Episode one of Gok Wan’s ‘Teen’s The Naked Truth’ focussed on Body Dysmorphia – offering us three tragic tales of teens in anguish over their imperfect bodies.
I want to just focus on two of these cases – two girls – One a 15 year old who spent several hours a day surfing ‘pro-anorexia sites’ and another 14 year old who had been through anorexia and seemed to now be coming out the other side.
Gok Wan’s approach to dealing with their body anxiety was to firstly, literally, just sit down with them and discuss the fact the ‘beauty myth’ they were trying to obtain was just that – a myth, and that the images they saw on pro-anorexia sites and in fashion magazines were not real.
One girl aspired to be so skinny as to be able to have a gap between her inner thighs when she had her legs closed: Gok simply pointed out that even the skinniest models he knew didn’t have such a gap and that the look had been engineered in photoshop; he took another to a photoshoot to demonstrate how it took 3 hours of make-up and just as long with photoshop to create the ‘glamour look’.
At this point I have to congratualate Gok (although I’m far from putting him in the ‘National Treasure’ category!) for actually putting in the effort to educate teens out of ‘chasing the beauty myth’ and encouraging them to be happy with whatever body shape they’ve got. Recognising that body dysmorphia has social causes is certainly a positive step beyond the BBC’s advice site – which treats body dismorphia as a genetic condition - Simply stating, in answer to the question ‘what causes it’ that ‘The cause of BDD is unclear, but it may be genetic or caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain’ which can be treated through antidepressant medication, cognitive behavioural therapy or a combination of both. Antipsychotic medication is sometimes used.
However, I would have liked to have seen Gok go further in criticising the ‘beauty industry’ – at one point he was actually face to face with someone who ‘retouched’ images in fashion magazines for a living – someone who actually gets paid to create the ‘beauty myth’ – and it would have been akward, but maybe he could have probed a little? – ‘Here is evidence of a 15 year old whose anorexia seems to have been inspired by the unrealistic photos in your magazine… given the direct social harm your industry contributes to, can you please explain to me, in your view, what justifies the job you do?’ – It would be interesting to hear from the ‘myth creaters’ – On this note – The Illusionists - is a good film to look out for that will hopefully be released relatively shortly.
Also, the programme could have been more informed by statistics – there is considerable evidence that, as Gok said more than once, if you suffer from these body issues, then you are not alone! – Chapter one of the Equality Illussion by Kat Banyard is especially good on this matter – which notes, among other things that…
- 1.5 million people in the UK have an eating disorder – 90% of them women and girls
- A survey conducted by Dove of 3000 women found that 90% of them wanted to change some aspect of their body with body weight and shape being the main concern.
- One in four women has considered plastic surgery.
- The more mainstream media high shcool students watch, the more they believe beauty is important according to the American Psychological Association.
- Some studies have shown that the more a girl monitors her appearance, the less satisfied she will be with her appearance.
- Two thirds of women report having avoided activities such as going swimming or going to a party because they feel bad about their appearance while 16% of 15 -17 year olds have avoided going to school for the same reason.
Also, it has to be said that the programme oversimplified the issues somewhat – while I am critical of the ‘beauty-myth’ industry – it isn’t as simple as ‘see images of skinny girls’ – ‘become anorexic’! There could have been more recogition of this
Finally, I am not convinced by the ‘individualised therapeutic approach’ to sorting out problems that have social roots – but I will return to this in another blog…
For more info on Gok’s thoughts on the programme – see this Digital Spy interview interview with Gok Wan