Image: Oleksandr Bedenyuk / 123rf

An A4-sized paper. A 100 yuan banknote. And an iPhone 6.

These seemingly random items are now part of the latest online fad as “beauty challenges” for women to compare their body sizes against.

If a woman is able to hide her waist behind the shorter edge of an A4-sized paper, fully wrap a banknote around her wrist or cover her kneecap with an iPhone 6, she wins the challenges.

The idea has caught on among youth in China like wildfire, with tens of thousands trying them out and posting the results online, reported UK’s Daily Mail last month.

Singaporeans tell The New Paper on Sunday that these challenges could be here too.

In a random poll conducted by TNPS among youth aged 15 to 23, 46 out of 60 respondents said they have heard of at least one of these trends.

National University of Singapore student Samantha Oh, 20, says: “They perpetuate the image of what an ‘ideal and acceptable’ woman should be. Those sensitive about their weight might be pressured by these trends to lose weight. As someone who sometimes wishes she were skinny, I would be affected by these trends and feel upset about my body if I were younger.”

Cindy, 19, confesses: “These trends are ridiculous and crazy. But in the past, I probably would have tried them out.”

She also shared her weight-loss experiences. 

Several doctors and psychiatrists that TNPS spoke to rubbished these bizarre tests, saying that they promote an unhealthy body image.

Dr Tan Kean Jin, orthopaedic surgeon at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, says that two of the three challenges are inaccurate indicators of weight.

He says: “Your kneecap and wrist are in no way reflections of your body mass index. They are just made out of skin and bones.”

Dr Lim Boon Leng, psychiatrist at Gleneagles Medical Centre, cautions that such trends can cause people to be obsessed with trying to be “slim” or “small in size”.

“Impressionable young girls can see it as a challenge to be skinnier,” he says. “Coupled with peer pressure, they may develop eating disorders or unhealthy self-esteem issues.”

Such beauty trends also come at a time when there is a steady rise in the number of Singaporeans with eating disorders.

Dr Ng Kah Wee, director of Singapore General Hospital’s (SGH) Eating Disorders Programme, says the number of new cases the hospital sees has increased from 120 in 2011 to 180 last year.

The consultant at SGH’s department of psychiatry says people have a misconception that eating disorders are a cause for concern only in Western countries.

A study published in 2008 compared eating disorders between patients and non-patients of diverse ethnicity in Australia and Singapore reported similar body image dissatisfactions in both countries.

Between 2013 and last year, the number of newly diagnosed patients with eating disorder at SGH’s Eating Disorders Programme is at about 150 to 180 yearly, says Dr Ng.

Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa remain the two most common diagnoses.

And these beauty challenges make things worse. “Such trends may form triggers for our patients who are already struggling with body dissatisfaction, low self-esteem and over-emphasis on one’s body size and shape,” says Dr Ng.

“In receiving treatment and recovering from an eating disorder, it builds one’s resilience to external triggers such as these trends.”

The Health Promotion Board reiterates that maintaining a healthy body image is necessary.

“Do not underestimate the importance of physical health – when your body feels good, you will naturally feel good, too,” says its spokesman.

“Have a healthy and balanced diet, keep your fitness level up with regular exercise and ensure that you get sufficient rest to rejuvenate your body and mind.”

Helplines

Singapore General Hospital Eating Disorder Unit

Tel: 6321-4377

E-mail: eatingdisorders@sgh.com.sg

Singapore Association for Mental Health’s Support for Eating Disorders Singapore

Tel: 1800-283-7019
(9am to 1pm, 2pm to 6pm,  Monday to Friday, except holidays)

Website: www.samhealth.org.sg

 

This story was originally published in The New Paper. For more stories like this, head to www.tnp.sg.

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