Volume 93, Issue 17

Tuesday, September 28, 1999


Web site does a body good

Choosing to trim media's slim

Choosing to trim media's slim

By Becky Somerville
Gazette Staff

Images portrayed by today's media undeniably perpetuate an unhealthy, objectifying conception of women. However, placing value on nutrition and a healthy body image for both men and women is crucial in permeating the social "ideal" that thin is beautiful.

Although Chef Point Diner, Western's online nutritional tracking system, is a starting point for students to examine their eating habits and nutritional intake, some experts maintain a line has to be drawn between conscious concern about nutrition and an obsession with weight.

Rather than embracing social attitudes which encourage women to be fixated on staying thin, the advice being given by nutritional and body image specialists is to shift the focus to health and activity.

"When I hear the term 'ideal weight' – I cringe," says Nancy Schwartz, interim president of the National Institute of Nutrition. "Whose image of ideal [weight] is it? There's no such thing. What's more important is a healthy weight."

Schwartz applauded the Chef Point Diner, saying it was a wonderful opportunity for students to take charge of their eating habits and identify ways to make improvements in the quality of their diet.

Body image for young adults and students, however, often takes priority over nutrition, says Schwartz and proper health is sacrificed in the process.

"University students are conscious and aware, but there are huge gaps between awareness and action in terms of what they do eat and other health habits," she said.

According to Schwartz, children develop eating habits very early in life and are subject to many influences including the media, their parents and their peers.

"If all contributors were consistent in portraying nutrition and healthy behaviour, young people wouldn't be so easily mislead by images," Schwartz says. She adds it is much easier to develop sound eating habits early in life than to correct them later.

"People don't just learn bad eating habits," says Carla Rice, clinical program specialist, Body Image Project, Regional Women's Health Centre, at Women's College Hospital in Toronto.

According to Rice, who treats women suffering from self-esteem and body image problems, females who identify with sub-cultures and whose ideologies are antithetical to mainstream cultures, are less likely to feel they have to be thin to fit in.

"It's not [the girls'] own insecurities which cause bad eating habits. It's the negative reactions from the outside world which make them lose confidence," Rice adds.

Amy Fishbein, associate editor of Seventeen magazine, acknowledges that young people are assaulted by many negative images – some from magazines, but most from Hollywood. According to Fishbein, however, Seventeen makes a conscious and concerted effort to reinforce a positive body image for girls.

"Our main goal is to make girls feel good about themselves in every way. It's all about self-esteem," she says.

Seventeen's Body Line section, which features information on health and fitness, never publishes diets, nor does it encourage calorie counting, Fishbein says. She added plus-size models are often included in the fashion layouts.

"We just try to give tools to be physically fit in the body they have by eating healthy and through physical fitness," Fishbein says.

Stephanie McDonald, an 18 year-old first-year student at the University of Guelph said while magazines influence her eating habits, she has been heavily influenced by her parents.

"Media does perpetuate the hype about thinness," McDonald says. "There is way more focus on thinness rather than health, but it's getting better."

Elizabeth Bright-See, associate professor and chair of home economics at Brescia College has advice which was consistent with McDonald's reality.

"People start to develop bad eating habits at a very early age. Their parents' eating [habits] have a very strong influence and the media plays a role in what the parents decide," Bright-See said.

Her advice to students maintains that nutrition needs to be looked at in perspective with the rest of life, such as stress management and exercise.

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Copyright The Gazette 1999