It’s a quiet epidemic of kids taking laxatives to lose weight, young men taking steroids, girls throwing up or committing themselves to odd and dangerous restrictions in food. The lifelong effects are becoming clearer; they include wrecked careers and permanent ill-health.
The “commonsense” response that many older people will have – get over it, shake yourself down, just start to enjoy life – now looks dangerously naive. There is simply too big, noisy and powerful a commercial drive behind making people feel bad. Why? Because of the fortune to be made in making them feel just a little better again.
At the base of this industry are the drug companies that are pushing “wonder” cures and diets, tanning firms and heavily advertised cosmetic surgery specialists, as well as mainstream cosmetic firms. They all depend on the advertising and fashion firms that are selling an idealised, youth-obsessed beauty cult that is far beyond the reach of most real humans; and they in turn squirt glossy profits into the media spreading the cult.
Against all this, what chance does an impressionable, insecure 14-year-old have? Or for that matter an insecure man in his early 20s? For this is not a women-only problem. Though girls are still vastly more likely to suffer from anorexia or to go for cosmetic surgery, the growth of male anorexia in recent years is very striking. Endless appeals to the fashion gurus to rethink the models they use have received a cold-hearted brushoff. The death at 28 just over a year ago of the anorexic French model Isabelle Caro, who had bared herself to shock the fashion industry, ought to have produced a dramatic rethinking. Go and look at the images, if you can bear it, on the web. Isabelle said: “It is everything but beauty… I have psoriasis, a pigeon chest, the body of an elderly person.