Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Australian Newscaster's Suicide Linked to Anorexia

29-year-old Charmaine Dragun, a newscaster for Australia's Channel 10, committed suicide last November. She had a thriving career and marriage plans, but her family and close friends are now revealing that Charmaine struggled with depression and anorexia. She was taking anti-depressants at the time of her death. Her mother recalls that Charmaine became dangerously preoccupied with her weight in college after some construction workers whistled at her.

"She kept walking, of course, but she also heard some comments," Mrs Dragun said. "The comments were 'She's pretty good looking isn't she - except that she's got a fat arse, what a shame'. This seemed to be the trigger."

Comments like those certainly don't cause eating disorders, but they're called triggers for a reason. According to those closest to her, Charmaine was already prone to depression and perfectionism. The ingredients for an eating disorder were there, and hearing that she had a 'fat arse' set the behavior in motion.

That's why we all have to be kind with our words, and make a conscious effort to push back against a culture that has made it so acceptable to scrutinize people's weight. Celebrity tabloids, weight loss and plastic surgery makeover shows, and mean-spirited gossip blogs have trained us to believe that construction worker-style comments about women's bodies are okay. This tragic story should wake everyone up to the fact that they're not. You just never know how deeply those jabs will wound the person on the receiving end. [ABC News]

Friday, April 25, 2008

Is it Possible to Define "Disordered Eating" in a 4-Minute Clip? The Today Show Tried

Talking about disordered eating is challenging, because it encompasses such a broad range of behaviors that are so "normal" and commonplace to so many women (3 out of 4 women are disordered eaters according to the Self study). Could you make the case that the way most women relate to food and weight is disordered, and do that convincingly in a morning show segment? It's no easy task. Tell us what you think of this interview.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Self Magazine Disordered Eating Study on the Today Show Tomorrow

We just heard from eating disorders researcher Cynthia Bulik, Ph.D. that the Today Show will air a segment tomorrow a.m. on the recently released Self Magazine survey--the one that reveals how rampant disordered eating is among U.S. women. Set your Tivos.

Australian Government Releases Body Image Code of Conduct

The Victorian Voluntary Media Code of Conduct on Body Image was just officially launched in Australia. The code contains four clauses that address the following issues:

· The use and disclosure of altered and enhanced images;
· Representation of a diversity of body shapes;
· Fair placement of diet, exercise and cosmetic surgery advertising; and
· Avoiding the glamorisation of severely underweight models or celebrities.

Youth Affairs Minister James Merlino urged the media, fashion and advertising industries to adhere to the guidelines, though of course a voluntary code means that there are no penalties for ignoring it. “The many expressions of support across these industries is encouraging, but there is much to be done if we are to address body image issues in the media that can have devastating effects on young people’s lives," said Merlino.

Here's hoping that the Australian media and fashion industry will take the responsible route. But while we're waiting to see how that pans out, it's pretty clear that their government is seriously committed to raising awareness about body image issues. The Brumby Government's Go for your life initiative has committed $2.1 million to body image programs over the next four years. They also give mini grants of $5,000 to body image programs run by and/or aimed at youth ages 12-25. One of last year's recipients was Girls Together, a project started by a group of 12 to 16-year-old girls. [Media Newswire]

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Three Out of Four American Women Have Disordered Eating

A new survey by Self magazine in partnership with the University of North Carolina shows that sixty-five percent of American women between the ages of 25 and 45 report having disordered eating behaviors and an additional ten percent reported symptoms consistent with full-blown eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. The disordered eating behavior in this study cut across racial and ethnic lines and was not limited to a particular age group either.

