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Thursday, 27 November 1986
Page: 2883

Senator CROWLEY —Has the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Health been drawn to an article in the Australian of 20 November 1986, addressing the issue of the advertising industry's portrayal of women and claims that the media images of women may contribute to such illnesses as anorexia nervosa? Further, there is a claim that the images of women as little and soft may promote attitudes that encourage domestic violence. Can the Minister comment on these claims? Does he see the importance of preventive health measures by the Government taking account of images portrayed in the media?

Senator GRIMES —Anorexia nervosa is a very serious illness with complex emotional and physical characteristics, one of which is compulsive dieting, leading to severe physical illnesses and, unfortunately, frequently death. I think about 95 per cent of people who suffer from it are teenage girls, which is a considerable problem. It is a most distressing disease to attempt to treat. One of the problems is that its incidence has increased in recent years. Many of those who deal with the problem think that the disease is aggravated and contributed to by the fact that the media, particularly the advertising media, show the most desirable-or the only desirable-form for a woman to be thin, sometimes excessively thin. Even if young women who are not suffering from anorexia nervosa diet excessively, they can suffer physical illnesses because of their attempts to conform with this form.

For each person there is a build which is compatible with good health. One need only look at Senator Crowley, Senator Chaney, Senator Withers and me to realise that there are considerable differences in this area. But there is a genuine concern, which was expressed at the conference referred to by the article in the Australian, that the media should stop trying to stereotype women in this way-and, of course, in other ways-because of the difficult effect it has on some young women which aggravates this sort of disease. I will have to refer Senator Crowley's question to Dr Blewett to find out what the Government is doing about this matter. In the area of advertising, of course, the Government has very little capacity to do anything. I think we can only endeavour to persuade the industry that sometimes being thin is not the only way to be beautiful. It will be a great relief for many of us who, from the day we were born, were not built that way.