Too Fat or Too Thin, Stop Body-Shaming Full Stop

Opinion

I can honestly say that Cheryl Fernandez-Versini (or Cole, if you prefer) is not a figure who has ever been of particular interest to me. I have never disliked her, but equally I have never liked her enough to care. Sure, I have found her accent mildly irritating at times and have experienced the occasional hair envy, but until now that’s about as far as it went. Recently however, I have found that I am not indifferent to Cheryl’s extremely high profile media persona any longer. I have found myself standing quite firmly alongside the rest of Team Cheryl, I am even cheering from the sidelines.

What could have possibly brought on this sudden shift in opinion? For that, we need to talk about body-shaming. You’re probably used to hearing the term quite often by now, because we live in a culture obsessed with doing exactly that, body-shaming. Society does it, the media does it, even we as individuals do it – whether we share this outwardly or keep our guilty, intrusive thoughts to ourselves. For some reason, which is utterly lost to me, we live in a society which is obsessed with slagging others off, and our favourite genre is the body, particularly – but not exclusively – the female body.

This is not news of course, it has been happening forever – or at least since the Daily Mail was let loose on society – but I’m bringing it to attention now because of two instances which in my eyes, highlight just how ridiculous this body-shaming thing really is.

Example one: newlywed Jennifer Aniston returns from her honeymoon, positively glowing and presumably still on a high – as you would be if you had just married Justin Theroux and spent the last few weeks at the Four Seasons in Bora Bora – only to be publicly body-shamed, ridiculed and humiliated by everyone’s favourite newspaper tabloid. What did she do to deserve this? Supposedly ‘over-doing the dinners’ and relaxing her diet whilst on honeymoon, heaven forbid. Apparently we live in a world where people, or rather those people over at the Daily Mail who actually consider this to be a work of journalism, are more comfortable criticising someone for their body (what happens to actually be an extremely enviable body, I feel I must add) instead of just being happy for them. Sorry Jen, we can no longer label you the poor, jilted women, we’ll just have to call you fat instead.
  jennifer-aniston

Then at the other end of the scale there’s Cheryl, who has also fallen victim to the body-shaming culture. Her crime? She’s far too thin. Cheryl’s noticeably slim figure has had tongues and tabloids wagging non-stop since the start of the X-Factor, accusing her of being ‘too thin’ a ‘bag of bones’ and even a negative influence on young girls. Even though Cheryl had already spoken out honestly about her weight loss, putting it down to illness and stress caused by a recent personal trauma, the skinny-shaming was so insistent that Simon Cowell jumped to her defence, reassuring us that Cheryl was in fact eating properly.

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As I have also lost weight recently due to illness, I too, have of course found myself at the receiving end of body-shaming comments (whether these are intentional and malicious or not, the end result is the same) you’ll now understand why I am completely resonating with Cheryl on this one. It is equally as hurtful and frustrating to be labelled as “too thin” and constantly told to eat more and gain some weight, as it is to be told the exact opposite. So if no one can win, why can’t we just stop the body-shaming full stop? Public shaming, in the cases of Jen and Cheryl are not just one-off media assaults on individuals, they are attacks on all women, proving to us that no matter what we do or perhaps more importantly, what size we are, we will never be good enough. At least not in the eyes of the Daily Mail anyway.

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“Are you really going to eat that?”

Food, News, Opinion

“Are you really going to eat that?”

“A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips”

“Haven’t you got a dress to fit into?”

These are just a few comments which, if aimed at me just as I was about to tuck into my sandwich at lunch, would make me feel sick to my stomach. As someone who hates eating in front of strangers at the best of times, I struggle with any comments made towards my food, even the most seemingly harmless. “Are you really going to eat that?” My most abhorred question, fills me with shame and beckons the answer, “No, I won’t be eating it now, because you’ve made me feel incredibly self-conscious and insecure.”

When a woman sent a tweet last week to the Everyday Sexism Twitter page outlining her experience where a stranger told her not to buy chips in the supermarket because she was “too beautiful to eat them,” it commenced a cascade of replies from other women with similar experiences. It seems that total strangers (usually men in this instance) making negative comments on what women eat is an every day occurrence.

These are a few of my personal favourites:

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Of course this is everyday sexism at its finest, women’s bodies being viewed as public property, fair game for any man to comment on as he pleases. Obviously, before any morsel crosses a women’s lips she must first think about how this will effect her figure and therefore how attractive she is to the male population, because the only reason she would want to look good is for men, right?

Helena Christensen was recently photographed by the Daily Mail for eating a sandwich at lunch, the headline “Not a Model Meal.” The paper then went on to make comments such as “…better be careful with her eating habits in the future…she could end up losing those 35-24-35 that have made her the toast of men everywhere.” Are these people for real? She ate a sandwich.

As well as the obvious issues of sexism displayed in these women’s encounters, there’s the factors of self-esteem and body image, judgements like these can hurt more than a woman’s pride. I know from personal experience – and I’m sure even the most self-assured woman would agree – just how unsettling it can be to hear the words “Should you really be eating that?” or the alike, uttered just as you pick up your fork. It can instantly damage a woman’s confidence, fill her with shame and in some cases, can trigger eating disorders. It may seem extreme, but to someone who is recovering or even recovered from an eating disorder, one negative comment can spark up those overwhelming voices which she has battled so hard to keep at bay.