So basically what this means is that the majority of women in this country are experiencing serious distress related to food and weight. This distress is so normalized and validated that most women probably don't even recognize it as disordered. Women turn to makeover books and TV shows instead of support groups. Girlfriends talk to girlfriends about their latest extreme diets, but it doesn't occur to them that they could (and should) talk to therapists about how often they feel genuinely depressed about their weight. When we feel bad about ourselves, we think weight loss is the solution. But more often than not, our weight loss attempts only make us feel worse--physically and emotionally.
  • 75 percent of women report disordered eating behaviors or symptoms consistent with eating disorders; so three out of four have an unhealthy relationship with food or their bodies
  • 67 percent of women (excluding those with actual eating disorders) are trying to lose weight
  • 53 percent of dieters are already at a healthy weight and are still trying to lose weight
  • 39 percent of women say concerns about what they eat or weigh interfere with their happiness
  • 37 percent regularly skip meals to try to lose weight
  • 27 percent would be “extremely upset” if they gained just five pounds
  • 26 percent cut out entire food groups
  • 16 percent have dieted on 1,000 calories a day or fewer
  • 13 percent smoke to lose weight
  • 12 percent often eat when they’re not hungry; 49 percent sometimes do
[Science Daily] [Self]

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Vogue Weight Watchers: Who Will Be Their Next "Project"?

Mariah Carey has a new album and she just surpassed Elvis Presley's record as the artist with the most number one singles in the U.S. Oh, but guess what else? She's thinner! And the kind soul who "inspired" her to slim down is none other than Vogue editor Andre Leon Talley.

Mariah went on Oprah last week and alluded to a certain bitchy comment made by a certain someone--a someone Oprah obviously knew, judging by her "girlfriend, I hear ya" eye roll (Oprah was allowed to appear on the cover of Vogue only after she agreed to lose twenty pounds). Mariah didn't name names on the show, but she spilled the beans to Us Weekly. Talley is identified as the one who told Mariah that she was looking chubby (at a size 8). So naturally she commenced the semi-starvation and grueling workout routine to drop three dress sizes.

And remember last fall when Anna Wintour called the design duo Rodarte to suggest that they go on a diet and see a trainer? She picked up the tab for that makeover, which was just featured in the April issue of Vogue.

There's something really depressing about all these powerful, accomplished women rushing to lose weight when Vogue declares that they are too fat for fashion. I don't fault anyone for wanting to get healthier or be more active, but come on. Mariah has just reached a record-breaking career milestone and her Us Weekly cover is about how she has "her teenage body back." I'm calling this one a Heartbreaker. [Back in Skinny Jeans] [New York Times]

It's Not Just a Girl Thing: John Prescott Talks About His Bulimia

Former U.K. deputy prime minister John Prescott has admitted that he suffered with bulimia for twenty years, a struggle he details in his forthcoming autobiography.

"I've never confessed it before. Out of shame, I suppose, or embarrassment - or just because it's such a strange thing for someone like me to confess to," he said. "People normally associate it with young women - anorexic girls, models trying to keep their weight down, or women in stressful situations, like Princess Diana." The reality is that men in stressful situations resort to disordered eating, too. It's just not talked about as much. The National Eating Disorders Association estimates that 10% of patients treated for eating disorders are men. But there are certainly many more men who aren't reflected in that statistic--men who are ashamed to come forward because of the stigma attached to having a "woman's problem."

We will echo the praise of many other eating disorder experts and advocates who have thanked Prescott for his honesty. Hopefully his admission will open the door for other guys who might be afraid or embarrassed to seek help. [Guardian]

Monday, April 21, 2008

Congratulations! It's a... Flat Tummy! And That New Baby is Kinda Cute, Too.

The obsession with celebrity mommies' "post-baby bodies" has reached new heights. Ladies and gentlemen, we submit this headline as Exhibit A: "Halle Berry's Post Pregnancy Body and Baby Nahla Debut."

That's right. The baby is no longer the star of the show. Now mommy's body is the main event. Forget those adorable munchkin cheeks and teeny tiny outfits. We want to see how teeny tiny mom is. Every freakin' new baby story includes the obligatory mention (and often it's a detailed list) of what diet and exercise regimen mommy is adhering to. Is there some kind of underground bootcamp where A-list mothers hide out from the paparazzi while they diligently prepare for their first public appearance? We know there's that whole bonding with baby thing you're supposed to do in those first few months, but whatevs. Clearly that boring story doesn't sell magazines. So get back on the treadmill, Halle. The public is itching for your big debut. [7 Confessions]

Friday, April 18, 2008

France Has Eating Disorders Legislation. What is the U.S. Doing?

