A healthy lifestyle is something most of us rightly aspire to but sometimes this type of dedication can spiral into obsession, potentially leading to an eating disorder known as ‘orthorexia’. In the latest edition of U magazine, I outline what eating disorders experts have to say about the issue and hear from a young woman who recovered from the condition. If you or someone you know is affected by an eating disorder, Bodywhys, Ireland’s eating disorder association, is a fantastic resource and support. Click here for their website.
It is hard to believe that a single photograph can cause such a commotion but when ‘It Girl’ Alexa Chung posted an innocent looking Instagram picture of herself and her mum, internet warriors suddenly rose up, foaming at the mouth with indignation, decrying what they saw as Chung’s excessive thinness and questioning her suitability as a role model.
Chung subsequently made her account private but this did little to quell the rising storm that quickly spilled over into traditional media. What has been almost completely overlooked amidst the furore are two key issues: is it ever right to publicly speculate about an individual’s health? And just how complicit are we, the public, when it comes to the despicable art of body snarking whereby we brutally critique the female form?
Firstly: health. Online commentators slammed Chung, threw around accusations of eating disorders and suggested she was using the photo to promote extreme skinniness or thinspiration, an assertion that made her understandably upset. Thinspiration is a disturbing trend where young women spur each other on to achieve extreme thinness. Anyone in their right mind would be horrified to be connected to such carry on, especially someone like Chung, whose popularity is dependent on young women who are fascinated by her style.
The fact of the matter is this: there is one place and one place only to discuss someone’s health and that is in private, within the sanctuary offered by family, friends and medical professionals, not on a social media site or on the front of a magazine. Despite what the cult of celebrity may tell us or the manner in which women’s bodies are offered up as fresh meat by the media, there are things that should be beyond the realm of public discussion and health is one of them.
Unless an individual chooses to make such information known or the information has a significant direct effect on the public – which is unlikely, unless the person in question is a high ranking politician – then we must remember that health is not a matter for the public sphere and speculating about it is not only misguided but cruel.
While some of the comments in relation to Chung’s photograph were reasonable, the vast majority were spiteful, accusatory and invasive, as if someone being in the public eye gives the public carte blanche to make all kinds of obnoxious remarks directly to them. Just how many of those commenting were trained medical professionals with the ability to diagnose someone from behind a screen has yet to be established.
Very thin models are nothing new. Girls who look this way are often richly rewarded and become darlings of the fashion industry that spawned them. There are regular laments about the size of these models and the impact they have on women in general and yet, the skinny staple never seems to change. Why is that?
Fashion is first and foremost a business. If hyper-thin models put consumers off, if we refused to pay for what their bodies help flog, then the industry would be looking for elsewhere for faces quicker than you can say, “pass me that cheeseburger.” Despite the public horror at the likes of heroin chic, we still buy into those images by the billion and take our wrath out on the women whose visibility makes them vulnerable: the models and not the people in the boardrooms, pulling the strings.
High profile women and their bodies are fair game for public debate. They are subjected to a level of scrutiny that would render even the most solid individual paranoid. This scrutiny is a magnified version of the type all women face. Our bodies are not truly ours, they things to be observed, picked over and dissected. Can you remember the last time a marauding internet mob demanded a male star with a steroid-induced six pack, “sort himself out”?
We assume it is our right to cast judgement, to make vicious remarks and have an opinion on matters relating to individual women who we know nothing about and yet, are encouraged to tear apart. In the process we hurt other women and we hurt ourselves but here’s the thing: it never hurts to be kind and it never hurts to keep your cash for products and companies that celebrate women. As a wise person said many moons ago, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
Good advice, that.
This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post.
Is there anything worse than food poisoning? Quite possibly, yes, but when you’re in the throes of its horrors it is difficult to imagine a nastier state. Fortunately for me, I’m finally crawling out from under the food poisoning rock, which began explosively on Sunday night and left me in a weak, aching heap for two days. Being too sick to eat however has its high points, as my friends (tongue-in-cheek) pointed out: you lose weight! And that’s good, right?
Well , of course it isn’t. The fact that I was sick negates surely any ‘benefits’, at least to my mind, but the idea that ‘skinny by any means is a worthy pursuit’ persists culturally. How many times a day do we see headlines screeching about the latest fad diet or exercise regime or miracle supplement? How many times are celebrities – who have the finances and time to overindulge their physiques -used to exemplify the perfect body? Too many, I suspect, too many even for the most sane woman not to find herself goaded into thinking, at least for a moment or two, ‘wow, I really should skip dinner/ run for three miles a day/ go on that diet where you eat nothing but cabbage soup.’
