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31 May 2012

Call for the Church to address body dissatisfaction among women

The Church has been urged to do something about the growing levels of body dissatisfaction, following a report out this week which shows that girls as young as five are worrying about their weight and appearance.

A report produced by the all-party parliamentary group on body image and YMCA showed that girls and women are put under pressure to achieve a "body ideal" which is unrealistic and unhealthy.

It blamed the pressures placed on women by the media, advertising and celebrity culture as having contributed to the 20 per cent rise in cosmetic surgery which the country has seen in the past four years.

Liberal Democrat MP Jo Swinson, chair of the group, said: "Body image dissatisfaction in the UK has reached an all-time high and the pressure to conform to an unattainable body ideal is wreaking havoc on the self esteem of many people."

Jessie Joe Jacobs, who founded the charity, A Way Out, which works with young women experiencing addictive behaviours, said: "I'm regularly alarmed and saddened by the low opinion many young women have of themselves. I see a crisis of low self-worth and self-esteem happening all across the UK and the results of this report, although shocking, do not come as a total surprise.

"We see this leading to self-harm, eating disorders and other harmful and addictive behaviours. In my own journey to wholeness, learning who I am and whose I am was a vital ingredient in my recovery and is something we hold strongly to here at A Way Out."

But body dissatisfaction is not something which exists solely outside the Church, as many Christians are suffering from a crippling lack of self-esteem.

Jessie said: "The Church can play an important role in helping people to develop their identity and worth, yet sadly, we see our churches full of people who are struggling with these same issues. I believe it is time that we stand together to face what is happening and seek out ways to support change both within our churches and within our communities."

Emma Scrivener, a Belfast-born writer whose new book A New Name tells her story of suffering from life-threatening anorexia, said the media and culture are not solely to blame for low self-esteem, as the issues lie much deeper.

She said: "As the gap between an 'ideal' body and a 'healthy' body is increasingly blurred, body dissatisfaction has become a normal part of life. Yet it's not as simple as it is sometimes presented. Research shows that young women who already have eating-disordered attitudes turn to magazines for support.

"In other words, the media may be perpetuating a problem that is already there, instead of actually causing it. Body issues are spiritual as well as physical, and they tap into much deeper drives than a simple desire to copy the celebs. Long before the advent of plastic surgery, Paul had to address diet obsessions in Colosse, Galatia and Ephesus. This report highlights some of the issues in our poor body image and its recommendations are a useful start. But until we tackle the problem as a gospel matter, we're in danger of being just as 'skin deep' as the media we blame."