Latest news | 17 May 2021

Spike in body dissatisfaction affecting young Australians amid warnings of eating disorder risk


Butterfly Foundation is urging Australians to #ChangeThePicture on body image for the sake of our younger generations. Body dissatisfaction is one of the leading risks for the development of an eating disorder, and Butterfly says we need to address the underlying factors at an early age.

Kevin Barrow, CEO of Butterfly, explained that body image issues are a serious problem in Australia and can lead to depression, social anxiety and eating disorders. “Body image is the third major personal concern of Australians aged 15-19, just behind stress and mental health and ahead of school or study problems and physical health. In fact, 33 per cent have serious concerns about body image – which is backed up by the surge in demand to our services from young Australians and their parents over the last 12 months,” he said.

“The increased exposure to social media and heightened levels of stress and anxiety resulting from COVID-19 have placed our young people at a significant risk of body dissatisfaction, which we know can develop into an eating disorder later in life.”

An alarming 54 per cent of contacts to the Butterfly National Helpline in the second half of 2020 were Australians under 29 years of age, with 31 per cent aged between 20-29 years old and 23 per cent aged between 10-19 years. Moreover, 73 per cent of carers who contact the National Helpline support young people between the ages 10-24 years.

Additionally, enquiries for Butterfly school services were up by 150 per cent during the first school term of 2021, compared to pre-COVID term 1 in 2019. So far this year Butterfly has reached 30,000 young people, compared to approximately 10,000 in the whole of 2019.

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, with a death rate even higher than the annual national road toll. Butterfly aims to #ChangeThePicture with a national campaign that delivers positive messaging, encouraging strong role modelling, and building body confidence in our young people to prevent body dissatisfaction and ultimately eating disorders from occurring.
#ChangeThePicture asks people with a lived experience of body dissatisfaction or an eating disorder what they would say to their younger selves. Rather than changing our bodies or editing photos, it’s time to #ChangeThePicture we present to younger generations.

“What we say to our children and young people and how we behave can stay with them for a very long time,” said Butterfly’s Manager, Education Services, Helen Bird.

“Our society shapes us in many ways and promotes the idea that a perfect body is guaranteed to receive a passport to popularity, success, and self-confidence. Research emphasises the need for prevention and early intervention programs for children and young people which address modifiable risk and protective factors for body dissatisfaction, disordered eating and eating disorders.”

Mahalia Handley, 28, experienced body dissatisfaction for more than 10 years. Despite being a curve model, she is constantly questioning how she looks.
“I thought my body was horrible at one point, and I was only eighteen. A lot of problems, especially with my mental health, have come from the fact that plus-size models weren’t seen as valuable or anything that could be fashionable,” said Mahalia. “I didn’t realise it until recently, how deeply that it affected me, because I’ve just recently had a diagnosis of being body dysmorphic. “
Patrick Boyle, 26, lived his whole childhood and teenage years hating his body, obsessing over food and his appearance, and because no one spoke about it, he assumed everyone experienced similar thoughts about themselves.

“Growing up on a coastal town there was one aspired look – tanned, white, straight, and fit – and I was a closeted queer kid with body image issues. I just didn’t fit in, I always felt different,” said Patrick. “But because no one really spoke about it, I just assumed that feeling unattractive or disliking yourself was something everyone felt. I grew up believing that your body is always something to be improved upon.”

Ms Bird added: “It’s not surprising that we have seen a significant increase in demand for seminars from parents struggling to know how to support their teens, following the stressors of 2020. The Butterfly prevention team has been inundated from school staff and other professionals working with young people for prevention and early intervention trainings as they are on the front line supporting their students and young people with increased body image concerns and eating disorders.”

“We have trained 663 per cent more education professionals in the first term of 2021 than we did in the first term of 2019 and delivered 314 per cent more secondary school sessions.

“The demand is there, research strongly supports early intervention and education programs to prevent body dissatisfaction from developing, and we are working hard to support school communities; their staff, parents, care-givers and students. Now is the time to support our kids’ mental health so they don’t develop problems down the track. Without intervention, we’re heading for a dire future. We need to change the picture, and we need to start now.”

For more information on #ChangeThePicture and how you can donate or get involved visit:/get-involved/campaigns/changethepicture



Media Contact
Elaine Banoub
Mob: 0412 237 673

Editors & Producers Note: Please refer to the Mindframe Guidelines for reporting of eating disorders. Please include help seeking advice in all media coverage. Anyone needing support with eating disorders or body image issues is encouraged to contact Butterfly’s National Helpline 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673) or

 Help and Support

Anyone needing support with eating disorders or body image issues is encouraged to contact:

  • Butterfly National Helpline on 1800 33 4673 (1800 ED HOPE) or
  • Eating Disorders Victoria Helpline on 1300 550 23
  • For urgent support call Lifeline 13 11 14