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Diet Pills & Beach Bodies: The Danger of Obsession
The quest for the perfect body isn't a modern idea. For centuries women have experienced pressure to maintain an admirable figure – from whalebone corsets designed to accentuate an hourglass silhouette in the Victorian era, to clinched in waists in the 50s. Bodily pressures have travelled with us through time, and we seem to be more obsessed now than ever.
On April 12th, 21 year old Eloise Aimee Parry died after taking more than the recommended dose of her slimming pills, which actually contained industrial chemical dinitrophenol (DNP), which is used in pesticides and unsafe for human consumption. Coroners said as she died, she 'burned from the inside'.
The diet pill industry is a terrifying reality of a culture which piles enormous pressure onto us to fit an ideal size. While diet pills can help some larger sizes in small doses – just like a gastric band would – they are dangerous and can be fatal, even with a small overdosage.
Some slimming pills work by preventing the body from absorbing fats from the diet, thereby reducing calorie intake, and others work by repressing the appetite. While out of the huge variety in pills out there, many are available over the counter in pharmacies like Boots, higher dosage ones are only available if prescribed by a doctor.
DNP, the ingredient in Parry's diet pills, works by speeding up the metabolism and burning off fat quickly, which, unless you are actually unhealthily overweight, could do a lot of damage to your insides – popping a pill can end up as more of a death bullet than an illicit tablet. But Parry's story is not an isolated one.
Selena Walrond, a 26 year old from Croydon died in 2008 after taking a lethal dose of DNP. Her body was found in a freezing cold bath after trying to furiously cool her body down, but, as there is no real antidote for the chemical consumption, she was never going to be saved. 28-year-old Sean Cleathero from Buckinghamshire also died after drinking a sachet dose of DNP, who then died of a heart attack and kidney failure. There are multiple stories that hauntingly resemble these, and there are sure to be more unless something changes.
Despite iterating warnings and stories, the demand for diet pills persists. Marilyn Glenville a psychologist and nutritionist specialising in women’s health says we live in an impatient culture:
People want quick, simplistic answers to complex problems, and it’s tragic when a young person loses their life in this terrible way. Gaining weight isn’t just about hunger, but portion size and emotions and unconscious eating in front of the television or standing by the fridge; losing weight and keeping it off is about will power and effort and a change of mindset and lifestyle.
A recurring problem with diet pills is the marketing, aimed at young and vulnerable young women who are made to feel like they need to lose weight by advertisers – just like any product to do with weight, beauty and fitness. If you're a Londoner you may have seen Protein World's latest advertising campaign for their 'weight loss collection' of pills, which shows a bronzed, slim woman in a bikini penned by the archaic and demeaning slogan: "Are you beach body ready?"
An onslaught followed from those feeling distressed by the campaign, and a petition by Charlotte Baring from East Sussex asking to remove the detrimental ads has received over 13,500 signatures in just a few days. On the petition, she said she feels the ad aims to make women feel physically inferior and should be taken down:
A body's function is far more intricate and important than looking 'beach ready', so in fact it is Protein World who have confused their priorities, if anyone.
In the same way juice diets, detoxing and fasting offer the body conscious an easy route to 'health' and 'vitality', slimming pills offer the person taking them to feel better about themselves without really too much effort, and ultimately they might lose weight, but it is common for more weight to be gained after a crash diet.
Jo Travers, a dietician from The London Nutritionist told Konbini Protein World's weight loss programme doesn't contain any toxic chemicals, but the high levels of Vitamin A in the programme could be harmful if not used properly. She also said they are not the best way to lose weight:
The main problem with crash diets and slimming programmes is that usually people actually gain more weight after finishing diet courses, and it's more fat than muscle. I've seen people who are 45 now who started crash-dieting when they were 20, and if they just lost weight gradually, a kilo every 3 months, they would be their ideal weight now.
Excessive marketing at young women does nothing for everyone's real wellbeing. Would you really feel better taking Protein World's weight loss pills after having been pressured to knock them back by a tube advert?
It's unclear whether there are any aimed at asking men if their body is ready for the beach (who's is, let's be real), but we can assume there probably isn't. One petition signee, Ross Goodman says the ad ruins his journey to work:
This advert ruins my commute every day. It makes me sad and angry that an advert essentially telling women not to eat can be shown on the tube.
Many claim to be hurt or shocked by the advert, which enhances body-shaming culture which is so prevalent in every inch of media and wider society in Britain. You do not have to be a certain shape or size to be a human being. As long as you're healthy and not putting enormous pressure on your body, the only pill you'll be popping is a non-life threatening one.
To sign the petition go here.
By Lydia Morrish, published on 23/04/2015