‘Skinny by any means’ ideal is not just silly, it is dangerous. Fad diets might might help you lose weight in the short term but study after study shows the weight lost is inevitably put back on, not forgetting the nutritional and metabolic problems some of these diets cause. Extreme exercise without proper training and warming/up down is not a recipe for fitness but one for injury and defeat. None of this is a road map to health but that doesn’t stop the media churning out images and messages to the contrary. After all, if people accepted the simple, scientifically proven facts of eating less, doing more and consuming a varied diet high in fruit and veg and low in processed foods, well, who’d buy the diet books? And where would we be then?
Part of me reluctantly acknowledges there are people who would elect to have food poisoning if it meant they lost a few pounds, just like folk who mess around with laxatives, eat nothing but popcorn for weeks or exist in a haze of cigarettes and coffee (or worse) to make sure they stay on the right side of thin. In this zany world of ours, we reward women for basically starving themselves and chastise those who don’t. Honestly, if you asked me which was sicker: food poisoning or our culture, I know which one I’d chose. Sadly, it isn’t the one you cure by resting up and taking plenty of fluids. Oh ladies and gentlemen, if only it were that simple.
Ladies: it’s time to put down those sparkly shoes and pick up your shields, for the battle of the body types rages on and you’ve simply got to choose a size, sorry, side. No, no – no dithering. You’re either one or the other and before you starting rambling on about ‘healthy body image’ just shut it. ‘Healthy body image’ doesn’t whip up a media frenzy the way ‘skinny versus curvy’ does, so you can park that notion, thank you very much.
What’s it going to be, women folk: the skinny tribe of supermodels and disordered eaters or the curvy tribe of so-called normal women and celebrities who can’t hack diet pills anymore? Hey – why the long faces at my ridiculous over-simplification of female body types? Are you seriously suggesting that women’s bodies cannot be categorized as one of two things? Of course you are… and you are absolutely right.
As any well-adjusted person knows, women’s bodies come in all shapes and sizes, most of which do not fit neatly into the ideals of skinny and curvy that are hammered home by the media and fashion industry. However, given the prevalence of these images and messages in our lives, it is little wonder that so many otherwise sane and smart women succumb and begin to compare themselves – often unfairly – to one of the two standards of female shape on offer.
To see how hopeless and crushing such comparisons are, take a moment to consider how ‘skinny’ and ‘curvy’ are treated in the media. Let’s start by taking a look at the thin side of things: skinny women are on the one hand lauded for achieving what we are led to believe is the cultural ideal of ‘thinness’ but their triumph (such as it is) is short lived. Speculation about eating disorders invariably follows, along with demands to know diet and exercise secrets, coupled with tremendous pressure to remain skinny. Extremely thin women – regardless of whether this is their natural, healthy state or not – are treated as freakishly asexual and lacking in femininity, a notion that is as difficult to pin down as a piece of fluff in a blizzard.
Meanwhile, curvy women are cheered on for railing in the face of the tyranny of skinny but lo, the bubble isn’t long for bursting. While they are applauded for being real women with real bodies, the ads for underwear etc. to constrict and camouflage the very curves we’re supposed to be celebrating are never too far away. That’s not forgetting preachy features on diets and exercise regimes, not to mention the yards of press celebrities locked in ‘weight loss battles’ receive. If ‘curvy’ is so wonderful, why are women who identify themselves as such sold such conflicting, utterly rubbish messages?
Just as women cannot be skinny in peace, neither can they be curvy in peace. She, whatever her size, can never win. This suits those who profit from insecurities down to the ground, a point made very well last week by Plus Model Magazine in their article entitled: ‘Plus Size Bodies, What is Wrong with Them Anyway?’ which featured a shocking comparison between a plus sized model and a typically thin fashion model.
The crux of the issue is how women’s bodies are treated as public property, as ‘things’ to be consumed, improved and judged. Off the top of their head, does anyone know the size of the average British male? Probably not but more than likely, you do know that the average British woman is a size 14 or larger. You are also far more likely to see or hear women’s bodies being reduced to dehumanised ‘bits’ – breasts, hips, thighs, bums, legs – than men’s. Women’s bodies – the very physical fabric of their being – are something we all have an opinion on, whether we are entitled to or not.
The saddest part of the ‘skinny versus curvy’ debate is how often it misses the fundamental issue of good health. The best size for anyone is the one they are most healthy at and only your doctor can advise you about that. What’s the point in being a size 8 when you are shaving years off your life smoking fags to stave off your appetite? What’s the point in lying to yourself about being curvy if you are in fact dangerously overweight and hurting the very heart that sustains you? Isn’t it time we turned our backs on the silly ideas of ‘skinny’ and ‘curvy’ and sought out something kinder, healthier and better for our souls, our bodies and our minds? Ladies, never mind being worth it; we deserve nothing less.