Saturday, 27 February 2010

ITV News Feature

To see the feature which appeared yesterday (26th Feb) on ITV News go to:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGWeYYpwot8

To piece features my recent visit to Gloucestershire College to teach body confidence.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2010

To coin a phrase frequently repeated by anyone who works long hours – “It’s only halfway through the week and I’m knackered already!”. This week is passing in a blur of radio and press interviews and of discovering yet more people dedicated to promoting change and stamping out the growing trend for eating disorders – Hoorah!

I was delighted to see Sam Thomas’ campaign “Men Get Eating Disorders Too” (http://www.mengetedstoo.co.uk/) receive some well deserved press-coverage, including a feature in the Daily Mirror (go Sam!).

Sam and I were both lucky enough to be interviewed by Jenny "Loveliness Personified" Barnett on LBC on Thursday 25th February about what has been termed by the media as the "Manorexia Epidemic". (I'm not sure how comfortable I am with this term - It's like "guyliner" - Surely eyeliner is for men and women so why do men need an entirely different word?)

It’s my observation that young men and women represent two opposite extremes when it comes to addressing the issues of relationships towards food and body image. Girls incessantly overanalyze, constantly scrutinizing their own diet and body shape as well as those of their peers. Whilst these topics tend to come up frequently in conversations amongst females, it often means that the dangerous thought-processes and destructive habits which can lead to eating disorders are normalized and excused. Their male counterparts, conversely, are desperate to maintain a fa├žade of casual disregard for all body-related issues and this constant quest for bravado means that problems fester silently and have to become sufficiently severe before they can be recognized. Sam’s campaign, which aims to ensure that eating disorders amongst men are treated with equal gravitas as those in women, will go some way to redressing this imbalance and that is why we support it at Winning Minds, where we have seen many male clients who feel trapped by their own silent self-loathing and harmful eating habits.

Ilona Burton, ex anorexia and bulimia sufferer and now an ambassador for B-eat, is another person who is passionate about tackling misconceptions and prejudices so often applied in the Eating Disorder sphere. This week, she has been working with the local press, Radio 1's Newsbeat and Channel M, sending out the vital message that, contrary to popular belief, eating disorders aren't the curse automatically associated with being a white, middle class female. There is no common component uniting sufferers, and no one is genetically or socially more predisposed to an eating disorder - They can strike anyone regardless of race, class or gender. Ilona writes a blog for The Independent, which aims to educate families and friends of eating disorder sufferers. Which you can read at: www.independent.co.uk/catherineib

The official National Eating Disorders Awareness Week site defines this week as “a collective effort of primarily volunteers, eating disorder professionals, health care providers, educators, social workers, and individuals committed to raising awareness of the dangers surrounding eating disorders and the need for early intervention and treatment”. With this in mind, Mark and I have been talking ourselves hoarse to anyone who will listen about the causes of eating disorders and how we can actively encourage change, on both a personal and sociological level. We have even recorded a CD called “Understanding Eating Disorders” which features Mark offering various pearls of wisdom during a question-and-answer session and is designed both for sufferers and the people around them who might be struggling to understand their mentality and behaviour. You can find out more about the CD by going to www.winningminds.co.uk/self-help-tools/.

Heart FM, being the wonderful starlets of social awareness they are, interviewed me not once, not twice, but thrice, for their stations in Essex, Gloucester and the West Midlands. I later found out that this also meant clips were featured during the hourly news bulletins on 1017fm, which is listened to by pretty-much all of my Essex based friends, who then proceeded to phone me in various states of hysteria – “babe! You’re, like, famous! And everything!”. Meanwhile, Lorna Milton of BBC Three Counties asked questions which allowed me to remember why I started all this campaigning malarkey in the first place – To make a noise about the often dismissed and overlooked issue of bulimia nervosa, which is neither as ostensibly shocking, nor as glamorous, as the much-hyped anorexia. Dave Monk at BBC Essex then very patiently allowed me to rant maniacally, often to comic effect, about Botox, why designers who find themselves unable to make plus size models look fabulous in their creations are not very good at their job and why the Lynx advert should be banned for its laughably blatant attempts at manipulation of the entire male populous.

ITV West will air their piece on my body confidence campaign (in association with Body Gossip) on Friday – Which features the lovely students of Gloucestershire College giving their verdict on my attempts to make them realise there’s more to life than expending all your energy attempting to fit the identikit celebrity aesthetic, and (with any luck) making some equally lovely comments.

