This is not the first time I have written about body fascism for Louder Than War. I am aware that some of the points I may make may echo previous articles, but I felt that now was the time to wonder if the past year has seen body fascism in the media reach peak levels, and just why this is such an issue worth taking seriously.
“Media” nowadays is a lot wider term than it once was. It of course covers social media, which can be a nasty place when it wants to be, and the whole additional world of self-styled bloggers, alongside the mainstream media. The other thing which has become much wider is celebrity and who can be a part of the public eye. Combined, this creates a situation in which more people are open to attacks on their appearance, through more mediums than ever.
I know I’m far from alone at Louder Than War in this. Last year John wrote an open criticism of those who were making an issue out of Kate Bush’s weight after her comeback shows. But this kind of personal nastiness, while a long-entrenched part of the media, seemed to have a real acceleration over the past year. It is one thing for fashion models to be expected to look a certain way, but that then overspills into singers, actresses, television presenters … basically any woman in the public eye. But it is the culture of TV talent shows which is has really broadened the idea of celebrity and thus the potential scope of criticism. One minute somebody can be appearing on television for the first time, the next minute the papers and the bloggers are making sneery comments on their weight. In short, the press has reached a point were it is expecting ultra-thinness of people who are essentially ordinary members of the public.
But is this just petty bitchiness, best left ignored? Or is there a genuinely dangerous wider issue here?
I am not suggesting that the media is responsible for eating disorders, which would be to simplify complex psychological conditions to the point of patronising sufferers. However, more often than not, eating disorders are sparked by a chance face-to-face personal remark which unlocks a deeper existing emotional issue and the downward spiral begins.
Whether we admit to it or not, the press does influence everyday life and people, and this kind of thinness-driven culture certainly has the power to breed the “culture of the chance remark.” The kind of people who think it is acceptable to make such remarks will usually attempt to justify it with “it was only a joke” or “people shouldn’t be so sensitive.” Would they think the same way if they then learnt that such comments had been a trigger for someone’s serious illness? After all, eating disorders are far from pretty. In fact, at their worst level they are downright terrifying. At the beginning of this piece I was going to make a comment about how modern sexism is less “back to the kitchen, woman” and more “out of the kitchen cupboard, woman,” but such criticism often lashes out at men who don’t fit the apparent ideal too, and, having witnessed male anorexia at the very worse level, I know it can have the same impact.
When I wrote my open letter to Samantha Brick, I received an overwhelming amount of messages agreeing with me with a vengeance. Amongst them was one lone message, sent under a fake name – funny, that – accusing me of being jealous of Brick myself, and of trying to justify unhealthy lifestyles. Truth is, I’m a fitness enthusiast who believes in the power of general healthy eating and good nutrition, so doesn’t it just show how easy it is for people to make assumptions about others? I just don’t believe in a culture of criticising other people for their appearance, particularly when it has just potentially far –reaching consequences. Let’s all just be a little nicer to each other. If we are in the press, let’s keep our criticisms of people valid, and relating to their work, not the way they look. Then maybe we can start being a bit nicer to ourselves as well … and I can stop stressing about the size of my hips so much. Its hard to be a voice of anti- body fascism and pro-acceptance when you have such insecurities of your own, but due to the aforementioned environment it’s going to be pretty difficult to find someone who doesn’t, which simply reinforces my point. So come on, media, make 2015 the year you take some responsibility, and we can all be a little healthier for it. Permission to eat granted?
For help with eating disorders the b-eat helpline is 0845 634 1414