Speech: We Must Change the Cultural Conversation Around Body Image

By Office of Wera Hobhouse, Jul 24, 2019 12:07

Wera Hobhouse made a powerful speech yesterday in the House of Commons debate on Body Image and Mental Health. The wording of her speech can be found below.

Check against delivery:

 

"Thank you, Mr. Speaker. This debate is important for millions of people across this country and I hope we can set an example today by honestly exploring these issues.

In a culture obsessed with image, we must talk more openly about the impact which body image scrutiny has on our mental health.

For the last year I have been campaigning for better treatment for eating disorders. Speaking openly about these conditions is more important than ever as early identification and intervention are key.

Mental health conditions thrive in the shadows and are protected by our ideas about what is, and is not, appropriate to talk about. Eating disorders themselves have a reputation and often sufferers who do not fit the cultural stereotype are afraid to speak out or, worse still, are refused help. 

Research done by the Mental Health Foundation and published last March, shows how common it is to have concerns over body image. One in five UK adults have felt anxious or depressed about their bodies in the last year. This anxiety can turn into long term mental health problems such as eating disorders. Across this country eating disorders affect 1.25 million people.

My work in this area supports this association – the sufferers I have met with vary, coming from a range of different backgrounds, but united by their dissatisfaction with, and need to control, their body image.

Of course, eating disorders are far more complex then stress over body image. They are serious conditions which ruin, define, and all too often end, lives. However, the seeds of emerging eating disorders can often be spotted in stress and anxiety around body image. 

For the over a million people who identify as having an eating disorder, the outlook is not good.

On average it takes 85 weeks from someone realising they have an eating disorder to that individual receiving treatment. This lost time can be the difference between full recovery and living with a permanent disability.

The government targets introduced to limit child waiting times for eating disorder treatment were a positive first step but thousands of adults across the UK need these same measures.

Understanding eating disorders better is key to improving treatment. Many sufferers still report being turned away, and refused referral, because doctors told them they were as too heavy to be treated for an eating disorder. Talking about eating disorders, especially in the context of body image, we start to grasp how damaging this can be.

We must educate everyone, from sufferers’ families to doctors, about how many different forms these conditions can take and how best to treat them. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental health condition and our mental health policy must reflect this.

Early intervention is key - schools, doctors, and support workers, must all be equipped with the tools to identify when concern over body image is becoming dangerous.

Furthermore, we must change the cultural conversation around body image. This can be done on many levels. Social media companies have a responsibility to police the content on their websites, ensuring that anything which is actively inciting self-harm is taken down.

Eating disorders are on the rise and many adult sufferers are failing to receive the early intervention they so desperately need. We must do better for those suffering in silence and start really having a conversation about body image, mental health, and the awful reality of life with an eating disorder."


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