France has officially passed a law making it illegal to promote extreme thinness through pro-ana websites. While critics argue that penalizing these sites will stigmatize sufferers, Health Minister Roselyn Bachelot sees this as a way for the government to French government to take a stand against what she views as life-threatening behavior. She also plans to require doctors to conduct eating disorder screenings on children, starting at the age of 12.

Two of France's most high-profile families have been personally touched by eating disorders. Former president Jacques Chirac's eldest daughter has suffered with anorexia for many years. And in 1995, news anchor Patrick Poivre d'Arvor's 19-year-old daughter committed suicide after a long battle with anorexia.

So what is the U.S. doing about eating disorders? There are certainly plenty of high-profile Americans who have suffered from eating disorders. Just turn on Entertainment Tonight or flip through a celebrity magazine, and you'll see a story about someone "in a battle for her life" or someone who is "dying to be thin." Where is our government in all of this? Try to get insurance coverage for eating disorder treatment and you'll find out exactly how big of a mess our health care system is (if by some miracle you haven't uncovered that fact already). And while eating disorders are a much-buzzed-about media topic, most family doctors still aren't educated on how to spot the signs and symptoms. But there are advocates who are working to change that. If you think the U.S. government should play an active role in eating disorders research, treatment, and prevention, go to the Eating Disorder Coalition's website and sign up for their newsletter. We just did.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

What Do Halle Berry and Cate Blanchett Look Like Un-Retouched?

Human. And gorgeous, too. These before and after photos will give you a nice jolt of self-esteem when you see how even the most naturally beautiful women (and men!) in the world aren't perfect enough to pass magazine standards without some heavy-duty retouching. Go here and click on "portfolio" to see what we're talking about.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

If I'd Known Then: Write a Letter to Your Younger Self

If you could write a letter to your younger self, what would you say? What advice would you offer? What mistakes and learning experiences would you share? Magali has a letter in Ellyn Spragins new book, If I'd Known Then: Women in Their 20s and 30s Write Letters to Their Younger Selves, and you're invited to write one, too!

Marie Claire is hosting a contest--the three most inspiring letters will be published in the magazine. There are just a few days left until the contest deadline, so fire up those laptops, ladies. Here's all the info you'll need, including Ellyn's tips for writing your letter. Good luck!

Erykah Badu's Guide to the Making it in the Music Biz: "Just Be Buck Naked Somewhere With Glitter On You and a Beeper."

Oh, Erykah. If only your tongue-in-cheek advice for girls didn't ring so true. You forgot the bikini waxes, though. [Entertainment Weekly]

Monday, April 14, 2008

V-Day 10th Anniversary Celebration

We wish we could have been in New Orleans this weekend, because Eve Ensler's 10th anniversary V-Day event was clearly the hottest spot on the planet. A giant, glowing vagina set the stage--literally.

Author Nancy Redd covered the event for Jezebel. Take a look at what went on down there, so to speak. [Jezebel]

Thursday, April 10, 2008

France to Outlaw Pro-Ana Websites

Promote eating disorders as a "lifestyle choice" in France and you could be looking at a fine of up to €30,000 and a two-year prison sentence if you "provoke a person to seek excessive thinness by encouraging prolonged restriction of nourishment" to the point of risking of death or damage to health. The prison term is raised to three years with a €45,000 fine if the person dies.

"The pro-ana movements which spread their messages of death on the web must be the target for special attention," said French Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot. "Waif-like, diaphanous, transparent bodies on the walls of our towns, in our magazines and on our computer screens are exerting their power of harmful fascination on our society."

