I was admitted to Westmead Hospital on the 16th of December 2010. The summer holidays had just begun. The sun was shining. Christmas was just around the corner.
Instead of wrapping gifts I was on bedrest attached to a 24 hour liquid feed. Instead of decorating the house I was living in a ward with ten other people suffering from anorexia. I didn’t set foot outside the hospital walls for seven days.
I had just turned 14.
I was reminded of this day when I went to get a coffee from my local bakery and saw the front page of the Daily Telegraph.
My heart sank as I read on.
According to The Daily Telegraph “the Children’s Hospital at Westmead’s Eating Disorder Service is reporting a fourfold increase in hospital admissions over the past 15 years as well as a tenfold increase in outpatient consultations.”
And it gets worse.
The age of admission is getting younger and younger with some hospitals admitting children as young as six.
These children, who should still be playing with Lego and swinging off monkey bars, are being fed through tubes. Their little bodies, which haven’t gone through puberty yet, are being starved of vital nutrients.
The article attributes the rise in hospitalisation and the age of sufferers to the obsession with fad diets and social media. I couldn’t agree more.
When I was hospitalised back in 2010 there was no such thing as Instagram or Snapchat. I didn’t have a Smartphone. Facebook was just taking off. And still, in the absence of most smart technology and social networking, I was deeply effected by the messages and images that surrounded me.
I read this article this morning saddened but not surprised. In a society where image is currency and thinness is expected whether you’re young or old I can understand why children are getting ill. Consider what they’re looking at. Every morning when they check their phones they log into Instagram and what do they see? The ‘ideal’ body image reflected back to them. Six packs. Bums. Boobs. Stomachs. And they don’t have the skills, tools or experience to breakdown and analyse what they’re seeing.
And to be honest, even as a nineteen year old woman who is educated in this space, sometimes I can’t resist the pressure and expectation.
But it’s not just social media that’s the problem. There is obviously something very, very wrong. But I have good news. We can stop this.
We must start setting a good example. We need to eliminate the words “fat” and “ugly” from our vocabulary. We need to cease yo-yo dieting which encourage restrictive eating behaviours. We need to actively appreciate and love our bodies in front of our children, family and friends. Because our actions do make an impression. We are role models, whether we like it or not. What we say and do is being absorbed by young and malleable minds.
We need to have conversations about social media. We need to be talking about the danger of dieting. We need to be nurturing self-love and confidence within girls and boys. We need to be complimenting people not just for their looks but for the passion, their intelligence, their kindness.
We MUST be the change we want to see in the world. And I guarentee you, we can make a difference.