Media’s role in body image

THE celebrity-driven “size zero” phenomenon is having “serious effects” on Ireland’s young people with more than 7,000 Irish teenagers now suffering from eating disorders, a leading expert will tell a conference in Cork today.

Chief executive of the Bodywhys support group, Jacinta Hastings, said the Government must take the issue more seriously.

Addressing a conference organised by the Cork Mental Health Foundation, Ms Hastings will warn that the power of magazines and televisions over young people’s body image is very strong.

“To the extent that media messages like advertising and celebrity spotlights help our culture define what is beautiful and what is good, the media’s power over the development of self-esteem and body image can be incredibly strong,” said Ms Hastings.

“Media messages reinforcing the notion that ‘thin is in’ may not directly cause problems like eating disorders but they do help to create the context within which people learn to place a value on the size and shape of their body,” she said.

The conference is taking place as part of World Mental Health Day and will discuss the impact of negative body image and low self-esteem on young people.

A conference to discuss similar issues last week heard how one treatment centre sees at least two cases of children under the age of seven developing eating disorders each month.

Psychotherapist and head of Eating Disorders Ireland Suzanne Horgan said her Wexford-based centre has dealt with about a dozen cases of children aged six and seven in the past six months.

She said the age of children presenting with eating disorders is getting younger and younger.

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