With all this frantic awareness-raising, advice-giving, campaign-mongering and general rant-age, one would have thought the message would be clear. However, to my dismay (and when I say dismay, what I actually mean is me stomping into Mark’s office, shoving a newspaper cutting under his nose and saying “I’m livid, I am!”), there have been several pieces in the national press which proffer a ludicrous line of logic, which can be summarized as: “Why are we all focusing on eating disorders so much, when obesity is the real problem in this country?”. You may read my response to one such journalist in my blog below but, before you do, bear in mind it was written almost solely by my inner bitch. My inner bitch is a flamboyantly camp, flame haired drag queen, who has just been spurned by his boyfriend for a much younger man and wants to take it out on the world. You have been warned.

I have two points to make on the warped reasoning of these articles:

1. Compulsive overeating, to which a large proportion of severe obesity can be attributed, IS an eating disorder and has the same common root as anorexia or bulimia – Low Self Esteem.

2. Shockingly, a viable solution to the so-called obesity crisis in this country would NOT be anorexia.


As for the majority of people in Great Britain, who are a little above their ideal BMI and are perpetually being told so by health professionals, the media and the generally self-righteous: How anyone could believe that torturing oneself relentlessly both mentally and physically is in any way preferable to having a muffin top, is beyond my comprehension. Whatever the general state of the majority population, eating disorders are an increasing and terrifying problem and will continue to be so unless there is a fundamental change in attitudes - Including, but not restricted to, ceasing to deflect the issue by talking about the obesity crisis whenever our attention is drawn to the uncomfortable realm of EDs.

The above are the views I expressed on Talk Sport, in the wee small hours of Monday morning. (The sleep deprivation was worth it to be welcomed into the bosom of the UK's no1 commercial radio station.) I was commenting on the story of 5 year old Lucy Jones, who was sent home from school with a note from her PCT, stating that she is overweight and therefore at increased risk of cancer and heart disease. Closer investigation revealed she was just 1% over her "ideal" BMI, although such investigation was unnecessary since anyone who took a few miliseconds to glance at her with their eyes would realise that she is far from overweight and perfectly healthy. Let's hope she continues to be so, despite the damage that this incident has no doubt inflicted upon her fragile, infant self esteem. If people are searching for the reason behind the steady incline in eating disorders over the past decade, and why they are affecting younger and younger people, I think we need look no further.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Reply to Lisa Hilton "So What If I'm Skinny?" - Saturday Times 13th February 2010

For someone who repeatedly makes a point of branding herself a “feminist” and insisiting that she has more intelligence than to entertain thoughts of low self esteem because she will never fit the supermodel aesthetic, Lisa Hilton aint half stupid.

After reading her ludicrously entitled “so what if I’m skinny?” (so what indeed)– A 2,000 word manifesto of hatred, railing pointlessly against all the overweight people who delusionally believe that eating disorders are a problem more worthy of note than obesity, I hardly know where to begin. I will, however, make some attempt to address her wilful misunderstanding of the facts, not because I believe for one second that she wasn’t trying to be deliberately inflammatory, but because people who have not had or treated eating disorders should not be allowed to write about them, as this piece so aptfully demonstrates.

Hilton’s opinions seem to hinge crucially on the idea that people are overweight because they have been terrified by the media into not having an eating disoder. As if we think “I simply must by a bucket of KFC, otherwise I might, God forbid, become anorexic”...... And then she has the audacity to accuse people who don’t realise they will never look like your average celeb of being “stupid”.

She makes a comparison between models and jockeys, both of whom regularly starve themselves for long periods, take duiretics and laxatives and make themselves vomit because their career hinges on it, and asks why we are not insisting on the use of bigger horse riders? I can answer that one for your straight away, love. It’s because 8 out of 10 teenagers between the ages of 11 and 19 do not want to be jockeys. No, they want desperately to emulate one of the two Kate’s – Moss or Price. It’s because we do not heap disproportionate adulation and wealth on jockeys, we understand that their talents are limited to the equine. We do not have jockeys in glossy magazines offering us diet and lifestyle tips. We do not allow jockeys to design our clothes and fragrances. I have yet to glance at a que of revellers outside a London nightclub and see 90% of the young women dressed like jockeys. Need I continue?

