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Monday, 9 December 2013
Page: 2072

Ms CHESTERS (Bendigo) (12:58): I, too, rise to speak in favour of the motion moved by the member for Newcastle. I would like to thank the previous speaker, the member for Barker, for his comments and note in particular the comments around the election campaign and the apparent beauty contest that was played out in Adelaide. I do not believe that we can apportion the blame to the media alone. The comments of the then opposition leader, now Prime Minister, during the campaign about 'sex appeal' may also have led to the media running comments about beauty competitions. I will speak later in my speech about the need for parliamentarians to show leadership. It is great to see members of the government standing up and showing their leadership here today. Perhaps this is an issue that could be focused on in tactics or in their caucus room—that what we say during election campaigns and what we say in the media can lead to broader explosions of unrealistic ideals, images and portrayal of women in the media.

Eating disorders and poor body image present a significant problem to both males and females in Australian society. We tend to focus on the end of the spectrum which includes anorexia and associated eating disorders, but this is about the other end of the spectrum too—obesity. We need to view the problem of eating disorders and poor body image right across the spectrum. Social messages given to people by families, friends, teachers, medical professionals and the media can have either a significant positive or negative effect on a person's body image.

Researchers from Victoria's Deakin University interviewed 70 children aged eight to ten to identify what body shapes boys considered ideal and to compare those with the body ideals of young girls. My local paper reported some of the comments. The young boys had the idea that to be a healthy individual, you had to be ripped. For young girls it was about being skinny and beautiful. For boys it was linked to the idea of sport and culture. These are the images that young people are led to believe are important today.

Whose fault is it? Whose responsibility is it? Where are we going as a community on this issue? In my own local area, we do not have a good story to tell. A recent report found that Bendigo is in the midst of an obesity crisis, with 41 per cent of people living in the region now classed as obese. This links directly with our motion about poor body image. It is true what health professionals are saying—that, as a society, we need to move more and eat less. But we also need to focus on the mental state—how we are mentally perceiving this issue. The old concept is that of a healthy body and healthy mind. These two issues cannot be disconnected. It is about how we think, how we feel, how we eat and how we move.

We are in the midst of an obesity crisis and at the same time have a growing number of young people at the other end of the spectrum—young people who have been identified as having other forms of eating disorder. What are we doing as a community to tackle it? The findings in recent reports by the City of Greater Bendigo speak about the role that governments can play. One issue I would like to mention briefly is that of play spaces. For children aged over 12, there are very few opportunities to engage in physically activity. There is a critical shortage of bike paths. You cannot get to and from school by riding your bike. You have to walk on a main road. It is simply not safe. The investment needed to address this issue is not occurring.

Our role as parliamentarians is to show leadership. There need to be words and actions that are positive. This does need to be bipartisan. Body image should not be politicised, and any attempts to deliberately be controversial in this space just exacerbate an already known problem.

Debate adjourned.