A Labour MP has opened up about his own teenage battle with body dysmorphia as he spoke of the “immense” pressure people were under to look thin, healthy and muscular.
Chris Evans said he was “frustrated” by magazine covers with their celebrity weight loss headlines as he recalled his past “self-esteem” issues.
Speaking during a Westminster Hall debate on reducing stigma around eating disorders, the MP for Islwyn said: “When I was a teenager, my big role models were Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone.
“Every time their films come out I want to look like them, it ended to the point that I was working out twice a day, I was lifting weights constantly, I was following a diet, I was suffering from all the causes of body dysmorphia, I never looked good enough.
“But at the same time that wasn’t the trigger, just by wanting to look like big Arnie, the trigger was my parents were going through divorce, it was a high stress situation, I was about to sit my exams and the only way out of it was to look like Schwarzenegger or Stallone.”
Mr Evans hit out at the media reaction to American actor Mark Wahlberg’s recent revelations about his daily overnight workout regime, adding: “Nobody in the media condemned him, everybody complimented him on how disciplined he was. That to me is madness and what images are we sending out… to our young people that it’s good to look like somebody… on Love Island?”
He also criticised the diet industry saying he and his wife recently cleared out their own collection of diet books “selling a perfect way of life”.
He said: “If you are suffering like I was many years ago of self-esteem issues, if you think you are not good enough, then these books feed exactly into that, so it’s not just social media that we have to break down on.”
He added: “The ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) needs real teeth, that when it sees these things happening it, comes down on these magazines and these advertisements like a ton of bricks.”
Mr Evans urged anyone suffering to “talk to someone, seek out the help you need” adding that “if you come forward you’ll find that people won’t judge you”.
Lib Dem Wera Hobhouse, who led the debate, called for the stigma around eating disorders to be challenged through education and better training for doctors and health professionals.
The MP for Bath paid an emotional tribute to women who had contacted her to share their experiences.
Choking back tears at the end of her speech, she said: “A successful strategy to reduce prejudice is when people come forward and tell their stories, such stories break the silence and the shame.
“We need to act quickly to treat eating disorders and mental health in general. If we wait too long these illnesses can become severe and entrenched, lasting for many years and often have a massively debilitating effect on the sufferers as well as their families.
“The earlier the intervention the more likely sufferers will make a full recovery.”