Intended for healthcare professionals


BMA demands more responsible media attitude on body image

BMJ 2000; 320 doi: (Published 03 June 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;320:1495
  1. Helen Morant
  1. BMJ

    Broadcasters and magazine publishers should “adopt a more responsible editorial attitude towards the depiction of extremely thin women as role models,” the BMA's board of science and education said this week.

    In a report entitled Eating Disorders, Body Image and the Media it calls on the media to “portray a more realistic range of body images.” Dr Ian Bogle, BMA chairman of council, attacks the cult of “bodily perfection” perpetuated by the media in contemporary society. The report also suggests that the Independent Television Commission should review its policy on the use of thin women in advertisements and that schools should implement media literacy programmes to encourage critical viewing skills, especially in the area of food advertising.

    The publication of the report coincides with a summit on body image run by the government's women's unit. In response to public consultation with teenage girls, Tessa Jowell, the minister for women, will be hosting a meeting later this month to discuss the use of a wider range of images of women. She said, “Young women are tired of feeling second rate because they cannot match the thin ideal that they see so often in the media. For many, poor body image can lead to low levels of self esteem; for some it is far more dangerous, leading to eating disorders and other forms of self abuse.” Representatives of modelling agencies, fashion designers, magazine editors, and young women will join experts on eating disorders at the meeting.

    Some magazine editors resent the government's initiative, however. Fiona McIntosh, editor of Elle magazine, wrote in a recent edition: “It seems that Nanny Jowell and Matron Jay are to consider implementing social policy to encourage only achievable body sizes to be featured in magazines.” The June issue of Elle will feature Calista Flockhart, star of the television show Ally McBeal, who has been under the scrutiny of the world's media because of her weight.

    Eating disorders specialist and patron of the Eating Disorders Association, Dr Jill Welbourne, said, “I am glad of this government initiative in an area which is usually passed by.” She expressed concern, however, that blaming the media did not address the underlying societal change. She suggested that the roots of the problem are deeper and that the media are often used as a scapegoat for a deeper shift in perception, but she said that “a cloud of blame does lie over television, which chooses men of all sizes to be presenters, but only thin women.”

    The BMA report was compiled in response to a motion at the annual representative meeting two years ago. It highlighted the fact that eating disorders are a culturally bound phenomenon, largely associated with Western industrialised society.

    Embedded Image

    Under media scrutiny: Calista Flockhart, star of Ally McBeal


    The report “Eating Disorders, Body Image and the Media” is available on BMA Online and can be purchased from BMJ Bookshop (ISBN 0727915339).

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