Predictably, the obesity stats come out to play – Yes, we are all getting fatter and of this we are all painfully aware, thanks. Apparently, the fact that the chasm is growing ever wider between the average woman and her catwalk counterpart is not because models are getting thinner, it’s because we are getting fatter. I’d argue that it’s both. When Kate Moss first came on the scene in the 90s, she was considered shockingly skinny. Now, she would barely register as thin – Size 6 became the new 8, 4 the new 6, 2 the new 4, until models of 6 foot were aspiring to be a size 00 and, in 2007, 5 prominent high fashion models died of complications associated with malnutrition and starvation. Models are, undoubtedly getting thinner. And whether or not we might deign to agree with the fact that the non-modelling populus are becoming larger, the fact is that models are there to showcase the clothes that we will ultimately buy in the high street and, as such, should be more representative of what real people actually look like.

What Hilton fails to recognise is that obesity, of the type which results from overeating, is symptomatic of the exact same core factors as anorexic or bulimia. Lack of regard for one’s long-term health, lack of education and low self esteem. Hilton seems to be labouring under the misconception that overweight people are unaware of their state –As if they haven’t been instilled with feelings of self hatred and guilt by their peers and the incessant media coverage which will, ironically, probaly have them reaching for the biscuit tin. She fails to see the bigger picture, she, just like our government, is concerned only with symptoms, not causes.

As someone with first hand experience of an eating disorder, and who has discussed the issue, not only with other sufferers, but with 11-21 year olds throughout the UK, I have come to the conclusion that most disordered eating and lack of body confidence (resulting in anorexia, bulimia, negative body image, body dysmorphia, compulsive eating and, yes, obesity) can be traced back to three common factors. These are:

1. The patient’s private emotional history, which often involves bullying, turbulence and/or abuse.
2. Addiction/Habit – A seemingly inpenitrable cycle of bingeing and/or purging or starvation.
3. Peer and Media Pressure to fit a certain aesthetic, which is inextricably linked with how we measure success.

Hilton argues that it is overly simplistic to put eating disorders down solely to unrealistic role models and what she terms “vanity” and she is of course right, but dismissing it altogether as a contributing factor is just as irresponsible.

At school, young people develop the idea that, if they are not academically bright, the only other way to achieve success is to fit the celebrity or model mould, and they’ll go to whatever dangerous lengths necessary to achieve this. Far from Hilton’s assertion that a “couple of years” of starving onesself is a small price to pay for success – At these crucial stages of development it can have a disasterous effect on long-term health. Osteroporosis and lack of fertility are just two of the things young people are inflicting upon themselves, but apparently that’s ok, because according to Hilton that is the feminist and empowering way to go about things.

Far from being delusional or “vain”, these girls are simply victims of their own unconscious mind. Bombarded from every angle with messages, advertising and images specifically designed to make them feel insecure, they have taken on programming in their much larger unconscious minds (which accounts for 91%, whilst the conscious mind is only 9%), which constantly tells them that thinness is the fast track to happiness. Suggesting that we can dismiss this powerful programme of insecurity with the 9% which tells us we don’t have the build, time, resources or cash to look like a catwalk model or a celebrity is like telling someone to “snap out” of an eating disorder. The fact that the majority of women feel as though they are not good enough and that they need desperately to make their bodies fit an implausible mould does not make them stupid and it does not mean they are not feminists, it simply means that their self-esteem has been pummelled in a very calculating way since the day they were born. Similarly, overeating is often caused by feelings of inadequacy arising from the exact same phenomenon, or from being made to feel like you are single handedly responsible for all evil in society because you do not conform to the “ideal” BMI.

The problem is, naturally, the fact that we worship celebrities at all, when they’ve done little to deserve it. As Ricky Gervais recently pointed out, those toiling 16 hours a day in a lab somewhere trying to find a cure for cancer are anonymous, and yet we hold up those whose job it is to traipse up and down a catwalk or lip synch badly to their own, creatively questionable songs (not that I’m referring to anyone’s recent BRIT awards performance, specifically, you understand), as heroes. However, this won’t change any time soon. We have to work within the parameters of how the world works if we want to provoke change and, for the moment, our responsbility is to ensure that perceived health is the new black, when it comes to the fashion and media industries.

