Alexa Chung and Body Snarking: Why Our Addiction to Critiquing Women’s Bodies Must Stop

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.

Ms. Chung doing her thang at the recent Met Ball.

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.

Skinny By Any Means: Why Are Women Told To Starve Themselves?

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?

Norma was going to eat the damn sandwich, enjoy the damn sandwich & she didn't give a twopenny hoop what anyone else thought about it!

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.

Emergency! Do You Suffer From Celebrity Fatigue Syndrome (C.F.S.)?

Blame Celebrity Big Brother. Blame super babies with odd names and celebrity chefs getting caught in compromising positions. Blame the post-Christmas fug as more and more innocent people of normal intelligence fall victim to a very mysterious ailment. Some claim it is a direct result of the star saturated world we are all marinating in. Sounds like a joke, you cry. Read on, dear sceptic, read on!

Experts (none of whom were available for a direct quote, sadly) are calling it ‘…an epidemic of global proportions’, one that crosses borders and oceans with shocking ease. While doctors struggle to develop treatment (apparently they have better things to be doing, which is a tad uncaring) millions are infected by this potentially irritating, mind-altering disease that has invaded all corners of human life.

No matter where Mary Anne went, the sludgy hand of celebrity was sure to follow...

The name: Celebrity Fatigue Syndrome or C.F.S. whereby the patient develops an acute, sometimes violent aversion to all things ‘celebrity’ with troubling implications for them, those close to them and indeed the world.

Wondering how to spot a C.F.S sufferer? Thankfully it isn’t hard to do. While most people are sanguine and accepting of the ever more prevalent celebrity forces in our societies, C.F.S. patients grow moody and increasing irritated. They claim celebrity culture is indicative of a society that is vomiting up its own excesses and then parading them around as ‘entertainment’.

Patients become emotional, even angry, demanding to know how in the name of Napoleon’s left bollock certain celebrities became famous in the first place, without having any discernable talent, except for a bodged boob job, poorly produced sex tape or reality TV show ‘career’. No answers offered by friends or family are ever enough to allay their concerns. They also foam from the mouth whenever anyone produces a copy of Heat magazine.

It is natural to assume you are or could be a potential sufferer of C.F.S. The good news is self-diagnosis is relatively simple. If you’ve experienced any of the following, chances are – deep breath – you have succumbed to the scourge:

Do you find yourself shouting at the television, threatening to stab your eyes out with the remote because you are sick to the very pit of your being of the same sorry faces fronting and starring in mind-numbing repetitive cookery, reality or ‘fun’ game shows? “Make it stop,” you cry, “‘it’s like Ground Hog day in hell” while your family – gathered around you in a zombified state – keep stuffing their faces, wondering what all the fuss is about. Why can’t you just shut up and watch X Factor In A Jungle On Ice With Some Dancing, just like everybody else?

Do you find yourself rolling your eyes in open disgust at the news that people have christened their offspring Britney, Rihanna, Beyonce or Paris? Do you shrivel up in self-loathing when you realise that despite never watching single episode of Jersey ShoreKeeping Up With the Kardashians etc, you have a more than vague knowledge of their ‘stars’ and ‘plotlines’? The resulting shame makes your blood thicken.

A trip to the supermarket is pure torture, as you lurch from aisle to aisle seeking out products that are not endorsed by a celebrity, whose shit-eating smiles beam at you from the labels of everything from baked beans to tampons. Do you mutter to yourself, “can I not just buy a few groceries in peace anymore?” even though the answer is quiet obviously a blimp-sized “no”?

Finally, and most crucially, does just glancing at the Daily Mail homepage bring you out in scores of oozing sores, leaving you jabbering like a lobotomised ferret, trying to banish the images of ill-fitting bikinis, staged love affairs and weight loss speculation from your mind? Alas, once such mind rot is seen, it can never be unseen as sufferers of C.F.S. know only too well.

Treatment for C.F.S. is relatively straightforward: throw out your TV, bin all newspapers and magazines, unplug the Internet, smash up your phone, sell the house and move to a small Scandinavian village with a population of 52 and no mobile connection. Failing all that, moving into a nuclear bunker might be an idea.

A bit excessive? Definitely. Probably futile? Yes; after all, it is only a matter of time before celebrities start projecting images of their plastic surgery adventures onto the surface of the moon – the ultimate billboard campaign, if you will. In the meantime, stay strong C.F.S. suffers. I know it isn’t easy – having healthy levels of common sense rarely is in this daft world of ours – but keep muddling along together until such a time as you can’t sit on the loo of your local pub without a picture of a celeb staring back at… oh, wait, nevermind.

This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post.