Monique Keiran: Flash mobs promote healthy body image

It seems every few weeks, another flash-mob video goes viral over the Internet. Orchestras pull out instruments and surprise passersby. Choirs break into song in town squares and food courts. Opera singers perform in restaurants and markets. Bollywood, Riverdance, hip hop and swing take over streets, beaches and malls. Kids dance at hockey games. Even airline staff entertain travellers.

It’s Love Shack, Mama Mia, I Believe, Pinball Wizard and Singing in the Rain. It’s Beethoven, Handel, Grieg, Shakira and Lady Gaga.

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Flash mobs are celebrations. They draw attention to ideas, events, issues, even commercial services. The videos are always fun, sometimes touching and occasionally inspiring.

Now, the Provincial Eating Disorders Awareness campaign is urging B.C. groups to organize their own flash mobs, and submit videos of the events to a provincewide contest.

The goal of the contest, which continues until May 1, is to promote the importance of healthy body image and self-esteem for a healthy life. It’s part of the fight against anorexia, bulimia, and other eating and weight disorders.

“It’s a way to get people involved and talking about the issues,” says co-ordinator Amy Candido. “Eating disorders are so disturbing, we wanted to focus on something positive and fun.”

Halfway through the 10-week campaign, a story supporting the messages raced through the Internet. A store in Sweden started using mannequins with rounder bellies, fuller thighs and, well, figures, to display clothing.

In photographs, the fibreglass and plastic statues lack the gaunt weasel-sleekness of typical shop mannequins and are undeniably modelled on actual women’s proportions. How refreshing.

Whenever I see the usual variety of mannequin, I wonder how their creators expect ordinary shoppers to identify with the unreal representations. “That outfit looks amazing — on that stick-alien.”

However, Candido says many B.C. women — and men — consider the unlikely dimensions ideal.

“People look at the mannequins and think: ‘If I could look like that, life would be great.’ ”

I’m not denying the dangers of obesity. However, in Canada, 50 per cent of girls and 33 per cent of boys engage in unhealthy weight-control behaviours by the time they start high school. That’s huge. And scary.

Not all these kids will develop full-blown eating disorders. But many will grow into seemingly emotionally healthy adults who spend their lives dieting and telling themselves they aren’t quite good enough.

Messages pushing extreme thinness are constant, endless and everywhere. They reinforce poor self-esteem and body image. Add perfectionist tendencies, poor stress management, family issues, or abuse or bullying to the mix, and the risk of someone developing the self-punishment of an eating disorder increases.

There are no easy solutions.

Candido knows. She was once one of the perfection-driven people, gripped by distorted thoughts that thinner is always better.

Now recovered and healthy, she joins others across B.C., including many in Victoria, who visit schools and talk to the public about eating disorders, their causes and signs, and who support those who need help.

Together, they work to bring the issue into the open. They’re breaking a very uncomfortable silence, and with this latest campaign they’re getting people to dance, sing and celebrate health. Candido invites anyone who wants to help spread the word to contact the group (pedaw@mail.com) and join in.

Who knows, maybe these flash-mob videos will go viral.

 

Candido will be at Victoria’s TeenExpo in April. However, anyone, of any age, concerned about their own or others’ eating patterns can call the Vancouver Island Crisis Line (1-888-494-3888) or the South Island Eating Disorders Program (250-387-0000).

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