I did have to chuckle when Hilton, who is self-righteously proud of her athletic build, states that her not having the “discipline” to be an anorexic, is probably the reason why she was never a model. As if being tall and thin are the only criteria it takes to enter the professon. My assertion that models shouldnt automatically be role models is in no way designed to detract from the fact that modelling requires skill and is a craft. You could be six foot and a size 8, but if you dont have the right shape and walk around like a Russian shot putter with a water infection, then you’re just not model material. A model’s job is to make clothes look good, simple as that, which he or she does with a combination of grace, deportment and the ability to be photogenic. These are not qualities which are restricted to the realm of size 0. As Hilton herself points out, beauty comes in all sorts of guises, and a size 12, 14 or, dare I say it, 16 person can possess the necessary qualities for modelling. In particular, the ability to convey a potent message or a specific emotion through a lens is crucial. I would therefore suggest that the reason Hilton never entered the high fashion sphere has less to do with her inability to starve herself and more with the fact that in the photo which accompanied this article, which was clearly designed to make her look thoughtful, intelligent and defiant, she looks more as if she is about to let one rip.

Friday, 19 February 2010

A Torrent of Unadulterated Rage (Not for the Faint Hearted)

I must preface this blog by letting anyone reading know that I currently have PMS. As such, my propensity for rage knows no bounds. Every poor soul I’ve encountered has been on the receiving end of it this morning, even inanimate objects (I startled an innocent bystander as I walked out of my flat, shouting “t*sser!!” at my I-pod for daring to run out of battery 4 seconds into Bowie’s “Slow Burn”).

However, I am fairly confident that, even in my more usual, significantly less hormonal state, I’d still be outraged this morning, greeted, as I was by the story that a perfectly healthy looking 5 year old girl came home from school with a note stating she was overweight, prompting her to ask her mother “I’m not fat, am I Mummy?”.

I’m unable to register any other emotion than abject despair.

The online version of the article features similar stories from parents, who have been sent letters from people who have, incidently, never met their children, containing all sorts of scaremongering language about increased risk of cancer, heart disease etc. Upon closer investigation, it has transpired that their child is just 1 lb over the “recommended BMI” (whatever that may mean), yet still they are sent this standard letter, designed to terrify them into….what exactly? Putting their child on a diet? (Because we all know how well they work don’t we?)

Anyone who hasn’t taken heed of the constant, condescending advertisements and media messaging about getting your “5 a day” and cutting out “bad fats” that have been chucked at us in every conceivable form over the past decade is either living under a rock or, frankly, aint gonna change now.

It seems the government would rather see our kids paranoid, isolated and miserable, yo-yoing between strict diet regimes and the inevitable binge-eating these ultimately provoke, than with a little bit of puppy fat.

Anyone who regularly reads my blogs will be now be all-too familiar with my feelings to the dreaded BMI. If I was in charge of everything (*pauses typing momentarily to pursue that train of thought*), I’d ban people from using the phrase “BMI”. You might as well have doctors, the media, and misguided, gym-going members of the public saying “air whipped sausage statue” or “three headed green pig-dog liver” over and over again, for all the meaning “BMI” actually has.

I’ve come to the conclusion that whoever is responsible for implementing these nationwide health and education policies is either a) constantly hungover b) has a severe form of attention deficit disorder or c) has employed an extremely smelly person to sit on their desk all day poking them on the shoulder repeatedly whilst chanting “what are you going to do about obesity? What are you going to do about obesity?”. Or possibly all three. They’re the only explanations I can fathom for the haste and lack of thought that’s gone into this latest venture.

When I was 13, I was about 5 ft 6 and weighed about 10 stone. I was much taller and a little chunkier than many of my peers, but not overweight by a long stretch. I ate every nutritionists’ dream – demi-vegetarian (I ate fish only, no meat), lots of wholegrain bread, olive oil, fresh fruit and vegetables etc. I played netball 3 times a week, did comprehensive two-hour dance training sessions at least twice a week, swam and walked everywhere. I was the healthiest I have ever been in my life, in the days before alcohol, late-night TV and PMS (speaking of which, will someone please pass me some chocolate before I scream?!!).

I was, at the time, friends with this very slight, sickly sort of creature, whose name I shall spare for the sake of her blushes. Let’s call her Sarah. Sarah was significantly shorter and thinner than me, was one of those sorts of people who said they “didn’t like” most foods before even sampling and seemed to have an aversion to daylight, preferring instead to sit in a darkened corner somewhere and read books. With the layers of fantasy my imagination and hindsight have imposed, I always picture her as a hybrid of a mouse and a vampire shortly before being forced into sunlight and exploding into dust. It’ll be useful for the purposes of this anecdote, if you picture her in the same way.

