There are all manner of reasons for us to believe we are inhabiting a pretty screwed up world (like the slightly terrifying fact that Apple is officially more cash rich than the USA, for example). But as a mother of two toddling girls, hearing that children as young as five are being taken into hospital with eating disorders was chilling.
According to the stories in the nationals a couple of days ago, 98 children between the ages of five and seven have been treated for eating disorders in the last three years. In the same period, other minors admitted included: 99 children aged eight and nine; almost 400 aged between 10 and 12; and 1,500 aged between 13 and 15. The information was revealed by NHS Trusts under the Freedom of Information Act.
Shocking, eh? Those statistics wereanswered with a statement from Dr Rachel Bryant-Waugh, head of the Eating and Feeding Disorders Service at Great Ormond Street Hospital, who said that despite how the story was reported, our size zero culture is not necessarily the culprit when it comes to very young children suffering from such conditions.
I totally take her word for it that there are many psychological and (and even genetic) triggers for these serious mental illnesses; it is not only about catwalk models and diets being taken too far – anorexia existed before the arrival of all the skeletal clothes horses. Nevertheless, I think those jaw dropping numbers have to be considered, at least in part, in the context of a society where body image is everything.
Can it be a coincidence that 82 of anorexics are women)? Would it be such a huge leap to conclude that females, from a very young age, are soaking up messages about what they should and should not look like and what they should and should not be, that they take into adulthood? They are simple messages, conveyed in complicated ways: successful = thin; beautiful = thin; happiness = thin. You can have everything you want – as long as you are thin.
I remember reading about soap actress Natalie Cassidy's traumatic split with her fiancé and thinking what a bloody fine example it was of our weight obsession. The coverage pretty much went like this: "Poor Natalie. She got beaten up by, and has split up with, the father of her child. But, hey, she must be delighted at shedding that three stone!" Awful.
I'm increasingly thinking about the challenges I'll face as my daughters get older. How long before they start comparing their little bodies to those of their peers? How soon will they start aspiring to look like the stick thin idols whose pictures they'll no doubt be bombarded with? Or is it already happening on a subconscious level? Are their brains registering the skinny minnies on billboards and the sides of buses? Do they see the models on the covers of our Sunday magazines and commit the fragile outlines of their figures to memory?
Who knows? But they'll be growing up in a culture obsessed with celebrities, where the celebrities are obsessed with being thin – and my little girls are not going to aspire to be Peppa Pig forever.