Happy New Year! And like all new years, the media is filled with unique and innovative ways to encourage us to change our lifestyle and embrace our new and better selves.
Of course, these changes are admirable, and improving oneself is a worthy and important goal, whether that’s by learning a new skill, tackling a bad habit or just deciding to become that bit more organised.
However, often it is not these lifestyle changes that are marketed but instead the more superficial goals, and by that I mean the changes to one’s body.
New Year, Same Old Body Shaming
Despite waves of feminism and hashtags of body positivity, like clockwork on New Year’s Day, the marketing for the “New Year, New Body” emerges from the woodwork. Advertisements for low-calorie snacks, intensive workouts and even appearance altering surgery inundate the social media pages and wiggle their way into our stream of consciousness. While these diets and fads adopt different strategies, their thesis statement remains mutual; the healthiest bodies are the smallest ones.
We live in an age of constant information. Social media has allowed us to access knowledge at a rapid and unnatural pace, oftentimes denouncing the facts as an afterthought. Industries no longer have to just manufacture a product, but then also attempt to market it to a generation of mindless scrollers. These factors culminate in the fear factor permeating our advertising. The subtle body shaming in advertisements, where the smaller person eats their product while the plus sized model follow the competitors, the title of “sins” being granted to less nutrient dense foods in weight loss programmes, the ease at which very real illnesses such as diabetes and coronary heart disease are misconstrued to sell a product with “low sugar”, that may contain tens of other more threatening additives and preservatives. Subconsciously, we are fed to agree with their narrative on appearances and this is posing terrible consequences.
If these brands and weight loss programmes actually worked, would they still be in business, and turning major profits each year for your loyalty? Of course not, because a healthy lifestyle revolves around balance. There is no doubt that healthy food and exercise is imperative for good health,but restricting your food intake and obsessing over numbers will do the opposite. Any trained medical professional or nutritional expert will corroborate that all food is positive for the diet as long as it’s eaten in a balanced way. And afterall, it is the trained medical professionals that hold the knowledge, not the marketing department of a weightloss company or the naive fitness influencer on Instagram.
Reframe Your Social Media
Of course though, social media is not all bad and some accounts are rich with feel- good content that will actually inspire you to improve your life, like @elladaisey on Instagram. Originally from New Zealand but now living in London, Ella is a nineteen year old recovering from an eating disorder and body image related issues.
Her Instagram is rich with feel-good content as she chronicles her recovery and her overall experience with growing up and moving to London alone. Her stories provide an insight to her daily life and its challenges as she bravely shows no reverence with showcasing her bad moments as much as the good ones, giving her followers a glimpse into her real life and helping them to not feel guilty for not being perfect all the time.
Ella’s content evokes inspiration in her followers and radiates compassion and understanding for those struggling with similar issues to her. She is certainly worth a follow for a daily dose of real New Year’s inspiration!
But Ella’s story is just one of far too many people who suffer the consequences of eating disorders and an unhealthy relationship towards food. Global statistics have shown that eating disorders affect 7.8% of people globally, with adolescent girls being the most affected with a startling 4% of them tackling the illness. But as the mental health condition with the highest mortality rate worldwide, are we doing enough as a society to help those struggling with eating disorders and prevent others from its effects?
While most of us are familiar with anorexia nervosa, there are several other types of eating disorders including bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, pica, orthorexia nervosa and others. Due to social media and the prominence of untrained “influencers”, who often share damaging advice or severely undernourished What I Eat in a Day videos, presenting their opinions as fact, many symptoms go unnoticed and are even normalised in society today. From excessive weighing of food, to over exercising, to only eating at certain times of the day to the constant stream of praise being given for weight loss, even the sufferers can get confused about whether their eating patterns are disordered or not.
So as we embark on a new year, let’s focus on making meaningful changes to our lives. Take up a new hobby, cut down on screen time, spend more time with friends and disregard the swarm of influencers and brands asserting that you must shrink instead of grow.
If you feel that you or someone around you may be suffering from an eating disorder or similar, remember that help is always available. Websites such as BodyWhys (Helpline is 01 2107906) and the HSE provide valuable information as well as doctors or other medical professionals. They are always willing to help and if Ella’s story has taught us anything, it’s that Recovery is always possible!