One evening, we were sat in the back of her Mum’s Range Rover chatting idly about life, the universe and everything, as you do when you’re 13. I can’t remember the context (and that, in itself is significant), but her mother suddenly interjected with “well, yes, but Natasha is larger than most”.

She wasn’t to know that this particular throw-away statement proceeded to fall on top of a myriad of existing insecurities, jibes from people at school and feelings of unworthiness and to well and truly break the camel’s back. I proceeded to remain silent for the rest of the journey, cry for a protracted amount of time once safely ensconced in my bedroom and resolve to put myself on a diet the very next day. For the next 4 months I survived on an apple, a plain boiled potato and sometimes, if I was good, one weetabix with water every single day. My weight plummeted to just over 7 stone. My hair fell out, I developed Raynard’s disease, my school grades inevitably suffered, I no longer had the energy for sports and the upshot of the entire thing was in the summer of 1995 when my doctor threatened to hospitalize me and have me put on a drip unless I ate something.

During my bulimic decade, so indoctrinated was I by the culture of “thinness = health (however it is obtained), success and happiness”, that I yearned desperately for those early teenage years, when I had what I perceived to be the resolve to starve myself. So you might say that one comment – “Natasha is larger than most” - went on to have a knock-on affect for the next 15 years of my life.

Now, I am not, of course, suggesting that Sarah’s Mum is entirely responsible for my history of eating disorders. That would be hideously unfair and overly simplistic. How could she have possibly known she was touching on a sore point? But therein lies the point. People who have, and I stress this again, never seen or met our children are telling them that they are overweight. And who knows how much damage that could do – The increasing trends of self-harm, alcohol and drug abuse and body dysmorphia in teenagers, in addition to the ever-present threat of eating disorders, all have one common origin – Low self esteem.

And what could be more perfectly designed to lower children’s self esteem than an official letter from the powers that be which might as well say “you are not normal, you are a greedy pig”?

Stop. The. Madness.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Fat-Scapegoating: The New Trend for the Teenies

When I was at college doing A level History, my rather brilliant teacher, Mr Biggins, devoted an entire lesson to educating us about how propaganda didn’t suddenly cease with the collapse of the Third Reich. We might have scoffed at how anyone could be so easily influenced as to be taken in by a cartoon of a Jew/rat hybrid creature, but in fact, we learned, we were being just as manipulated, each and every day.

Every society needs its scapegoats. In the 80s, I remember one of my friend’s Mums (blithely unaware that my brothers are mixed race), telling me how this country was “going to pot” because black people were responsible for all crime. Yes, that’s right. All of it. In the noughties, acquaintances of mine who I had always considered rather sensible and open-minded, categorically told me that Polish people had “come over here and taken their jobs”. Even though they were employed at the time.

In the teenies, it seems it’s the “obesity epidemic” which is being blamed for absolutely everything which is wrong with our culture. Yes, folks, overweight people are infiltrating our homes with poisonous messages promoting sloth and gluttony, using up all the resources of the NHS and probably committing all the crimes and taking your job as well. Even though they never get off their fat arses, apparently.

Seemingly sound statistics are thrown at us – Currently a third of all adults have an unhealthily high BMI and by 2020 this will rise to 80%. “Stop! Stop the terrifying slide into obesity!” The headlines scream, as if this is the miracle quick-fix we need in order to mend our broken society.

There are a couple of reasons why this is all self-righteous tosh. Firstly, it is actually impossible to measure whether or not someone is overweight simply by comparing their height and weight, which is the technique currently employed by British GPs. That’s why the 1/3 of people with an “unhealthy BMI” in this country include Olympic athletes and body builders. In the U.S, BMI is measured by comparing muscle and bone density as well as measurements, in addition to height and weight, the upshot being that technically there is a higher percentage of “obese” people in the UK than in the U.S (take a moment to think about that).

I have now lost count of the number of people I know who are a size 10, 12 or 14, slim, eat healthily, exercise regularly and have been induced into a state of utter panic and tearfulness by their doctors, after being told that they are officially “obese”. Equally, Winning Minds clients who are painfully thin to the eye have been told by their GPs that they do not qualify for emergency eating disorder treatment because they have a “healthy” BMI.