It remains unclear how this law will be enforced, and the nature of the internet makes it impossible to truly ban these kinds of damaging messages. As soon as you shut one site down, ten others will appear to replace it. But what's interesting here is that the law is based on another piece of French legislation that makes it illegal to abet a suicide. With this new law, the French government is recognizing eating disorders as serious, life-threatening mental illnesses and declaring that it is criminally abusive to play into someone's vulnerabilities with pro-ana b.s. But pro-ana websites are usually started by people who are caught up in disordered eating and looking for validation. So in case after case, the criminals and the victims of these crimes will be one and the same. It's a tricky one. What do you think? [The Australian]

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Congressional Briefing on the FREED Act (Federal Response to Eliminate Eating Disorders)

In cooperation with Representative Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), the Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy & Action will host a Congressional briefing tomorrow (4/10, 4:30 p.m. ET) on the FREED Act, A Federal Response to Eliminate Eating Disorders. This comprehensive eating disorders bill addresses research, treatment, and prevention services. The briefing is free and open to the public, so if you are in the D.C. area, here's the link to register. While we can't be there in person, we've got some sources on the inside, so we'll post highlights as soon as we can. We'll also keep you updated on what you can do to support the bill.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Jamie Lee Curtis Poses Strapless, Not Topless

Jamie Lee Curtis was on Oprah yesterday talking about her AARP cover, and more specifically about how the photo shoot has been widely promoted as topless. "What the f*** are we talking about? In my world this constitutes strapless. And yet they had to sell this magazine. I didn't go around saying I was topless," she told Oprah. She's right. We ran the "topless" headline with our original post, and Oprah admitted that her producers put together a "Jamie Lee poses nude" promo. It's a cheap hook to get people's attention, but it misrepresents reality and totally misses the point. Sorry, Jamie. We feel bad about buying into all that salacious crap.

Jamie also spoke candidly about her experiences with plastic surgery, including an eye lift she had done at 35 after a camera man looked at her and said "I can't shoot her today" because she was too puffy. "I did it all, but it doesn't work because you still look in the mirror and you see the fraud of what you were trying to do," Jamie admitted. Today, the actress is on a quest to expose the truth about our shortcut-obsessed culture and advertising messages that try to sell women on the idea that products, clothes, or plastic surgery will bring us happiness.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Hearst Teen Launches

As this prom season approaches, Hearst is spreading some good prom karma with its new Donate My Dress website, which allows girls and women to donate formal dresses to girls who might not be able to afford new ones.

Remember how Molly Ringwald gave an old prom dress her own special 80s twist in Pretty in Pink? Well, you never know how a crafty teen might be able to transform a bridesmaid dress you'll never wear again. OR you could be extra generous and donate the stylin' dress that's been hanging untouched in your closet for longer than you can remember. There's a chance you might wear that one again. But come on, you know you probably won't. [Donate My Dress]

Photoshop Bloopers

We talk a lot about how retouching is widely used to make bodies look unnaturally slim and faces appear impossibly smooth. But did you know that Photoshop also has the power to remove a baby's legs? Photoshop Disasters is an addictive new blog that documents the most over-the-top ridiculous retouching jobs and points out exactly where the retoucher went wrong. We're hooked.

From our point of view, it's worth noting that the very existence of a Photoshop bloopers blog is evidence that there is a "right" (read: so no one really notices) way to retouch--that the illusion of perfection achieved is typically just believable enough so as to not look freakish. And that's the kind of retouching we're all absorbing on a daily basis. For every one of these slip-ups, there are thousands of other manipulated images that don't catch our attention. [Photoshop Disasters]

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Denise Richards Bans Fat Talk for Her Daughters' Sake

Denise Richards is on the cover of April's Shape and she tells the magazine that one of her most important roles is helping her daughters develop a healthy body image. "They'll never hear me say, 'Mommy's feeling fat today.' That kind of attitude just makes young girls grow up to be dissatisfied with their bodies," she says. She is okay with having her girls appear in a reality show, but that's another post...

