. They only need to come across our pink sticker and they can be sure to hear, “Yes, we carry your size.”

 * * *

Página 12, a leading national Argentine daily newspaper, published the original article on January 13, 2012 in Spanish titled “65% of Women Have Problems Finding Clothes in Their Size”.


[1] When shopping in North America I typically wear between a size 6 and 10, much smaller than is indicated in conversion charts revealing sizing issues are not just an issue confined to Argentina.

[2] Part of the global campaign

[3] The current law in the province of Buenos Aires mandates that stores offer most clothing items in standardized sizes of 38 to 48.


Is This the Death of the Diet Industry? 

In January I'll be giving evidence at the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image inquiry into body image anxiety in UK society. At the two-month inquiry, MPs will be quizzing the diet, cosmetic surgery, fitness and fashion industries as well as representatives from the media and advertising industries. The inquiry is an attempt "to debate the causes and consequences of body image anxiety."

The two words I'm most interested in are 'causes' and 'consequences'. Because if it's true that these will be seriously debated, we're going to be digging into areas that will make the government and the media severely uncomfortable (not to mention Weight Watchers, who will also be giving evidence). It's well known among scientists and researchers, for instance, that dieting is a direct cause of weight gain and the vast majority of people starting a diet on Monday will be certain to end up heavier than they are now.

And it's thanks to high-profile campaigners, such as Susie Orbach and her #DitchingDieting campaign and the untamed nature of the internet (which has allowed a few irrepressible independent studies to break out), that the weight-loss industry's iron grip on the media gateway has been prized open a little (hopefully breaking some fingers along the way). But the truth gets watered down when it reaches the public: the overall messages are still: "Here's what you should look like," and "Here's what you should do to achieve it." And the pressure to be thin is still universally served up to the public with a side-dish of dieting.

So while I can now openly state my favourite quote: "The diet industry is the most successful failed business in the world," in certain circles and people will readily agree, half a decade ago this was thought of as weird, especially when said to my yo-yo dieting friends who would smile blankly and tell me how many calories were in the Jaffa Cake I was eating. But it's still only an 'underground' truth, perhaps because of the seeming lack of alternatives to dieting. I think everyone's afraid if the public are told to stop dieting, everyone will go into one long binge and get so fat that we'll have to spend tax payers' money on widening the doors. The fact that dieting is causing everyone to go on one long binge anyway is being ignored.


Any-Body in Argentina: Seeking Size Law Compliance

By Sharon Haywood

Fashion in Buenos Aires is no frivolous matter. Apart from being the fashion capital of Latin America, the first season of Project Runway Latin America was held in Buenos Aires and almost a third of the reality show’s participants were Argentine. Home-grown designers have no shortage of venues to showcase their work: Buenos Aires Fashion Week, Argentina Fashion Week, and Buenos Aires Moda all attract national media coverage. And most recently, the Buenos Aires government has launched Buenos Aires Runway, where the country’s newest designers exhibit their work via regular fashion shows and conferences. Considering what big business fashion is in Argentina, it’s perplexing that retailers sell clothes that only about 30% of average-sized women can wear.

That’s right. Seven out of ten women struggle to find their size in the latest trends. What’s more discouraging is that this reality exists in spite of municipal and provincial laws created specifically to eradicate designers’ and retailers’ preference for smaller sizes. The size law in the capital requires that retailers stock eight sizes (usually AR 36-50/UK 8-22/US 6-20) and the law in the province of Buenos Aires requires sizes AR 38-48 (UK 10-20/US 8-18); both laws mandate standardized sizing. Compliance is frighteningly low at less than 25%. Despite that the provincial law has been on the books for six years and the municipal law for two years, it’s obvious that the current consequences for not adhering to the law—fines and store closures—have not increased size law compliance. Which is why AnyBody Argentina, a grassroots movement born out of the Endangered Bodies global campaign[1] is employing an alternative tactic. 

Instead of taking a punitive approach our size law campaign focuses on the positive. Our original aim was to reward stores that demonstrated 100% size law compliance but we discovered we had set the bar too high. Over several months, our team investigated stores throughout the capital trying to find one store—just one—that fully complied with the law. We couldn’t. So we adjusted our focus and short-listed a handful of near-compliant brands, both Argentine and international to further research, with VER and Portsaid sharing the top spot. So as not to rely solely on our independent investigation of stores, we collected data by conducting interviews with teens and women both inside and outside of a major shopping center and we widely distributed an online survey[2]. The results confirmed our investigation: 50% of women shopped at the top two stores we identified.

