The story of most significance to the health and wellbeing of girls this issue is the reporting of results of a survey of 1000 of Girlfriend’s readers who were asked how they felt about their appearance.

Among the findings are:

  • 25% don’t like what they see in the mirror
  • Only 9% “proud of the way you look” (‘proud’ seems an odd word to use in the survey, given GF a page before tells us genetics means we can’t help how we look)
  • 45% have been on a diet, 56% have skipped meals, 35% have cut out a food group, 19% have thrown up after eating
  • 32% have overexercised
  • 45% know someone who’s been diagnosed with an eating disorder, 5% of readers surveyed have an eating disorder
  • 67% said they feel bad when they compare themselves to their friends
  • 65% said they feel “self-conscious” about their bodies
  • 96% wanted to change a body part (69% wanted to change their stomachs)
  • 94% say there’s room for improvement when it comes to how they feel about their appearance’, 66% of those said losing weight would help.
  • 75% have been victims of negative comments made about their bodies

What strikes me about the three page feature is that there is no critique of the culture which sends girls toxic messages about themselves. There’s no mention of the growing body of research that point to, for example, media representations which objectify women and girls as a significant factor in body image issues.

No mention of the National Body Image Advisory Group report (Girlfriend’s editor sat on the advisory group) and recommendations which appear to have made little difference.

Why isn’t GF asking the obvious question: why has its own so-called ‘radical’ approach to body image seemingly had zero impact on how girls feel about themselves?

What does GF offer in response?  More positive self-talk. Giving compliments. Telling yourself over and over that you really are beautiful. “After all, the only person who can improve your self-worth is you. We believe in you!” says GF.

That’s all very nice. But it’s having no real cut-through in a magazine whose emphasis continues to be on looks, beauty and fashion.  The magazine is still part of the mostly one-dimensional beautification industry.

It’s not that there is no room at all for positive self-talk. But I don’t believe this is enough. I wonder if girls will think it is their own fault if they can’t fight against an orchestrated, multi-billion dollar industry that deliberately creates feelings of inadequacy and then preys on this? Co-director of BodyMatters Australasia, Lydia Turner, comments:

 It is saying that those who succumb to poor self-worth are somehow ‘weak’ and misguided, when in fact we know from research that poor body image and disordered eating patterns are becoming the norm amongst children and teenage girls. Public health initiatives have to address multiple levels – effective initiatives require more than telling the victim she just needs to stop being so negative and give herself more compliments. 

Girlfriend has made some positive changes, I acknowledge that – no diets, no catwalk models, more readers used in the pages, disclosing airbrushing (sort of). But as  I’ve written before, the “SELF RESPECT reality check” has become farcical, for example, revealing that Lily Collins eyebrows have their own twitter account, or that a shoot location had to be moved three times because of rain, just isn’t going to make a dent in this major public health issue (read disaster).

An earlier editorial by editor Sarah Cornish’s heralded GF’s new approach:

…there’s no doubt that more and more of you are telling us that you don’t feel great about your bodies and taking advertisers and media to task when they alter images to make them look unrealistic [emphasis mine]. So, we have decided to take a stand and say enough with the hating (of our bodies and each other) and take a positive approach. Girlfriend is committed to being 100 per cent honest when it comes to images in our pages [mine again]and to staying virtually retouch-free, so you never have to feel that you need to look like a model to look good.

So what do you see when you first open this month’s issue? A full page image of the flawless face of a young woman, with impossibly long eyelashes, advertising mascara. If Girlfriend is truly “taking a stand” why does advertising continue to be except from its “strict body image policy”? Why is there no disclosure relating to airbrushing of ads when GF’s editor says the mag is “committed to being 100 percent honest”?

I counted six images of women in the magazine who didn’t conform to the stereotypical body size norm. And this included Oprah and Adele (unfortunately accompanied by a quote from Karl Lagerfield whot she was “a little too fat”. Why even give that air?).

Research tells us that images of objectified women and sexualized girls are harmful. So what’s GF doing running the ‘Oh, Lola!’ Marc Jacobs perfume ad of a very young looking Dakota Fanning wearing a girly soft pink spotted dress with the perfume bottle between her legs? The ad has been the subject of protests for referencing Lolita (Lola is a variation of Lolita) and the phallic nature of the bottle given its placement. Banned in Britain, the ad was also used as an example by the AMA in its recent call for a new inquiry into the sexualisation of girls.

Until we see truly radical interventions into this public health disaster, including magazines which are major influences of girls, we can only expect the survey results next time to be even worse.

Other stories in this issue include “kick-butt girls (and why we love them). The line-up includes Oprah Winfrey, Lady Gaga, the Prime Minister -a ‘girl’?) and our mums, how to take a compliment, and ‘Modern family’ about different family formations (15-year- old with two mums, 19 and 20 year old in a foster family, 14-year-old being raised by single mum and grandparents), readers’ stories “I found my birth mum on facebook’, “I was born with half a heart”, “I was afraid of everything”, “I suffer occasional deafness”. There’s a useful piece on ‘What to do when there are just too many choices’, another on how to not carry your friend’s emotional baggage and  a sensible discussion on the debate about sugar.

I welcomed the articles on Ecstacy (“just because it’s a ’party’ pill doesn’t mean it’ll give you a good time…) including a personal story of a 19-year-old who regrets taking the drug. The dangers of energy drinks also get coverage.

While GF appears to want girls to value themselves for more than their appearance, the same isn’t applied to men and boys in GF. “Top 3 Hotties: Who should be next month’s Hotties? Tell us on Facebook!” On the same page the reader is told “Research has shown that boys are motivated more by love and a desire to form relationships with the girls they date than by superficial reasons like looks. Score!” And five pages later a spread titled “Guys have body issues too”. Maybe it’s because they’re not called hotties?

 author: Melinda Tankard Reist

 Melinda Tankard Reist will be speaking at our Mental Health and Wellbeing Seminars on porn and its impact on young people. The remaining seminars for this year will be in Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Melbourne, Canberra, Adelaide and Sydney. To register or download the brochure click on one of these locations or go to the events section of our website. These events are extremely popular so we urge you to book your seat soon!