The pressure on young girls and boys to be physically perfect is creating an epidemic of children and teenagers with low self-esteem and negative body image. Reporter Flip Shelton introduces us to the BodyThink program run by the Dove Self-esteem Fund and The Butterfly Foundation to help young people understand that what appears glamorous and glossy in the media is often one great big fake.
Danni Watts, Program Manager, Butterfly Foundation: And over this side, I'm going to ask you what you actually think body image is.
Flip: BodyThink is a program that's been developed by the Dove Self-Esteem and the Butterfly Foundations to help young people understand that all that appears glamorous and glossy is often one great big fake.
Julie Thompson, General Manager, Butterfly Foundation: Yeah, we don't want to tell young people, you know, don't follow fashion or don't watch TV or don't read magazines because they're going to do the exact opposite. What we're trying to get young people to do is just to be more educated and aware that when they're looking at those images that it's not really real, it's a fantasy world.
Flip: Camberwell Girls Grammar is just one of hundreds of schools across Victoria rolling out this innovative program. A lot of time is spent exposing media manipulation with this eye-opening video.
Video: You've probably heard the expression 'the camera never lies', well we've got news for you. It's all a lie.
Flip: It's all designed to help young people understand that so much of what they admire is just an illusion.
Video: Basically, there's nothing you can't change and we mean nothing.
Danni: What we see in the magazines is not real, okay. The images that we see have been touched up; have been digitally remastered; have been PhotoShopped to add to the inch of what the photograph actually looked like.
Anna (Year 8 student): With one guy, he was practically bald at the start and then by the end of it, he pretty much had like really thick, black, dark hair and he looked about 20 years younger.
Flip: They moved his chest hair to his head.
Ashley (Year 8 student): Yeah, a lot of the time, I look at myself in the mirror and it's like, "Oh, I'm not as pretty as the people in the magazines" and it makes you feel really, really pressured, but it also helps when you like talk to other people about it because they're also experiencing the same thing as you.
Kaitlin (Year 8 student):: You sort of look at them and then you look at yourself and you say, "Well, I'm not as pretty as them. Well, I don't have the same body as them." So, you realise or you might think that you aren't as pretty as them, so it does lower your self-esteem.
Flip: What these students and thousands of others are learning is acceptance of each other and themselves.
We are all born with different body shapes. Most of us are not going to be tall, skinny, fashion model ectomorphs.
Speaker 1: I'm an ecto. Some people think I'm skinny, but I'm pretty tall.
Speaker 2: I'm a mezzo. We tone beautifully.
Speaker 3: Well, I'm an endo and I'm an all-rounder.
Flip: Appreciate your body and work with it.
Speaker 2: Okay, so she has boobs. Big deal.
Speaker 3: Yes, I do.
Flip: If you have unrealistic goals, you will never get rid of those insecurities. Right, girls?
Speaker 1: She looks good. She looks good too.
Speakers: We all look good.
Flip: The pressure on young boys and girls to be physically perfect is creating an epidemic of children and teenagers with low self-esteem and negative body images, leading to some very grim statistics. For adolescent girls, one in a hundred develop the eating disorder anorexia nervosa. It's their third most common chronic illness after asthma and obesity. And the mortality rate of eating disorders is between 10% and 20%, often from suicide.
Eli (Elizabeth Best, writer) : Oh, it feels horrific. It feels... I don't think there's anything that could describe it. It was a living nightmare.
Flip: Eli Best nearly became one of those statistics. Hard to believe looking at her today. As a teenager, this outstanding basketballer won a scholarship to the Australian Institute of Sport. Three years later, still only 19, she came close to death as she fought a devastating case of anorexia nervosa.
Eli: One particular night where I'd been given just four days to live, I'd gone into cardiac arrest, I'd lost most of my hair and my hearing, along with half of my body weight, and it was at that time my mother was standing by my bedside and I actually looked at her and asked her to let me go. She looked at me at that point and took my hand and she said, “Honey, whether you see it or not, there's still someone inside of you that's worth believing in and worth fighting for.”
Flip: The power of her mother's love gave Eli the will she needed. The account of her struggle for self worth, Eli's Wings, was published five years ago. It became an inspirational best seller. A must on high school reading lists across Australia.
Eli: I think it's just really important in any situation and any challenge to find the positive in that and try to live a good life and hope that by doing so, you're helping some people along the way.