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Wednesday, 9 May 2012
Page: 3004

Senator POLLEY (TasmaniaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (19:24): Last week, I was very pleased to see the announcement that 19 editors of Vogue magazines around the world had made a pact to project the image of healthy models. They agreed to 'not knowingly work with models under the age of 16 or who appear to have an eating disorder'. Sara Ziff, an advocate for people working in the fashion industry, has said:

The use of under-aged models is linked to financial exploitation, eating disorders, interrupted schooling, and contributes to models' overall lack of empowerment in the workplace. … We simply believe that 14 is too young to be working in this very grown-up industry.

Elissa J Brown, Professor of Psychology at St. John's University, has said:

We know that there is an impact for young girls and boys, by the way of what is put in front of them in terms of media.

After the death of two models from apparent complications from eating disorders in 2006-07, the Council of Fashion Designers of America adopted a voluntary initiative in 2007 which emphasizes age minimums and healthy working environments. As further evidence of the effects of these two deaths, at the London Fashion Week designers are required to sign a contract with the British Fashion Council to use models who are at least 16.

While these are sentiments with which I strongly agree, the issue is much broader than as it applies to the fashion industry. There are a spectrum of concerns that inhibit the chances of children being able to naturally grow into mature adults. We are no longer in the industrial age, when children were forced to work from young ages until their very early deaths. If we did not think children deserved to be allowed to grow up naturally, why would we have a minimum age for children to leave school and children's support programs, government programs to assist families and to assist children to be able to remain at school? Even the Stronger Futures bill aims to assist children to have a sound education.

As I said earlier, the deceptions that are perpetuated in the fashion industry are not the only examples of exploitation. We only have to look at the distortions caused by the frequent Photoshopping of magazine pictures. It is very easy to underestimate the effect of this practice. But, if it is so unimportant, why did the American Medical Association in June 2011, at its annual general meeting, vote to adopt new policies regarding body image and advertising to youth, making the following statement:

Advertisers commonly alter photographs to enhance the appearance of models' bodies, and such alterations can contribute to unrealistic expectations of appropriate body image - especially among impressionable children and adolescents. A large body of literature links exposure to media-propagated images of unrealistic body image to eating disorders and other child and adolescent health problems.

…   …   …

"… In one image, a model's waist was slimmed so severely, her head appeared to be wider than her waist," said Dr. McAneny.

In Israel a new law was passed on 19 March 2012 which requires male and female models to have a BMI, or body mass index, of no less than 18.5—a standard used by the World Health Organisation—or a note from a doctor saying that they are not underweight before they can be hired for a modelling job. The legislation also bans use of models who 'look underweight', and creators of ads must disclose whether they used Photoshop or graphics programs to manipulate images to make the models look slimmer. Norway's equality minister is pushing for advertisers to be required to use disclaimers such as: 'This advertisement has been altered and presents an inaccurate image of how this model really looks.'

In Great Britain in 2010, the Home Office commissioned a report by a psychologist, Dr Linda Papadopoulos, to report on the sexualisation of children. Using empirical data and expert testimony, her report found that, across advertising and the media, representations of perfect body images and people in a sexualised context had a profound impact on young people who saw them. In France, parliamentarian Valerie Boyer has said:

These photos can lead people to believe in realities that, very often, do not exist.

Another aspect of this is the underreported and poorly recognised phenomenon of baby pageants. I have spoken a number of times in this place about what I believe are the dangers of baby pageants. A leading child psychologist and author, Steve Biddulph, says:

The planned US style Child Beauty Pageants are not something we need in Australia, or anywhere really. They teach little girls that the way they look is the most important thing about them. They also subject them to judgement, failure, and pressure which shouldn't be part of early childhood at all.

Dr Michael Carr-Greg, an Australian psychologist, has reported in his studies that one in four children are convinced by the need for cosmetic surgery. One in 10 boys will consider using steroids. One in eight girls will use diet pills or laxatives. Or, as he has also commented, it is 'about as close to child abuse as you can get'.

In my mind it is quite incomprehensible why a mother would allow her daughter to go into one of these baby pageants. How could it possibly be good for young women's self-esteem to be lined up and compared to one another solely on the basis of their external appearance? And what happens to the losers? Will they feel fantastic? For another example, psychologist Andrew Fuller says:

… this is a good recipe for how to predispose your daughter into having an eating disorder … the risk is that they suddenly fear that their body shape is more important than their intellect.

I know that people say there are other things they are judged on besides their looks. It teaches them to have poise and it gives them confidence, but the hard fact remains that they are called beauty pageants and always will be based on using arbitrary standards of beauty to make one contestant better than the rest.

I believe that here in Australia we should be moving towards ensuring that all our printed media and all our electronic media carry a disclaimer that identifies whether or not a photograph has been altered or digitally enhanced. Tonight I have only mentioned three aspects of the pressures that are being imposed upon children as they are growing up, and that pressure affects their families as well. It is time to stop allowing these forms of child exploitation and child abuse and to allow children time to grow up. They are already under enough pressure. There are enough difficulties for children as they grow up without allowing this mistreatment to continue.

I urge those people in the chamber to voice their concerns in relation to how body image is portrayed through the media, whether it is electronic or printed. It is time for us to take seriously the psychological damage that these images are causing to our adolescents and younger children. It is time we put a stop to these so-called beauty pageants and accepted our children for who they are and what they can be, encouraging them to be the best people they can be.

Senate adjourned at 19 : 33