Australian fashion designer, Collette Dinnigan has hit out at 'unattractive' young women in an interview this week, stating overweight teenage girls should not have their “big burger bellies” on display and should lead healthier lifestyles.
As reported on news.com.au, the 48-year-old said, "I see so many girls with those cut-off short shorts and midriff tops and their big bellies hanging out the top of them and I'm just thinking, 'Why on earth would you think this looks attractive?'''
Dinnigan said that she has often wanted to stop them in the street and let them know how she feels.
"I walk down the street and they're 16 to 17-years-old and I feel like saying to them, 'It's just so unattractive, you have no idea.'"
Dr Vivienne Lewis, Assistant Professor in Psychology at the University of Canberra, and author of ‘Positive Bodies: Love the Skin you’re in’, says that such statements are incredibly irresponsible.
“Comments like that just add to more negative body image and more emphasis on people’s weight as being a measure of health,” which she says is an inaccurate measure to use. “I think that it is really important that we actually get away from measuring someone’s health based on the way that they look.”
Dinnigan, a mother of two, was also critical of the current kaftan trend for women, suggesting that they were being worn to hide unhealthy bodies.
"That I think is kind of women's way of just covering up. I think it's better to look at your health and get your body in shape," she said.
The designer, who has spent the past 24 years surrounded by models in the body-conscious fashion industry, was quick to clarify that she was “not promoting being too slim” but “being actually healthy”.
"I'm not some skinny, twiggy, little girl, I've got a body and I'm healthy, but there's so much over-processed food and salts and sugars and burgers and pizzas, and everything is fast food as opposed to making the effort and eating well. I think our schools and parents need to teach skills like that," she said in the interview.
While Dr Lewis understands the point Collette is trying to make, she stresses there is a difference between advising a teenager to dress for their shape and labelling them unhealthy based solely on how they look.
“I understand where Collette is coming from, she is in the fashion industry, so she is all about dressing appropriately for your size, but she is actually making direct comments that girls who don’t do that must be unhealthy. That is the difference.”
“Teenage girls wear all sorts of different clothes and its okay for people to have opinions on whether they like what girls are wearing or not but [it’s not okay] to make public statements like the one Collette has made, knowing that teenagers are potentially going to read those comments,” she says.
According to Dr Lewis, parents, not strangers in the street, are the ones able to best judge how healthy their child is.
“It is all about how active they are, are they eating healthy foods and are they happy,” she says, “rather than focusing on their weight”.
She acknowledges that growth spurts can make it hard to judge at times.
“Their eating does tend to be a bit more erratic ... but it is all part of their development and learning what foods are best suited for their body, what sort of foods give them energy and what sorts do the opposite.”
As long as parents ensure their children are, “getting involved in things that are fun, that make them happy, keep them social and keep them active”, then you are setting your child on the right path when it comes to health and body image, she says.
If parents are concerned that their adolescent may have a poor body image, or an eating disorder, they can contact Headspace, the Butterfly Foundation, their local GP or the Australian Psychological Society for support and more information.