Don't talk about diets in front of your daughters, deputy head at top London school warns parents

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Parents should not talk about wanting to lose weight in front of their teenage daughters, a London deputy headteacher has warned.

Children are already exposed to “toxic” messages about the importance of being very thin and parents must help counter this, according to Fionnuala Kennedy of Wimbledon High School. 

She wrote to parents at the £18,000-a-year girls’ school after watching Netflix drama To The Bone, which has been criticised for “glamorising anorexia”.

Ms Kennedy, deputy head (pastoral) at the school, said she was horrified by the film and concerned that teenagers would watch it during the holidays, with time to dwell on it and discuss it on social media. 

In a message to parents about how to deal with the pressure faced by girls, she wrote: “Role model as effectively as you can. It’s difficult to advocate a rounded, healthy diet for your teen if you’ve cut out carbs and dairy yourself, or frequently refer to your desire to lose weight.”

Ms Kennedy told the Evening Standard: “We are all a bit culpable — it’s quite a middle-class thing talking about cutting out food groups and clean eating.” 

Criticism: Lily Collins lost weight to appear in Netflix’s To The Bone, with Keanu Reeves

Teachers should also be careful about what they say in front of pupils. She said: “As a teacher when  you come back from holiday and speak to your colleagues, one of the first things middle-aged women will say to each other is, ‘You look fantastic — have you lost weight?’ It’s ingrained in us as women, so we have to be really careful because these messages are picked up all the time.” 

“We are all role models. Mothers, teachers, aunts — you will be looked up to even  if you don’t realise it, and it is your job not to propagate the idea that thin is just better.”

Ms Kennedy said she watched To The Bone, in which Lily Collins plays a 20-year-old with anorexia, to keep “in step” with her pupils — and suggested parents should also try to watch the same films as their daughters, to help understand their world. But she called the film “irresponsible” and said Netflix had a duty not to glamorise mental health issues.

She added: “To The Bone, with its emphasis on anorexia as an act of rebellion, as ‘sexy’ even, only adds to the ‘thin is cool/right/attractive’ argument.”

Beat, the national eating disorder charity, has warned that the film is likely to be “highly distressing or triggering” for people with eatin ences to calories, weight and eating disorder behaviours, as well as images of Collins’s character Ellen at a very low weight. 

The actress, 28, who has spoken about battling an eating disorder as a teenager, was required to lose weight for the film. She said she did so “safely” under supervision from a  nutritionist, producers, the director and her own mother to avoid a relapse. 

The film’s writer and director Marti Noxon said: “Having struggled with anorexia and bulimia well into my twenties, I know first-hand the struggle, isolation and shame a person feels when they are in the grips of this illness.

“In an effort to tell this story as responsibly as we could, we spoke with other survivors and worked with Project Heal [a charity] throughout production in the hope of being truthful in a way that wasn’t exploitive.

“My goal was not to glamorise eating disorders, but to serve as a conversation starter about an issue that is too often clouded by secrecy and misconceptions.

“I hope that by casting a little light into the darkness we can achieve greater understanding and guide people to help if they need it.”

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