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Cure worse than the disease? The No-l-ita ad: how not to tackle anorexia
Imagery of ultra-thin high-fashion models can be disturbing for many, and the high status of these models may inspire some girls and young women to unnecessarily diet in order to lose weight. However, are the following images a solution to this problem?
The photos above are from Oliviero Toscani, feature 15-year anorexia sufferer Isabelle Caro, 27, and represent Toscani’s effort to tackle anorexia. The pictures were sponsored by the Italian clothing firm No-l-ita, and will be featured on billboards across Italian cities, with the backing of the Italian health ministry.
Toscani noted, "I have been interested in anorexia for years. Who is responsible for it? The media in general, television and the fashion industry."
These individuals need to learn from the failures of numerous drug abuse prevention and eating disorders prevention programs.
Information on drug use is relevant since some females use drugs to lose weight. Knowledge of the debilitating effect of drugs either does not change attitude or behavior, or enhances behavior toward drug consumption.(1-5) Numerous studies evaluating educational programs using cognitive and affective education approaches plus effective experimental designs have failed to show changes in drug use or attitudes toward drug use.(6, 7)
Educational programs attempting to prevent eating disorders increase knowledge about eating pathology, sometimes change both attitudes and behavioral intent, and may even reduce the so-called “internalization of the thin ideal.”(8-12) However, not only do many of them not have long-term positive outcomes,(13-17) i.e., reduce dieting or disordered eating behavior, but some interventions have increased subsequent dietary restraint(14) and eating disorder symptoms.(15)
Toscani’s imagery is a form of scare tactic, but they do not necessarily work. For instance, scare tactics and excessive focus on negative aspects with a clear intent to dissuade usage increase the credibility gap between anabolic steroid users and health science educators,(18) and increase the use of such drugs.(19)
What is going on?
Educating people about what psychological effects different drugs have can prompt some individuals to try out some drugs to experience the psychological effects themselves. Telling others about methods some use to lose body fat will provide just the information some girls are looking for, namely how to lose weight.
Toscani’s imagery shows what starvation can do. If starving oneself can result in such an extreme outcome, lesser food restriction will easily result in a less extreme outcome, i.e., the typical skinny look of high-fashion models. In others words, starving oneself works. Therefore, what good is Toscani’s imagery? How is it going to dissuade girls inspired by thin high-fashion models? All they have to do to avoid the looks of the model in Toscani’s pictures is to not starve themselves as badly.
The most effective interventions that reduce anorexic behaviors are those that make the participants question the thin fashion ideal. Toscani’s imagery doesn’t help in this regard.
What would be effective imagery to make people question the thin fashion ideal? If Toscani shot pictures of gay-looking men knitting clothes and dreaming about 13-year-old boys and put them up on billboards throughout Italy, they would create a sensation, and when asked to explain, Toscani could say that he wanted to bring attention to what is responsible for the thin fashion ideal...the desire of homosexual fashion designers to make their female models look like boys in their early adolescence. This would work, but as it stands right now, Toscani has just produced very distasteful imagery that is unlikely to be effective. The ad has gotten people talking, made Milan's mayor ban the ads from billboards owned by the city and prompted the French advertising self-regulatory body (BVP) to strongly advise billboard owners against displaying the ads., but all this is a waste of time unless people start talking about the gay fashion designer factor.
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