We represent women with learning disabilities and/or autism who are participants in a project, Meet N Match, a friendship and dating agency. This is their response to the Changing the perfect picture: an inquiry into body image. This was collected as part of a discussion with 8 women with a learning disability and/or autism, supported by three staff members.
The women felt that social media and advertising play a large part in the perception of body image. In particular it was noted that celebrities who are influential use many filters on photographs on apps such as instagram, as well as using personal trainers and having healthy meals made for them. This is not practical in real life for many people (with a learning disability) as they have limited budgets and often no paid work, thus relying on benefits.
In shops many mannequins are skinny and do not represent real life bodies. It was noted that when shopping online many models are small sizes such as size 6 and that online store images should use a range of body types when showing clothing as it means people can see what they might look like in those clothes.
It was noted that insecurities from this group if women come feeling a pressure to look a certain way, a pressure to ‘glam up’ when going out and having feelings of insecurities of not knowing what to wear that is appropriate. Some of the women felt that men put pressure on women to have big boobs and slim bodies, as this is what is portrayed online.
Influences also come from friends in schools and college and though it is sometimes helpful for friends to be brutally honest it's not always that helpful when someone is feeling insecure about their body image.
The group felt the government could do the following things to help with these issues:
● Encourage people to live healthy lifestyles and be a ‘normal’ weight but recognise that people are different and there is no one size fits all. An example was given of a lady taking part in Slimming World, and though she lost weight and her body looked great, her mental health suffered because she did not socialise with friends as it was
too hard work to think about the slimming world plan, and the foods she could and could not have, when out and about with friends
● Educate people about being overweight and also underweight as both are unhealthy
● Help people to understand the right foods to eat and reduce the number of adverts for unhealthy food choices
● The group felt that the sugar tax has not stopped people buying fizzy drinks and people will pay the price regardless. They felt they should be hidden away similar to how tobacco products are hidden away
The group also wants you to understand that everyone with a learning disability is different. They felt that there is a stigma linked to the health of people with a learning disability and they want to ensure not everyone is pout in the same category. The example given was that some people have bad teeth, but not everyone, and so it should not be assumed that everyone with a learning disability has bad teeth (or other healthy issues).
Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to take part in this inquiry.