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Teen anorexics in UK may be able to refuse treatment

April 23rd, 2007     by Zoe Cormier     Comments

I haven’t noticed much mention of the topic in the Canadian media - but over here in England you see news stories on eating disorders and the fashion industry almost daily. There is a movement afoot here to ban size zero models from catwalks (that’s US size zero, equivalent to a size four in the UK system).

Not simply because the glorification of excessive thinness no doubt contributes to the prevalence of eating disorders among young women. But also because in the past year several size zero models actually died as a result of their low weight (and not because of a drug overdose or any of the other afflictions of the fashionable), most notably Ana Carolina Reston.

I think we can all agree that a size zero ban would be in order (especially considering that models are usually about 5 foot 7 inches or taller). But one recent development in the public debate sure had me scratching my head: British MPs are considering a bill that would give 16 and 17 year old anorexics the right to refuse treatment. Currently their parents have the legal authority to force them into hospitalization and (if necessary) forced feeding.

Now, I’m no expert on eating disorders - but this sounds absolutely insane to me. According to this BBC news piece, anorexia is the apparently the biggest killer of any psychiatric disorder, and unfortunately only about 10 per cent of its sufferers receive help. So how is allowing teenage anorexics the right to continue starving themselves a good thing?

One expert weighs in on how maybe it really could be a good thing:

Kathryn Pugh, of the mental health charity Young Minds, said the change could even help parents by taking difficult decisions about hospitalisation out of their hands: ‘This lays down a right in law for 16- and 17-year-olds not to have their refusals overriden. ‘Parents who have a mentally ill child have the most difficult job I can imagine. But in some respects this might help some parents. To be told “Your child doesn’t want this, but you can consent for them” can lead to an irretrievable breakdown in the relationship with the child.’

Yeah, well, I’m not convinced. If 16 and 17 year olds aren’t old enough to vote or drink, then they’re not old enough to make the decision to refuse help for their mental illness. Especially considering that starvation is more likely to have permanent consequences for a 16 year old than a 25 year old. If my teenage child was wasting away, I would want the right to force them into treatment - and I would like to think my parents would have done the same for me if I had suffered from the condition at that age.

On a more upbeat note, UK clothing retailer John Lewis has announced that they are changing all their store mannequins to UK size 10 (US size 8), and are going to use a UK size 12 model (US size 10) to promote their new line of swimwear.

Lauren Moller

Just to give you an idea of how rare size 12 models are in European fashion: none of the modeling agencies that John Lewis uses had any size 12 models on their roster, so they had to use a South African model, Lauren Moller.

Moreover,

John Lewis is now going much further by pledging to use a diversity of women in all its advertising in a deliberate attempt to convey a ‘realistic’ image of what British women really look like. While the average British woman is a size 16, most models are a size 8, 10 or even 6 … John Lewis spokesman Mark Forsyth said last night that although the chain would not necessarily stop using size 8 models, it would include more variety. ‘What Dove [the skincare manufacturer] has done, promoting the very diverse aspects of women, different shapes and sizes, is very positive,’ he said. ‘It’s about health and promoting diversity. We are hoping that this will stimulate a debate about the use of fashion imagery.’

Ah, there it is, the D word: Dove. As Nicole explained in her fabulous piece on their marketing campaign in the Summer 2006 issue of Shameless, and as Megan mentioned on one of her recent blog posts, we need to be cautious about celebrating corporate efforts to “diversify” body images in the media.

Nevertheless, wherever the inspiration for the shift to larger models comes from, I’m happy that John Lewis is taking a step in the right direction. Even if it’s only through purely economic pressure, I hope other retailers will follow suit.

Tags: body politics, news flash

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