Have we forgotten about health?

This year more than ever I have had a ridiculous number of adverts for ‘perfect gym bodies’ shoved in my face whenever I go online. I literally cannot escape it.  Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, you name it.  I feel livid and despairing when I think about the societal pressures these adverts put on people. 

The fact that they are appearing on social media means these ads are targeting an age group already vulnerable to societal pressures. We have to deal with exams, university fees and are we even guaranteed a job at the end of it? Of course not. I will now address as calmly as I can the countless, problems caused by these adverts.

All these ads show young men and women wearing hardly anything to maximise the amount of muscles we can see, pressuring us to desire these ‘perfect bodies’.  This is simply unrealistic. Unfortunately, it doesn’t just stop at wanting to be thinner or have more muscle but it makes people feel insecure about the actual frame of their body. There are things we cannot change, like our height, which then becomes a problem due to the loss of control over our appearance and constantly comparing ourselves to others. All bodies are beautiful in their own unique way so why should we feel pressured to change ours to fit societies expectation?

I understand that these ads are trying to make us healthy and encourage us to do more exercise but I fundamentally disagree with the way they are doing it. They want us to exercise for the wrong reasons. We should be working out in order to make us feel good on the inside, physically and mentally, not so we look ‘better’ on the outside. When a baby is born, the first question a mother asks is ‘is the baby healthy?’ and not how attractive it is in comparison to other babies. Why on earth isn’t our primary concern as a society whether we are healthy or not, rather than our appearance?

Another problem linked to this issue is the rise in mental health problems. Panorama investigated the scale of the problem and found an increase of 43% in the number of referrals for eating disorders in the last 4 years ago. This is an urgent issue and priorities are simply in the wrong place. The number of deaths from eating disorders is estimated to affect 1.6 million people in the UK, and yet it seems that modern society is ignoring the signs. Having witnessed first hand the dangerous and terrifying impact of anorexia through a family member, it worries me how many people with an eating disorder see these ‘perfect bodies’ whenever they go online. This will in no way aid recovery, in fact it is far more likely to worsen the mental illness.

What’s more, this whole perfect body, clean eating craze has seen the increase of yet another eating disorder. In addition to anorexia and bulimia, orthorexia is also on the rise. For those of you don’t know what this is, it’s when healthy eating becomes an obsession and takes over your life. For many, this eating disorder may be difficult to understand as the fact the sufferer has a healthy eating focus seems like a good thing, right? Wrong. The sufferer becomes obsessed with healthy foods, leading them to cut out entire food groups. This can result in severe malnutrition if it goes untreated for long periods of time. Again, seeing these ‘ideal’ bodies plastered online is likely to harm the individual’s mental health further due to the constant comparison to these unattainable figures seen in the media.

Yet another problem with regards to food: dieting. If you would like to lose weight, sustainable changes need to be made to your lifestyle and fad diets are not the way forward. Even if you can keep up a highly restrictive dietary regime for a while, there is no way you can (or should) keep it up long term. Often, once you stop, you gain all the weight you had previously lost. Therefore, before you know it, you are back to square one and on to the next diet. I am no nutritionist but cutting out entire food groups is not what they teach you in school. Whatever happened to the food pyramid where you can eat fats and sugar in moderation? All you need to do is eat a balanced diet and exercise in moderation. Your body will take care of the rest.

So here I propose some possible solutions. We need to encourage exercise in another way in order to make sure people are doing it for the right reasons. Surely it is better to educate people about the benefits of actually doing exercise (rather than watching other people do it constantly on these adverts). One of these benefits is the release of serotonin, the feel- good hormone; as well as the obvious benefits such as reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes. Plus, a little weight bearing exercise can increase bone density, reducing the risk of osteoporosis later on in life. Having advertss on all social media platforms is excessive. We need to reach a middle ground – getting as many people exercising for enjoyment as possible whilst simultaneously not hindering the recovery of the individuals with mental health problems.

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