House debates

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Questions without Notice

Body Image

3:23 pm

Photo of Amanda RishworthAmanda Rishworth (Kingston, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister for Early Childhood Education, Childcare and Youth and Minister for Sport. What action is the government taking to promote positive body image amongst young Australians?

Photo of Kate EllisKate Ellis (Adelaide, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Early Childhood Education, Childcare and Youth) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Kingston for her question. I know that, with her background in psychology, this is an issue she is particularly concerned about. I would also like to acknowledge the member for Chisholm who has worked for many years to bring to the attention of this House the need for us to act on this important issue of negative body image. Contrary to the views of some, we know that negative body image is not just some teenage fad which will pass by. It is something to take seriously. It is a serious issue affecting the health, the confidence and the productivity of thousands of Australians—in particular, young Australians—and it is an issue which this government intends to act upon. It is critical for us as a House to recognise that in an age of increased media, advertising, digital technology and plastic surgery, as the Prime Minister said earlier today, the pressures which may have existed for a long time have been turbocharged, and it is in the best interests of all of us to work in partnership to build the self-esteem, confidence and resilience of our young people.

It is interesting to note that body image was the highest ranked concern amongst young people in Mission Australia’s national survey of young Australians in 2007. At least 20 per cent of women who are underweight still believe they are overweight and are currently dieting. Between 70 and 76 per cent of Australian high school girls consistently chose an ideal figure which was considerably thinner than their own. It is not just for women—and young women—but increasingly we are seeing men come forward with the concerns of body image.

The truth is there is no one simple solution, but that does not mean that this is an issue that governments can continue to ignore. The Victorian government took the first steps to walk towards a code of conduct, and I commend them for their work, but we know that the time has come for a national approach, which is why in March of this year this government appointed a national advisory group on body image to develop a national media and industry code of conduct. Today I was pleased to receive the report of this group, which includes the industry code of conduct on body image as well as national strategies to promote positive body image amongst young Australians. The code sets a standard of best practice for the industry using models of a healthy weight and of diverse weights, using realistic and natural images of people and disclosing when images have been digitally manipulated. There is a growing momentum from consumers, from the general public and from parents alike that enough is enough. We want to see more realistic images in our advertising—real images of diverse women—to sell products to diverse women.

It is interesting to note that tomorrow the Women’s Weekly will release for the first time an Australian magazine which will feature a cover and an article of a completely ‘untouched’ woman. It is Sarah Murdoch—no doubt she still scrubs up remarkably well—but this is a step that shows that the media is starting to recognise that the Australian public want real images and they want diverse images. It also shows that realistic images not only are healthy but can be beautiful and economically smart too.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all of the members of the body image advisory group, particularly the chair, Ms Mia Freedman, the former editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, for the hard work they have put in and for the suggestions they have put to government, which we will now be considering and reporting back on early in the new year. I assure them, as well as this House and the Australian general public, that we will tackle this issue and finally give it the attention it deserves so that we can have strong, confident and resilient young Australians for the next generation.