Ashy Bines has built a lucrative business from selling women her fitness and clean eating plans, and now, the 29-year-old has launched an initiative targeting toddlers and young children.
Ashy and Friends is an animated DVD series and ‘edu-tainment’ event which aims to “not only encourage, but educate [kids] to make healthier choices through song and movement.” The program is designed for children between the ages of one and six.
The first four episodes of the Ashy and Friends series, which can be viewed on Bines’ website, cover “the benefits of water, eating healthy food, and only having sweet drinks as ‘sometimes’ treats,” learning how to do squats, and learning how to salsa dance. These lessons are taught by characters such as Kat, whose “special talent is that she is super fit and really really fast,” and Bruno, who is “fun, tough and the muscles of the group”.
On Bines’ site, Ashy and Friends claims to be “more than just entertainment”, with an event that “promotes health and happiness in your kids at the same time as making them laugh, dance, sing and SMILE!”
"Our society is becoming less active, less healthy and more overweight every year," the site reads. "More than ever it is CRITICAL to inspire a love of health and fitness in our children."
Bines' business did not respond to enquiries from Mamamia asking for further details on the type of messaging the program will promote and whether there are safeguards in place to reduce any harm these messages may cause.
Christine Morgan, CEO of The Butterfly Foundation, the national voice for people affected by eating disorders and negative body image, shared her concerns that Bines' messaging has "gone too far."
"I find it astounding that we're even going into this space," she told Mamamia.
"I think [the program is] tapping into parental concern. You cannot tell me that a toddler has got any concept of body image, healthy or unhealthy eating. It's not on their radar."
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"I think it's a marketing ploy to adults and to parents who have been inundated with the messaging of: do not let your child get fat. In this time, when obesity is threatening, don't let your child get fat. And since when did that translate into a toddler having to be so concerned about putting on weight? That to me is just taking it too far."
Indeed, the site for Ashy and Friends states the rates of obesity in children "have increased significantly in recent times." It does not, however, provide any details as to the age bracket of the children these statistics apply to.
Information about activity and nutrition in children is also provided, again without specific references to what age these numbers refer to. In the one instance where an age bracket is provided, that bracket is for children between 9 and 13 - all of whom are older than the children her program targets.
Morgan expressed concern that serious damage could be done by Ashy and Friends, and by targeting messages about food and exercise to young children in general.
"Even though I don't believe a toddler is even going to be able to comprehend or compute the messaging which has been given to them... it's going to go into their little heads," she said.
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"Even if they don't understand it at the time, that subliminal messaging is going to go in, and all of the concerns about shape and size, at the earliest, earliest age, and the damage that can be done by that is just astounding."
Morgan also agreed with the suggestion that Bines' existing brand, which is unequivocally focused on size and shape, makes it hard to argue that her program for children is purely about health and not image.
"Many people who are wanting to put across a certain image are using the word health to masquerade for weight management, weight loss, weight control. And that offends me," she said.
"Because health is not determined solely by shape and size. It may be one component but it's not the only determinant. And we are what I call armchair experts these days, in thinking that we can make an assessment about our own or somebody else's health depending upon body size and shape, and nothing could be further from the truth."
If parents are genuinely concerned about their child's health or weight, she said, they should seek help from a qualified health professional.