Secondly, let’s put aside the healthy people being put into an obese category for a moment and focus on the overweight people who do in fact significantly overeat. People do not compulsively overeat because they are greedy or selfish or evil. People overeat because they are lonely, bored, depressed, disillusioned or because when everything else in life fails you there is always chocolate. Obesity is a symptom, not a cause. By persecuting fat people, all we are doing is once again failing to acknowledge that, as a society, our priorities are all wrong.

Whenever my Granddad was criticized for being a smoker, he used to say “you can see my bad habit, what’s yours?”. Think about the people you know. I’d be willing to bet my last Rolo that each one of them is using some sort of coping mechanism. It might be smoking, it might be drinking, it might even be going to the gym. In a world where we are constantly being pushed to fit a perfect aesthetic and make the most money and to never be content with, or take the time to enjoy what we have, it’s the norm for us to be stressed-out, mildly depressed or anxious. So who can blame us if, caught up in the chaos, the mixed messages and the brutal rat race, the thing we most look forward to at the end of a hard day is a cigarette, a glass of wine or, dare I say it, a great big slice of cake?

Only when we finally absorb the message that raising self-esteem and re-prioritizing is the key to a happier, healthier population, will we see a decline in the rates of genuine obesity. It won’t happen with threats to cut medical care for obese people or to weigh and measure our children at school (horrific). In fact, all that will do is serve to increase our growing sense of despair, and probably make us reach for another slice of cake.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Cosmopolitan

This month my decade-long battle with bulimia was given two sacred, glossy pages in the style, life and everything Bible which is Cosmopolitan magazine.

When I first decided to go public with my struggle, I made the decision that I'd spend however long it took waiting for a publication I could trust to report it responsibly. A number of offers were made to me for my story, but when Cosmopolitan showed an interest, I knew I had to give them exclusivity.

I'd learned my lesson about 6 months earlier- A popular glossy women's weekly had approached me and promised free high-quality photographs for my portfolio in exchange for me persuading my ex to do an interview for their article "the real reason you broke up". Sensing an opportunity, I dragged my very lovely, very obliging ex into the studio (who then proceeded to commune with his inner posey-model type personage and thoroughly relish every click of the camera).

We spent the best part of an hour being manipulated into believing that the journalist really understood the circumstances surrounding our breakup and, from her uniquely objective stance could find sympathy with both of our perspectives. Two weeks later, the issue appeared on the shelves and I had a m-ephipeny (an epipheny relating to the media, see what I did there). You see, in this instance, the story wasn't actually about us. There was a story, which has been pre-decided long before we came on board, and into which our particular set of circumstances had fit. We were a mere cog in a much larger, more powerful machine.

The real reason my ex and I split, which was explained with painstaking care and at great length to the journo, was this: I was singing his sister down the aisle at her forthcoming nuptuals, which were taking place some way away and, as I was unemployed at the time, my ex had agreed to pay for my train ticket to the venue. Two days before I called him to see what the score was and he had already taken himself there, conveniently forgetting to make adequate arrangements for me to do the same. A stupid row ensued about money (which wins hands down on the list of most pointless things to argue about) and my ex slammed the phone down on me, leaving me with the words "do you know what, don't come to the wedding and don't contact me again". He called me after the wedding, full of apologies, which I found myself unable to accept, not because after a reasonably happy year together a minor argument about money wasn't unsurmountable, but because he was the sort of man who would allow his sister to be let down on her big day. I didn't want to be with someone who couldn't swallow his pride, put his own feelings to one side and thus allow for a crucial part of the happiest, most important day of his sister's life to take place.

My ex explained to the journo that 5 years previous to the wedding (and it's important to note mentally at this juncture that it was 5 years before), his Dad had died, meaning that he had the responsibility of walking his sister down the aisle. Completely freaked out, nervous and generally under mental strain at the enormity of what he was about to undertake, he hadn't been thinking straight and allowed himself to overreact to the argument with me.

Which all seems fair enough, in retrospect.

I read the published article with a mixture of disbelief, horror and fighting the urge to burst out laughing. Three couples were case studied. One couple were both lovely and had split amicably, conceeding that it was merely a question of a lack of chemistry, the second were comprised of a perfectly lovely girl and a bit of a bastard wanker. Which of course meant that the third had to make up the missing component in this trio of relationship cliches- The lovely bloke and the utter cowbag of a girlfriend. And that was the catagory into which my ex and I had been appointed. The article, which was written from my ex's perspective, read something along the lines of "my Dad had just died, Natasha was going on at me and something had to give".