On July 1, 2011 we launched our size law campaign by officially recognizing these two Argentine brands, VER and Portsaid for offering the most extensive range of sizes in the country. We awarded them with a sticker that can be found in their store windows, which allows consumers to easily identify women-friendly retailers. Both brands presently display the AnyBody Argentina sticker in almost 100 stores throughout the country and we continue to collaborate with the two brands to support them in reaching full size law compliance.

The reaction to our campaign has been encouraging. Within weeks of launching, the country’s three major newspapers covered our initiative: Clarín, La Nación, and Página 12, in addition to television coverage by CNN Español and Moda Bit. Even more exciting is that a major Argentine brand has approached us wanting to be recognized; currently we’re working with the brand to ensure it meets a basic level of compliance. (We have also identified other clothing brands, both for teens and women, that we would like to see displaying our sticker.) And of course, the continual feedback from Argentine teens and women keeps us inspired. My favorite to date is from Vanina C: “Thank you for defending our rights so that women have the freedom to choose.” We’re ecstatic that women have choices at VER and Portsaid but we also recognize that the current fashionable options are still limited.

On this side of the equator, spring is just a few weeks away. As the new season’s collections hit the racks we’ll be there, investigating the range of standardized sizes offered. Our commitment to achieving size law compliance is more than about eradicating size discrimination. In a country with the second highest rate of eating disorders in the world, where over 90% of women are on a diet, and more than 50% would like to be one dress size smaller, size law compliance translates to greater mental and physical health for Argentine girls, teens, and women. 


[1] Originally called Endangered Species.

[2] Data collection is ongoing.


Victory For Body Campaigners

Jo Swinson MP announced this victory in the campaign to change advertising aimed at women.

"Ban on excessively retouched ads sends a powerful message to advertisers."

"This ruling demonstrates that the advertising regulator is acknowledging the dishonest and misleading nature of excessive retouching. Pictures of flawless skin and super-slim bodies are all around, but they don’t reflect reality. With one in four people feeling depressed about their body, it’s time to consider how these idealised images are distorting our idea of beauty. 

"Shockingly, even the ASA weren’t contractually allowed to see the pre-production photo of Julia Roberts.  It shows just how ridiculous things have become when there is such fear over an unairbrushed photo that even the advertising regulator isn’t permitted to see it.  Excessive airbrushing and digital manipulation techniques have become the norm, but both Christy Turlington and Julia Roberts are naturally beautiful women who don’t need retouching to look great. This ban sends a powerful message to advertisers – let’s get back to reality.”

The Advertising Standards Agency published their decision today on complaints submitted by Jo Swinson MP on Lancôme’s ‘Teint Miracle’ foundation, and Maybelline’s ‘The Eraser’ foundation. The regulator has ruled that both advertisements must not appear in their current form again. For more information on the decision and details of the complaints,

L'Oreal rapped for airbrushed Christy Turlington and Julia Roberts ads reports Marketing Weekly

MPs are increasing pressure on the advertising watchdog to ban campaigns featuring airbrushed images if they are found to be ’socially irresponsible’, after two L’Oreal ads were withdrawn for using ’misleading’ images of model Christy Turlington and actress Julia Roberts.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled the ads for the L’Oreal owned Maybelline and Lancome make-up brands should not run in future after receiving complaints from Jo Swinson MP.

Swinson was acting on behalf of the anti-airbrushing ’Campaign for Body Confidence’, which she co-founded last year with fellow Lib Dem MP Lynne Featherstone, who has since become equalities minister.

The ASA agreed with Swinson that both ads misled consumers on the effects of the foundation make-up products they were promoting because the images of Turlington, for Maybelline, and Roberts, for Lancome, had been ’digitally manipulated’.

“This ruling demonstrates that the advertising regulator is acknowledging the dishonest and misleading nature of excessive retouching,” says Swinson.

“Excessive airbrushing and digital manipulation techniques have become the norm, but both Christy Turlington and Julia Roberts are naturally beautiful women who don’t need retouching to look great. This ban sends a powerful message to advertisers - let’s get back to reality,” she adds.

