Back in 2010, Mamamia’s very own Mia Freedman chaired the Australian Government’s National Body Image Advisory Group. Mia and the Advisory Group made a whole lot of recommendations to the Government about how to make young people more resilient in the face of endless pressure from the media, advertising and fashion industries to look a certain way.
In response to those recommendations, the Government set up a voluntary code of conduct for industry, which you can read all about here. The Government also announced a series of other initiatives including a new set of awards that recognise efforts by those in the industry to promote positive body image.
The first set of those awards were handed out just one week ago. So we sat down to chat with Helen McCabe, editor of the Australian Women’s Weekly and the big-boss lady when it came to picking the winners and asked her to tell us all about them.
1. This is the inaugural year of the Body Image Awards, have they been a success?
Yes, in the sense that we wanted to start the ball rolling. I would have liked more entries in some of the categories. It is clear to me that for many organisations this is still not a priority, so I think there is a lot more work to be done. But we launched it in a deliberately low-key way because we wanted to take some of the negativity out of the debate.
2. Were there any entries or winners who surprised you?
To be frank, the scope of what Dolly and Girlfriend have been doing did surprise me. They know this stuff backwards and are leading the way, in terms of sending positive messages to young women.
I think magazines get blamed all the time but few people have stopped to look at what some of them are actually doing. And let’s face it the readers of Australian Women’s Weekly, for example, are not the main target of this initiative, it is about what the younger magazines are doing so from a media perspective Dolly and Girlfriend are critical.
3. It’s always important to commend those who are doing the right thing but will the awards have any influence over the organisations where we most need to see a change?
The real power lies with the consumer. If women reward the businesses that respond to this stuff, then that is when you will see change. Consumers have the power. [With these awards] we wanted to help the conversation and keep up the pressure.
4. Seventeen magazine in the United States has taken a strong stand against air brushing and Dolly and Girlfriend magazines here at home, were both award recipients. Do you think it is more important for images aimed at young people to be realistic?
Well, we know young people are strongly influenced by these images. I don’t think it was a problem in my day but all the research shows it is today, so I think it is important to respond. A coroner in the UK blamed the fashion industry for the death of a young girl who suffered from eating disorders. So it’s serious.
5. Dove received an award for some of the great work they’re doing to promote positive body image. But they’re owned by Unilever who also promote the Lynx brand to men and they’ve run some pretty controversial campaigns in the past that quite overtly objectify women. Do you think Unilever are being disingenuous in only applying their positive body image message to the brands where they think it will appeal to consumers?