Saturday, 3 July 2010

Body matters

The BBC had to apologise to British tennis player Laura Robson after their commentator David Mercer referred to her ‘puppy fat’. The sixteen year old was playing in the second round juniors match at  Wimbledon when Mercer made the comment. Having seen Robson play and the pictures of her I can’t work out what Mercer is on about. However, even if she was slightly heavierlaurarobson, so what? She is a teenager growing up and her body is changing and developing all the time; the last thing Laura needs is some sixty year old man going on about her body weight. Robson is now through to the semi finals, so she can’t be that unfit!

Why did this comment rile me so much? During my time as a parish priest I ministered to a family whose teenage daughter became anorexic following a hurtful remark about her body weight. She was a perfectly healthy young girl who transformed before our eyes into little more than a skeleton looking much older than her age. Eventually she was admitted to hospital where I visited her regularly and after an extensive period of treatment she overcame the illness and returned to being a healthy normal teenager. The pain and anguish she, her family and the wider church family experienced was terrible.

My father-in-law Professor David Mattingly, who died last year, was a brilliant physician and a leading contributor to research on Anorexia. The focus of his work was on the physiological aspects of the illness rather than the psychological and he published a very influential work titled The Diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa with S. Bhanji in 1982. David worked with and treated many young women who were starving themselves to death because of their perceptions about their bodies.

I have a young daughter who will soon be entering her teens and I am very aware of all the pressures she faces in a society which places so much emphasis on appearance. She and her friends are continually bombarded with images, often digitally or surgically altered images, of what a young woman should look like. The sexualisation of childhood, the forensic analysis of female celebrities’ weight by the gossip magazines, the physiologically absurd shape of Barbie dolls and certain models, are just part of the context in which girls are growing up. They will be naturally self conscious enough about their bodies as they change without ill informed and potentially damaging comments about how they should look.

I realise that there are challenging issues around obesity facing our society, with potentially serious consequences for individuals and for the wider community. However, I can’t help feeling that there is a certain amount of body fascism around which would decree that women like Sophia Loren and Marilyn Monroe were seriously overweight in their prime. Our young people need to hear words of affirmation and love at a time of uncertainty, self consciousness and change during puberty, that they might join with the psalmist in declaring:
‘I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.’ Psalm 139:14


Kathryn said...

Thank you - so often women pick up this theme, while men leave it alone. A great post...

Anonymous said...

Too flippin' right! Here here! It's one of the nastiest traits in modern society, that you are only of value if you 'look' right. If it was just about health, it might have some virtue but it's not. It soon comes around to 'we don't want to bother with her 'cos she's fat, therefore a bad person'.
We are all made in God's image and God made some of us a bit plump!

Sue D said...

I'm glad you commented on this too. I'm an ex-anorexic, one of my daughter's school friends had extended hospital treatment for it and, as a mother, I found myself having to tread a very delicate and watchfull line on it with my own daughters - I suspect there may be a hereditary component.