Over at FitSugar, nearly a hundred women have shared their own stories of how their mothers' body image comments have positively or negatively affected their own self-esteem. The post's author agrees that moms should keep "their 'Do I look fat?' comments" to themselves, but we're wondering something else. What if instilling positive body image in our children wasn't so much about shielding them from how bad we feel about our bodies, but showing them how much we appreciate what our bodies can do for us and how comfortable we feel in our own skin? Of course in order to that, we've got to stop beating ourselves up and start getting our body image issues in check before we become moms. And yes, that will be an uphill battle in this "get your pre-baby body back quick" culture.

Curbing negative body talk in front of children is undoubtedly an important first step. But let's not lose sight of the utopian prize (we like to think big over here)--a day when moms can pass along a healthy body image because they truly feel good about themselves, and they're not just pretending or holding back because it's the right thing to do. [Fit Sugar]

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

British Magazines May Face Restrictions on Retouching

Magazine editors in the U.K. have agreed to meet with their trade association to discuss a code for the use of retouched photographs. This move is part of a series of recommendations that came out of Britain's Model Health Inquiry, an initiative established by the British Fashion Council and led by Baroness Kingsmill, who concluded that retouching could “perpetuate an unachievable aesthetic." While it's not bloody likely that there will be total ban on retouching, we are certainly curious to see what they come up with and how it impacts the images we see on the glossy pages. [The Times]

UPDATE: The Australians have gotten in on the action, too. The Victorian Government's media code of conduct on body image will discourage the use of Photoshop and other tricks to change the shape and appearance of women in the media. Their code will be released April 18th.

Australian Association of National Advertisers executive director Colin Segelov, who was on the committee that formulated the voluntary code, said it addressed "concerns that images in the media should not set up such false expectations and aspirations as to cause danger to young women." [MSN]

So where is the U.S. in all this? Apparently we're still on the poreless, fat-free, wrinkle-free side of the argument. Let's hope that changes soon.

Eve Ensler Asks: Are You "Good" or Are You Great?

The countdown is on for the star-studded V to the Tenth anniversary event in New Orleans on April 11-12. But before bringing Superlove to the Superdome, Eve Ensler talked to BlogHer for an exclusive podcast that covers the past, present, and future of V-Day.

What we love about Eve Ensler's work is that she so effectively connects body image with a sense of personal empowerment and ultimately our ability to make meaningful contributions in the world. Here's how she breaks it down: As women, we have a choice to make. We can be good or we can be great.

Good women are nice, polite, and well-behaved. They don't make trouble and they rarely speak their minds. They live according to others' expectations, spending their energies trying to squeeze into others' beauty ideals.

Great women stand up for what they believe in, speak their own truths, and are aware that there are people who might not like them while there are others who will love them. They embrace whatever size, shape, color, and age they might be. Great women stand proud.

Most of us are raised to be good, so being great is not exactly a breeze. It's something we must work for. And sometimes it's something we must fight for. According to Ensler, we can't afford not to fight for this greatness. "If we really are serious about saving the human species, which is in desperate straits right now, take the energy, the time, the money and attention you spend on fixing your body and direct it toward fixing the world," she advises. Listen to the full interview. [BlogHer]

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Anna Wintour Says Models Today Are Pale, Thin, and Joyless

Anna Wintour was not impressed with the models at New York Fashion Week. "Overall, they were pale and thin and entirely lacking in the joyfulness and charm that once defined the supermodel," she writes in the April issue of Vogue. "This is, of course, not their fault: Designers now near-uniformly favor a non-vivacious, homogenous ideal." Oh, snap. And therein lies one of the central problem with tackling the fashion industry's too-skinny beauty standards. The good news is that we've gotten to the point where even the most powerful industry leaders recognize that something is awry. The bad news? Everyone thinks someone else is responsible.

Designer Bradley Bayou, whose daughter suffered from an eating disorder, is calling for a cease fire in the industry blame game. "If everybody takes responsibility and everybody works together, we can change it. In other words, the designers and the editors and the modeling agents and the models' parents and everybody gets together and decides, 'This is not a healthy thing. We must change it.' Then, hopefully, we can." We'll second that. [CBS News]