The link between the sexualisation of women and body dysmorphia

Leading psychologist Dr Gregg Jantz believes there is a correlation between the sexualisation of young girls and the development of eating disorders.

Dr Gregg Jantz is a mental health counsellor who has spent years treating women and girls for body dysmorphia. 

He has come to the conclusion that the condition is linked to the sexualisation of young girls and is vocal in his criticism of the media's "disturbing" representations of womanhood.  

"The projections of beauty, sexuality and self-worth set by today's media culture often create disturbing impressions and unhealthy expectations in today's children," he says.

"We have seen a dramatic increase in the sexualisation of young girls as a leading contributor of disordered eating, and it is an issue that we are spending more and more time addressing.

"It is paramount that we address not only the treatment and symptoms of eating disorders, but the causes as well."

The sexualisation of young women has become a cause of increasing concern in recent years, perpetuated by scantily clad pop stars, free porn widely available on the internet, and inappropriate clothing like push-up bras and bikinis being marketed at pre-pubescent girls.

The UK has the highest rate of eating disorders and self-harm in Europe - one in every 100 women has a diagnosed eating disorder, while fifty per cent of British females have a "serious issue with food". Between 11 and 13 million people in the UK have psychological issues in connection with food that mean they are on a permanent diet.

Official figures reveal that hospital admissions for eating disorders rose by 8 per cent in England from 2012 to 2013, and although it is typically associated with teenagers and young women, children as young as seven have been admitted as a result of suffering from anorexia.

It is perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that mental health workers are linking the two and Dr Jantz says it is something that must not be ignored. He believes society has a duty to look at the wider implications that our post-modern consumerist culture is having on the mental and physical wellbeing of children and young people.

He has spent years studying the subject and written 28 books on his findings.

"What we are finding is that early sexualisation - women becoming inappropriately sexualised even before puberty - contributes to the early onset of an eating disorder," he explains.

"Early pressures on body image are a huge part of our culture. For example, in the States two thirds of girls in the sixth grade [aged 11/12] have already tried some form of diet, so we're seeing early dieting behaviour, and the early onset of body image issues."

Dr Jantz believes that the media has had a significant role to play in the perpetuation of an unhealthy body image, and the influence of pre-teen and teen images, as well as celebraties are largely to blame for the "drive for thinness".

"It's a huge challenge because of what our culture and the media are doing, and I would certainly say that it's an uphill battle," he says of the cultural shift needed to challenge this entrenched way of thinking.

"We're seeing an increase in sexual abuse against girls, an increase in easy access to pornography on the internet. I think everything is intensifying."

His treatment centre in Seattle, A Place of Hope, operates out of the principle that complete healing for issues such as eating disorders is not just about treating the physical need, but also supporting the emotional and spiritual needs of a client.

"We believe that as a part of treating a whole person you've got to address the spiritual issues, and for many that is the key to healing – a relationship with Christ. So we're just upfront that we believe that needs to be addressed," he explains, before concluding that it is only through reconciliation with God that we can be made whole.

"We have to look at where we are getting our sense of identity from. Is our identity coming from outward pressures, or is it in who God has created us to be?"

This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. For more information or help, go to www.b-eat.co.uk

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