In January I'll be giving evidence at the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image inquiry into body image anxiety in UK society. At the two-month inquiry, MPs will be quizzing the diet, cosmetic surgery, fitness and fashion industries as well as representatives from the media and advertising industries. The inquiry is an attempt "to debate the causes and consequences of body image anxiety."
The two words I'm most interested in are 'causes' and 'consequences'. Because if it's true that these will be seriously debated, we're going to be digging into areas that will make the government and the media severely uncomfortable (not to mention Weight Watchers, who will also be giving evidence). It's well known among scientists and researchers, for instance, that dieting is a direct cause of weight gain and the vast majority of people starting a diet on Monday will be certain to end up heavier than they are now.
And it's thanks to high-profile campaigners, such as Susie Orbach and her #DitchingDieting campaign and the untamed nature of the internet (which has allowed a few irrepressible independent studies to break out), that the weight-loss industry's iron grip on the media gateway has been prized open a little (hopefully breaking some fingers along the way). But the truth gets watered down when it reaches the public: the overall messages are still: "Here's what you should look like," and "Here's what you should do to achieve it." And the pressure to be thin is still universally served up to the public with a side-dish of dieting.
So while I can now openly state my favourite quote: "The diet industry is the most successful failed business in the world," in certain circles and people will readily agree, half a decade ago this was thought of as weird, especially when said to my yo-yo dieting friends who would smile blankly and tell me how many calories were in the Jaffa Cake I was eating. But it's still only an 'underground' truth, perhaps because of the seeming lack of alternatives to dieting. I think everyone's afraid if the public are told to stop dieting, everyone will go into one long binge and get so fat that we'll have to spend tax payers' money on widening the doors. The fact that dieting is causing everyone to go on one long binge anyway is being ignored.
I am hopeful this inquiry really will be an attempt to look seriously at all of the causes and consequences. If it can be said out loud in an official inquiry that manufactured ideal images and the use of underweight models in the media equals pressure to be thin, which leads to body image anxiety and that, together with diet advertising and prolific dieting advice in the media, this causes mass attempts to restrain eating which ends in mass weight gain.
And when the floodgates have opened and all this is officially admitted by the government, won't this mean urgent and immediate changes in how we deal with obesity across the board? As well as promoting positive body image and ending the media saturation of idealised images, won't we have to ban diet advertising and diet advice in the media? Won't doctors be told not to prescribe dieting to obese patients? Won't we, at the very least have to force Weight Watchers to reveal their long-term maintenance success statistics?
What an achievement this would be - finally a way out of the downward spiral caused by attempting to use a solution that is a cause. It would mean serious research could begin into a real solution.
It would be the dawning of a new era.
Excuse me while I just remove my rose-tinted specs and pack them away. I know none of this is going to happen and Weight Watchers will use their part in giving evidence at the inquiry as an opportunity for publicity, as everyone will agree that Weight Watchers is "not a diet, it's a sensible approach." They (and the rest of the diet industry) will walk out of the inquiry looking whiter than white and even more ironed and pristine than when they went in, despite their multi-billion pound profit from repeat custom as failed dieters are lured back by temporary weight losses, their refusal to release long-term maintenance statistics and making only partial disclosures of short-term success. The government will continue to advising food restriction, weighing five-year-olds in school, taking fat kids into care and doctors will continue to prescribe the diets that are causing weight gain. Consumers will still be harassed and blamed for being fat and then told to join Weight Watchers.
Oh, well. I'm still looking forward to putting forward my point of view!
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