These are a selection of questions and answers that have arisen from conversations between contributors and newcomers to the aims of Anybody.
What is AnyBody’s purpose?
We are not a highly polished group but a network of women concerned with enabling women to feel like they actually have a right to live peacefully in their bodies. We see the assault on women's bodies as both subtle and all pervasive and as damaging as bound feet. For us it is not that girls and women are passive idiots responding to consumer culture without reflection, but that the visual world is so omnipresent that in becoming female one has to engage with it in complex ways. For example we regret a situation in which mothers are so undermined by those industries which breed body insecurity that unwittingly they pass on to their daughters a sense of femininity and of being female that is inflected with worry about the body. We want to change this.
How do you see www.any-body. org helping?
It is bringing an area often not taken seriously to feminist discourse and action. By setting up a web site offering information and an open forum Anybody insists that these are political matters, not trivial. The export of body hatred around the world is one of the West's most successful exports.
Are there alternative forms of information exchange to target audiences and raise awareness ?
Yes of course, particularly useful is electronic networking and subverting the messages that we are being force-fed. AdBusters is a good example, and making use of open sources like YouTube in addition to working with commercial companies to change. Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty is another example. But government and funding regulators also need to work towards change. We want sustainable bodies and we want to make sure that fashion schools, the food industry, the diet industry and the advertisers are made accountable if they continue to exploit and perpetuate body hatred.
Psychotherapists Birgitta Johansson and Mary-Jane Rust delve into the major issues surrounding self-image that made the founding of Anybody important to them.
Why are so many women suffering from low self-esteem and how does this link to eating problems?
MJ: This is a complex question that relates to the history of Western culture, where women are used to their bodies and appearances being evaluated rather than their skills and ambitions have come to feel inferior to men. Women rely on having the 'right' size body (which varies according to the times we live in) to feel successful.
Is having a body image problem a disease?
MJ: Only in the sense that they are 'ill at ease' with their bodies. But it is not a physical disorder, although there may well be physical problems which result from continual dieting.
B: Images are produced by trends and attitudes towards women. These can form a pressure on women that lead to psychological stress. Eating disorders might become one way of coping with pressures on how the body is supposed to look.
How can doctors help?
By being able to spot the symptoms of an eating problem in a person who might be complaining of other things, and by supporting the setting up of support groups within their surgeries. Also, by recognizing that recovery is not attained by going on diets.
How much does the problem cost the economy?
MJ: Impossible to cost this entirely, but we have written a report to this effect. (Costing the Invisible - Report for Anybody Jan-Apr 2003 ) There are inevitably days lost at work, inefficiency at work etc.
B: Women are held back by focusing on their bodies rather than work, ambitions and other important areas of life.
How can you reduce the suffering?
By having a nationwide education programme about how one might recover from this problem, which would address the difficulties at a societal level. There has already been a response to from TV programme makers to air documentaries on super-dieting, or the effects of anorexia especially children. There should also be further regulation on advertisements for weight-loss products and unhealthy food. Any advertising that promotes a sense of body hatred, or incites the consumption of junk food to you children should be banned (as it has been in Sweden). Funding could enhance the development of educational and therapeutic programmes to help sufferers in all kinds of ways, and study initiatives in other countries or areas of health such as those that have been launched to stop drug addiction and smoking.
Should you force people to eat sensibly?
It is important that every person has an awareness of what foods their body needs to be healthy, but as we well know, it is impossible to force people to eat in any way. However, the way in which our society packages unhealthy foods does not help the individual. You might say that currently the individual is being forced to eat rather UNsensibly through current advertising!
Does everyone have to get into therapy for this sort of thing?
Not at all. For some people therapy might be the only way of helping. But for many, to be in some kind of support group where people can learn about, discuss and air their feelings around these issues might be enough to help them work their way through. And of course there are ways in which society can change to help prevent a future of body insecurity.
Once you have suffered from an eating problem is it ever possible to get completely better from it?
Many women do recover.. but it is a lifelong task to stay comfortable with one's body if different body sizes in women are not taken for granted.
How can anybody get away from worrying about their body size?
There are several ways to establish 'body security'. Firstly, stop relying on others (diets, people etc) to tell you what to eat, when, how much etc. Start to trust your own body. Learn how to listen to different kinds of hungers: emotional hunger, physical hunger. Learn how to respond to emotional hunger without using food. Understanding that success, feeling good inside, finding the love and nourishment in your life, is not dependent on being thin. Check this out in your own life experience. It's true!
Are eating problems to do with the relationship we have with our mothers?
MJ: Yes, in as much as most daughters tend to identify with their mothers, so that if mother is insecure in her body, goes on diets, etc, then probably her daughter will learn that this is
part of being an adult woman. And this can start at a very early age.
B: Too many children are given food instead of attention and encouragement.
How can we help our children/daughters not to start this treadmill of hating their bodies and dieting, especially when they are surrounded by it at school?
We could have educational programmes for them at school that focus on emotional literacy and food/body image education. Programmes should also be set up to help mothers from the moment they begin to nurse their newborns to guide them away from passing anxieties around food to their children. It is important to promote visual literacy in schools that allow both girls and boys to understand what motivates advertising and how manipulated images of the perfect face or body are fabrications of an industry. We need to surround ourselves with more diverse images of women in the media.
Do you think the problem is going to get worse?
As Western-style tv and advertising are inevitably exported around the globe, the problems associated with the visions they promote have been proven to influence young people and change cultures for ever, especially with regard to how women regard their bodies. This situation will get worse if we do not attend carefully to what is happening and press for change now.