Australian positive body image activists get criticized... for being too pretty. Can someone really be too attractive to advise young women?
Last month, Australia’s official body image advisory group released a proposed National Body Image Strategy, outlining a number of initiatives devised to help the nation’s women accept and love their bodies. At the helm of the plan: Minister for Youth Kate Ellis, who developed the National Advisory Group on Body Image, along with chairwoman Mia Freedman, a former Cosmopolitan editor, and model/TV producer Sarah Murdoch.
The report includes a number of fantastic ideas, including a voluntary industry code of conduct on body image which recommends “using healthy weight models, realistic and natural images of people and disclosure when images of people have been digitally manipulated” and “encourages advertisers, the media and the fashion industry to promote more positive body image messages.”
As far as I can see, only good could come from such well-intentioned public health strategies, especially considering the millions of young women currently battling eating disorders and the countless more struggling with body image issues and disordered eating.
Sadly, though, the message is getting lost in the shuffle being created by a few detractors, who maintain that Ellis, Freedman and Murdoch are too pretty to give body image advice.
Indeed, the three ladies are well-groomed, well put-together and, yes, quite good-looking . (Would we expect less from a model and a fashion magazine editor-in-chief?) But here’s the problem with the aforementioned line of thinking: They’re confusing being pretty or thin with having a good body image. This simply isn’t the case. A sea of conventionally attractive—even downright beautiful women—spend their days worrying about their weight, obsessing over calories eaten and hours exercised. These women starve themselves and beat themselves up and abuse drugs just like their less-than-gorgeous or plus-sized sisters. And if some of these women are able to get help, to strengthen their inner resolve and do the difficult work and emerge recovered/ing, happy and healthy, well then, who better to speak out and help lead other women who stand in their old shoes?
The argument that only a non-pretty or non-thin woman is qualified to give body image advice also disrespects the pain and turmoil that any woman with a poor body image endures on a daily basis. For example, on You’d Be So Pretty If…, Jami, a reader, commented, “It may be wrong of me, but I just can't [take body image advice from a pretty woman]. I can't listen to a beautiful, thin woman telling me to accept myself, because she's never lived through all that. She may have big ears or small breasts. But she's never had her own family tell her that she'll never succeed at anything because she's too fat. All that has happened to me and then some.”
Not to take away from the pain Jami and others like her have endured, but I’m 5’11”, wear a size 8, and guess how many times I have been called a “fat ugly cow”? Countless. Not by strangers, granted (though a classmate did call me a fat cow in fourth grade, a cruel comment which has stuck with me ever since) but by myself, in my own mind. As a body image writer who struggled with an eating disorder in college and still, like nearly all of her friends, had bad body image days here and there, I have endlessly beat myself up for what I’ve perceived as flaws in my physique.
Eating disorders are psychiatric, often fatal diseases that prevent sufferers—no matter how they look—from seeing themselves as they truly appear. It’s a horrid way to live. After doing the hard work and getting help, I’m recovered. I can spot a woman with an ED a mile away because I have walked her path. I know her tricks, her inner struggle. I’m willing to share my experiences and speak out and why shouldn’t I?
Ellis penned a letter in response to the blame game, saying, Murdoch and Freedman “are hot. Like really, really hot. But I don’t reckon that fact takes away from their years of experience, their first hand insight and the value of their contributions on the subject of tackling negative body image.”
I’m not calling myself hot, but I am qualified, as are Ellis and her panel co-members. Bottom line: Heavy girls don’t have a monopoly on body image issues. It’s an issue that affects us all.
Pictured above: Mia Freedman and Sarah Murdoch
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