For the fifth year in a row, young Australians have rated body image as one of their top three concern in Mission Australia’s National Youth survey. This distressing record illustrates the failure of existing approaches to address the growing problem, and shows the need for urgent action from governments, educators and health professionals to give young Australians a better chance of a healthy body image which, in turn, leads to a more healthy approach to life.
The strong link between negative body image, particularly in young people, and behaviours that lead to long-term mental and physical impairment makes it crucial that we focus on finding sustainable solutions that work for young people.
Negative body image is a precursor of serious social, medical and mental health issues including anxiety, depression, social withdrawal, stigmatisation and, potentially, eating disorders. An eating disorder is neither a phase young people ‘go through’ nor is it a diet gone too far. It is a serious and potentially fatal mental illness that affects nearly one million Australians. One of the most distressing things a person who has an eating disorder suffers is an incredibly low sense of self-worth. That lack of self-esteem undermines every step of the recovery process. This lack of self-esteem and self-worth is often present even when sufferers come from loving, supportive and functional families and having supportive and caring friends.
It is clear that the current approach to solving negative body image is not working and needs to be urgently re-examined. We need to find ways to make sure that next year’s results show a significant improvement.