Body Image Anxiety: Why We Need To Champion Fitness Over Thinness

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With the rise of social media and selfies, paired with the insatiable appetite for celebrity news and fashion magazines, it’s no wonder that the nation’s body image is dangerously low.

According to recent report, half of the population now feel anxious about their body - girls as young as five are affected, while, by 14, half of girls and one third of boys have started dieting.

And the effects of such pressure is damaging to both physical and mental health, the number of hospital admissions increased by 8% between October 2012-2013 and most school bullying targets appearance.

One way to stop this epidemic is to teach people (especially the younger generation) to champion fitness over thinness, says Poorna Bell, executive editor of The Huffington Post UK and global lifestyle head, at Wilderness Festival on Sunday.

"We need to start a healthier conversation around body image," she says.

And award-winning journalist Lucy Mangan, who joined Poorna on stage at the festival's Secret Forum tent, agrees. The issue, she says, is that people champion the thin aesthetic above all else.

“Thinness is something to be striven for and at any cost,” says Lucy. “It is not as a side effect of a healthy, active body - the aim is simply: to be thin.”

This less-than-healthy lifestyle is certainly widespread.

According to the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation, 80% of women aren’t doing enough exercise to stay healthy.

And for many this disengagement with sport and physical activity begins at school.

Speaking at Wilderness Festival, an audience member passionately summarises the importance of getting young women back into sport - whether it's running for a marathon or taking a dance class.

"Sport can be very important for girls of a young age," she says. "When everything feels so fluid and insecure, you remain grounded and know that your body can do things you want it to do - not the things other people want it to do."

Poorna is a great example of this. She says that it wasn’t until her late 20s that she began to feel more comfortable with her own body and that was due, in large part, to exercise and healthy lifestyle changes.

"When I was in my teens and early twenties I just thought I looked like complete rubbish," she reveals. "But I blame Barbie. When I was a kid I didn’t have any role models who looked like me."

Now Poorna believes there are a range of healthy role models for younger generations to look up to such as Olympic cyclist Victoria Pendleton, who told HufPost UK Lifestyle earlier this year that she exercises to feel strong, fit and capable.

Other celebrities from a non-athletic background are also getting in on the fitness zeitgeist. Everyone from model Miranda Kerr to Kim Kardashian regularly their share workout selfies.

But while Lucy recognises the importance of such a shift in conversations, she doesn’t see fitness alone as a “foolproof” protection from body image issues.

She mentions, Olympic gold medallist Rebecca Adlington was mercilessly attacked by Twitter trolls while on 'I’m A Celebrity' due to her appearance, despite being at her physical peak.

But Poorna argues that what other people say about her body doesn't matter: “Now, I've realised that I was looking for validation from the wrong things. I’m not relying on what someone else might think about me, whether it’s my husband or a stranger, I’ve got a remarkable inner strength."

In short, it's time to start seeing our bodies as fully-functioning things, not just for its aesthetic.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.