In its defence, L’Oreal admitted that the Maybelline ad did use “post production techniques” but the image “accurately illustrated the results the product could achieve”.

The campaign, which has broad support from experts and organsiations including feminist academic and writer Dr Susie Orbach and online community Mumsnet, has given a dossier of evidence to the ASA which it claims prove links between airbrushed ideal images of men and women and mental health disorders such as depression and anorexia, particularly among young people.

However, a spokesman for advertising rules CAP and BCAP says the evidence of a causal link has not yet been proven.

The ASA issued guidance to brands on the use of airbrushing in April. L’Oreal has had previous ads banned for airbrushing including a 2007 campaign starring Penelope Cruz.



Face to face 

Thinking of Botox? Please think again. Especially if you are a new Mum, Dad, grandparent or nanny.

Baby's intelligence - emotional and intellectual - develops through reading faces. Faces that move. Faces that frown. Faces that smile. Faces in which noses crinkle up. Faces where eyes follow hands. Faces where a question can be read. Where joy can be reflected. Where sadness can be seen.

For a baby to feel secure and absorb the facial expressions that are a mirror to emotional life, she or he needs mobile faces that show and reflect different feelings and different energies to play with. There is concern among infant researchers who look at how babies develop, that Botox, when injected around the brows and near the eyes in order to give a youthful lift, blocks the capacity of the adult to convey the subtlety of their feelings. But more than that, if the mother cannot show curiosity and interest on her face as she looks and plays with baby, then there is a blank where the baby should be taking in the feel and excitement of curiosity and interest itself.

We've known for a while that Botox and cosmetic procedures have their serious downsides. Some film directors have talked - off the record of course - about how the ubiquity of plastic surgery and Botox makes difficult work of trying to get those vital close ups in which the magnified face of the actor or actress, displays the delicacy of the emotions.

Of course, airbrushing and digitalising is so commonplace now that we assume that a fixed and 'perfected' face is better than the life worn version. Indeed we do it even before the face has become 'life worn'. We insert gaps in the teeth of toddlers, pretty up school photos, buy cameras with built in correctors so that by the time youngsters become teens they are planning for their first medical interventions. It is made to seem, oh so normal and oh so stress free and oh so necessary. But it isn't.

One procedure begets another and as Sarah Burge, the self-styled advertisement for the cosmetic surgery said in the Guardian recently "when you see the benefits of one surgical procedure you think, what can I have done next? I'm a bit like the Forth Bridge and I'm the first to admit it, you get to the bottom and start at the top again."

But back to babies. And mothers with faces that are partially paralyzed by Botox. There is concern that the crucial face to face contact between mothers and babies that is the foundation for learning and emotional safety in babies, could be de-railed. Neuroscientists have been studying the mirror neurone system; a group of cells that allow us to mimic the movements of others. The classic finding showed a monkey watching a scientist eating a peanut. The way in which the mirror neuron cells are activated, it is as if the monkey itself were eating the peanut. Before we have made a move ourselves, we are already absorbing the movement of the other. It imprints on us. It can be thought of as a kind of preparation as well as a communication. We look and via our mind's eye - the mirror neurone system - we embody the movement and the emotions that accompany it.

In a heartbreaking video, Dr Edward Tronick, Director of the Child Development Unit at Harvard, shows what happens when a mother presents a motionless face to her baby. The baby tries to engage the mother to relate to her. She smiles, she points, she puts her hands up to Mum and when she fails to get a response she screeches and shows a sadness that is almost unbearable to watch. In the course of less than a minute the baby goes from being happy to disconsolate. This mother, who put on her still face for the baby was able to help her recover when she started to move it again. But what happens when a mother's face has restricted movement caused by Botox? Shouldn't we be wary?

In a recently published study by Professors David T. Neal and Tanya L. Chartrand looking at facial feedback and motion, they found the surprising result that women with Botox were significantly less capable of decoding positive or negative emotions than those using a face filler or living with their wrinkles. Another experiment asked participants to put a facial mask type gel on their faces. In order to convey what they were feeling through the mask, they had to exaggerate their emotions. Curiously, in doing so, they could more accurately translate the emotions of others.

So what can we conclude? The mobile face is a must for understanding and communicating emotions; it is a must feeling oneself; it is important in the movies, it's important between adults and crucially it's important between infants and parents.

This article first appeared in the Huffington Post 

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