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Monday, 9 December 2013
Page: 2067


Ms O'NEIL (Hotham) (12:39): I want to start by congratulating the member for Newcastle on this very important motion that is before the House. As a slight point of disagreement with the previous speaker, I actually think that one of the most important things we do as members of parliament is to be community representatives. There are a lot of women in this House today, and a few men—we thank you for your contribution too—who are going to stand up and talk about what an important issue this is and how much it affects the lives of women all over Australia.

As women, we have a special role in making a contribution to this debate. Obviously body image and the illnesses that are associated with body image affect everyone but they very much affect the lives of women. I think all women in the chamber and in the gallery can think about and talk about times when this has really profoundly affected our lives—in almost all instances it has been an overwhelmingly negative impact.

About 70 per cent of all teenage girls right now are on a diet. Probably all of the women in here were one of them at one stage in our lives. It is unhealthy and it is a national problem. For some women we know that those concerns can degenerate, with severe and frequent dieting, into something much more serious in the form of eating disorder illnesses. Women my age have know a handful of girls at school or in other parts of our lives who have had the serious impacts of this, and who have often been hospitalised for conditions such as these, and some of them have lost their lives. So I think to trivialise this debate by talking about meals at McDonald's is frankly offensive.

As the member for Newcastle has talked about, almost one million Australians are experiencing an eating disorder right now and more than two million will experience this at some point in their lives. We know this particular problem affects young people. As the member for Newcastle pointed out, eating issues and body image have been nominated by young people as some of their most important issues—over the several years that this study was undertaken.

We also know that this is a particular problem affecting women. About 80 per cent of sufferers of eating disorders are women and 15 per cent of all women will experience an eating disorder at some point in their lives. This is a profound and serious health issue that affects many, many Australians.

I want to talk about the mortality issues that are associated with these very serious illnesses also. In 2012, about 1,800 Australians lost their lives due to eating disorder related illnesses. To put that into perspective, about 1,300 Australians lost their lives on the roads. When we think about the attention and the discussion that goes on in the community about our road toll and about the government resources involved, then consider that significantly more Australians are losing their lives through body image related issues, we see that those things highlight the importance of the motion moved by the member for Newcastle. It is a silent problem that does not get the attention it deserves.

Where does all this come from and what can we do about it? It is very well understood by people who are doing research into this area that a lot of the issues associated with body image and eating disorders come back to unrealistic expectations and images presented to women and men about how they should look. If you are confused about it, just take a fresh look around you when you get outside this building; you will find that very scantily clad women who are completely unrealistic representations of how women ought to look are being used to sell everything as irrelevant as deodorant to alcoholic drinks to cigarettes and all sorts of other things. I think it is really inappropriate. Close to 100 per cent of the images of women that we see used in advertising have been digitally altered. These are some of the most beautiful women in the world and yet they have to be digitally altered before people like us can look at them. I think it is sick and it is important that women like us in this chamber stand up and say so.

There are important links on these issues to other issues that affect women in the rest of the population. Academics have frequently noted—and I am going to quote Dr Jean Kilbourne—that 'turning a human being into a thing is always the first step in justifying violence against that person'. I remind the House that about 92 per cent of sexual assaults are made against women in Australia. So there are a number of issues that are wrapped up here in how the media represents women. The member for Newcastle has moved this very relevant motion today about how this affects body image and eating disorders. As community leaders we all need to stand up and say that this is unacceptable, and I do that today on behalf of the people of Hotham.