My 21-year-old daughter is a bonny enough lass, a fit and healthy tee-totalling non smoker. After two hours of exercise today she announces she wants to diet and makes a list of the kind of foods she thinks we should be buying and the foods she now wants to cut out of her diet. I look up from my paper and urge her not to stray from her current, largely vegetarian, balanced diet, arguing it provides for all her needs. But no, she’s been watching the women in the dance videos she has and wants to look like them.
I turn back to my paper, turn the page and bam! There in today’s Observer there is a two-page focus on depression and how it effects women. I read her a chunk of it:
“Evidence suggests that serotonin, the neurotransmitter that regulates our moods and emotional processing, operates differently in men and women. (Low levels of serotonin are closely associated with mood disorders.) According to Catherine Harmer, research fellow at the Department of Psychiatry at
“The brain makes serotonin from the amino acid tryptophan, which we derive in small doses from food; when women diet, they experience a much greater drop in serotonin levels than men. The low-carbohydrate diets so popular among young women are especially dangerous. It seems women can't win - we're miserable because advertising and fashion tell us we're not thin enough, so we diet, our serotonin levels plummet and we end up properly depressed.”
I remember I have more on the subject and I access one piece, from the thousands of newspaper articles I have cut and pasted into word documents, a piece that appeared in the Observer back in November and which focused on the growing problem of child anorexia, highlighting the plight of an 8-year-old who almost died of the condition. The article carries a poignant passage:
“In the absence of sound research as to the disease's cause, the best experts can do is hunt for clues among common characteristics of sufferers; mainly females with obsessive, perfectionist characters. It seems likely, however, that genetic, biological and environmental factors contribute to the cause and Dawson [Dr Dee Dawson, that is, founder and medical director Rhodes Farm in north London, Britain's first and largest residential clinic for child anorexics}is particularly concerned by the admiration lavished by the media on models who have achieved a body size zero.”
I print the piece off along with an extract from my previous posting on the subject and give it to her, hopeful she will put behind her food fetishes and shite-filled glamour magazines and dance videos presented by people who could get into a Barbie costume. Her mental health is far more important.
And for any less-than-perfect woman reading this, to reiterate from my Beauty Myth piece:
“…today’s beauty culture creates needless anxiety for people, women in particular, maintaining that if you don't look perfect, or make some effort to improve you appearance, there must be something wrong with you, that you lack self-respect and have “let yourself go”.
“All of this needless anxiety, stress and concern with, what is after all truly superficial, represents a terrible waste of human energy. How much good is lost to society for the want of a little confidence and self-esteem is anyone’s guess. Again, we can only speculate how far the working class have been steered away from their historic mission by the obsession with such false needs.
”What a wonderful tool of suppression the master class have at their disposal – our opinion of ourselves. What marvellous instruments of counter-revolution are the insecurities we have and which they know they can target. What better distraction from the really pressing issue in life – how to establish a world free of waste and want and war and to displace from power our ruling elites – than to deflect any outward thoughts the workers have inwards and on to themselves. There are many ways we can help shape the socialist society of the future in the here and now. One is to recognise that there are powerful forces at work night and day (the media and advertising industries, cosmetic companies and food manufacturers, for instance) with only one objective in mind – to profit by making us feel less than normal.”