The message here is quite simple – mind your own business. Women do eat meals. Eating a sandwich for lunch is not “gorging” or “feasting,” it is normal. Men who wish to comment on what women eat really ought to keep their opinions to themselves.

New Statistics, Still No Closer to the Truth

Food, News

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As concerning as it is, it always restores a little faith in me to see eating disorders being talked about and addressed nationally in the press, as I fear coverage of these issues is getting dangerously thin on the ground. This is until I read further and discover just a bunch of more empty figures and lack of solution. Perhaps this is why, after reading such news reports, I find myself charged with conflicting emotions and opinions, but all eventually pointing to the same thing, despair.

The fact that the number of eating disorder hospital admissions has increased by 8 per cent, for me, can be seen in a number of different ways. The thing that automatically springs to mind is that this is a negative, although unsurprising outcome, but on reading into it I came to the conclusion that this is actually, a pointless statistic.

For one thing, those 2,560 admissions do not take into account those who are treated as out-patients, as the majority are, and even more importantly, the many people who suffer from eating disorders and do not seek help or receive treatment at all. For me, the truth and the real seriousness of the problem lies with the unknown numbers and this is where our attention should be focused.

Though the rise in admissions could be seen as a positive thing, the fact that more people are seeking help could mean that awareness of the seriousness of eating disorders and the treatment available has increased, this is only, in my opinion, a weak possibility. As much as I would hope this to be the case, the truth is much more likely to be sinister, simply more people are suffering.

However, aside from lacking veracity, this collection of data did uncover some very important points. It won’t shock anyone to hear that nine times as many females as males were admitted from 2012 -2013, the most common age of admission for girls was 15, age 13 for boys, but there were children aged five to nine, and even, distressingly, under fives admitted. (I found it particularly interesting – and a bit strange – that The BBC failed to put this last part in their report.) The age of admissions is a shocking statistic which anyone would hope will spur on some serious action to be taken, children under five suffering from these illnesses is something which I and most of society cannot and should not be able to comprehend.

Although the 2,560 people admitted may be the most severely ill, they are receiving the help they need, and this does not provide an accurate reflection of the problem. What about the rest of the story? What about those who are suffering in silence and living in denial? The truth is, eating disorders take many forms, in many people, of many different ages and the scale of this suffering can never be truly expressed in the form of a government statistic. It is real, it is boundless and it needs to be addressed.

Don’t Wear Beige, It Might Kill You

Fashion, Opinion

Fashion has always interested and inspired me, regardless of what may be going on my life. Too many people look down on fashion as a subject, believing it to be a shallow, vain and self-obsessed industry. Unfortunately these things can be true, the fashion industry is a harsh, cut-throat world, where image appears to mean everything. Fashion itself, however, is so much more than that. It is much more than spending hours agonising over what to wear in the morning, what’s new in Topshop this week, or what Cara Delevingne is wearing today. Being stylish and enjoying fashion are also two very different things which are often confused with each other, however I believe they are two things which go hand in hand. If you don’t enjoy fashion, how can you be classed as stylish?

I was inspired to write this post after watching a fantastic documentary on Channel 4 recently, Fabulous Fashionistas. Those who watched the show will need no explanation, within minutes I was hooked, inspired and excited. The show followed four women with an average age of 80, who simply refused to grow old and disappear. Each of them had a fantastic wardrobe of clothes, gathered from charity shops, flea markets and life itself, but what shone through the clothes was their inspiringly influential attitudes. Though the aim of the program was to show viewers growing old could be an exciting adventure, for me, it represented perfectly, the importance of fashion and the effect it can have on your state of mind.

The phrase, ‘fashion is a freedom of expression’ is in my eyes, over used but here it is also necessary, as I can find no better way to describe what fashion is. It is freedom and expression. In a world where women have daily battles with their body image and pour over the features they hate, fashion gives us the power to like ourselves. It allows us to feel good in something, gives us confidence and even hide our so-called flaws. When it comes to choosing what to wear, we are given ultimate choice, and you change your mind you can reinvent yourself again and again. For years I opted out of buying items because I felt they weren’t ‘me’ or were too ‘loud’ – in other words, anything which would attract attention to me in the street was a no-go. Now though, I feel differently when buying clothes, perhaps it is down to my confidence growing, but if I see a pair of blue and green tartan trousers which I love, I think f**k it, I’m going to wear them, and this I have learnt, is how style blossoms.

Fashion is an opportunity for self expression, when it may feel like no one is listening, it is one of the most unique forms of creativity, without having to pick up a paintbrush. It can be a focus (as it has been for me) when other things in life aren’t going well. Fashion is one of the few aspects of life which we have total control over. Fashion is much more than materialism, it is attitude, confidence, power and freedom.

Here are some of my favourite items at the moment:

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Checked Slacks, £14.99, H&M

Mesh panel jumpsuit, £38, Topshop

Mesh panel jumpsuit, £38, Topshop

Chelsea Boot, £45, Topshop

Chelsea Boot, £45, Topshop

Printed Kimono, £15, Primark, Gold necklace, £7.99, H&M, Cross belt, £5, Urban Outfitters

Printed Kimono, £15, Primark, Gold necklace, £7.99, H&M, Cross belt, £5, Urban Outfitters