It was at that point that I started freaking myself out with maths (and it's not every day you can say that), working out the readership of the magazine -vs- the number of people in the country and concluding that every 80th person I encountered in the street thought I was the devil incarnate. Fortunately, I wasn't too distressed- It was a topic of little consequence and I got some nice photos and a rather fetching, one shouldered dress out of the deal.

My eating disorder battle and the work I now devote the largest chunk of my life to, however, was something I wanted treated with due care and attention. Which is why I'm so glad I waited for Cosmopolitan to publish it. The article was candid where necessary, but without the usual drama, embellishment, self-pity and hyperbole one associates with "real life exposes" and ultimately conveyed what I wanted it to - That there is hope, even in our darkest moments when we find ourselves unable to see it, or even imagine that it is there.

Thank you Rosie Mullender at Cosmopolitan. To read the article, get the March issue (it has Jessica Alba on the cover), out now, and turn to page 53.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

West Country Adventures

I've spent the past 4 days gradually working myself into a state of beyond-knackeredness, performing 5 hour long, very intense body confidence workshops per day to the students of Gloucestershire College.

A surprising consequence - I have found myself gaining a fascinating insight into what it must be like to be Mark Newey (my boss).

Mark has devised a unique and brilliant "mind map" - a way to convey in layman's terms the way we ingest, dismiss or store the information we take in from the outside world and how this in turn dictates our values, beliefs, self esteem and, ultimately, our behaviour. I remember Mark taking me through the mind map during my first session at Winning Minds and thinking it would be actually impossible for anything in the entire universe to make more sense. All of our clients, whatever their background, personality or issue, immediately identify and recognise that the map accurately represents the inner workings of their mind.

As part of my body confidence campaign, I have adapted the mind map to show how our sense of identity and self is inextricably tied up with how content we are in our own skins, which in turn has been to some extent manipulated and defined by external factors (for example the messages given to us by fashion and beauty industries).

I have officially decided that watching the students wide eyed, occasionally open mouthed, maintaining an expression which might just as well be accompanied by a cartoon light bulb appearing above their heads, is the fun-est thing EVER. I can completely understand why educating people about their minds gets Mark out of bed in the morning - It's brilliant. There are few things in this life you could teach to a class of 30 and have every single person nod vigorously in response to the question "does that make sense?"

What I'm attempting to do is instill in these young people a sense of perspective, to enrich their own lives by establishing a better relationship between their minds and bodies and those of others by actively contributing in the beauty revolution. I have spoken to media, graphics, hair, beauty, music and photography students i.e. the people who will be responsible for moulding and influencing future attitudes towards beauty and I have been careful to point out that an attainable standard of beauty in the public eye does NOT mean that they will have to compromise their craft. Acknowledging a responsibility to present a public image which won't make people feel insecure and unworthy does not have to be at the expense of beauty, creativity and, more importantly, fun.

The response has been overwhelmingly positive, especially (and surprisingly) from the fashion and photography students, who seemed to inherently grasp that some aspects of their chosen industry could do with a dose of introspection and improvement. I've met some genuinely gorgeous people, full of optimism and enthusiasm for life. I've also met some people whose own body insecurities have crippled their self esteem and prevented them from enjoying the maximum freedom minimum responsibility set-up of their student days.

It's been heartbreaking, when some of these lovely, creative, intelligent young people have confessed that their constant lack of self esteem is having an adverse effect on their lives, but not surprising. I cannot therapise them - That is Mark's remit. I also cannot tell them how to think. What I can do is open the door for them to question their longstanding beliefs. Is it right to analyse the "coincidence" that the plastification of our society has coincided with a huge plunge in our individual self-esteem and sense of worth? Can the insecurity which it is in the best interests for certain industries to cleverly and subtly instill within us transfer itself, so it stops being about our looks and begins to seep into every area of our lives? Can an airbrushed image ultimately make us believe we are bad people?

I know of course, that the answer to all of these questions is yes - But it's a conclusion I hope they come to on their own.

My West Country antics are being reported tomorrow (12th Feb) in the Gloucester Echo. I will also be speaking about the campaign on BBC Radio Gloucester at around 10am tomorrow and Star FM later in the day. Look out also for a news feature, including footage from one of my talks and the reactions of the students on ITV News next week - More details to follow.