Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Supersize -v- Responsibility

This evening, three women suffering from eating disorders described their conditions in an admirably articulate and empathetic manner on national television. What might have been a massive step forward in educating the British public about their hugely complex psychological illnesses was then spectacularly undone by a resident television ‘expert’ who attempted to ‘educate’ the three ladies on the nutritional merits of their respective diets.

Yes, blog devotees, Supersize-v-Superskinny is back, which inevitably means an increased degree of rant-age from yours truly.

Newsflash Channel 4: One does not starve oneself or stuff oneself to bursting and then purge by forcing oneself to be sick because one believes it to be a nutritionally sound way to conduct oneself. .

Picture the scene. A woman who has been suffering from anorexia nervosa for three years is sitting next to Supersize’s resident ‘expert’ in front of a visual approximation of her daily food intake. For breakfast, she consumes a black coffee, which is helpfully displayed in a transparent mug (in case we find ourselves unable to imagine what a black coffee might look like).

“Breakfast stands for break-fast” (our expert helpfully explains) “you cannot break an overnight fast using just black coffee”.

Our anorexic displays the expression one might expect- it conveys smugness at her ability to sustain herself on so little, incredulity that this is where her road to recovery has been deigned to begin with a distinct air of “yes, I know”.

I appreciate of course that the majority of the British public might require eating disorders to be stripped down to the bare and most easily comprehensible components in order to glean a basic understanding of them. However, perpetuating an idea that an ED can be cured by educating the subject about the deficiencies in their diet is just downright dangerous.

The eating disordered mind is not a logical place. It cannot be reasoned with and it doesn’t respond to the same persuasions as a healthy person’s might. In the mind of an anorexic or bulimic, damage to one’s health is the price one pays as a servant to one’s condition and, more crucially, one comes to believe that this condition will inevitably result in death.

Those who claim to be ‘experts’ in the field must first acknowledge that they are dealing with people for whom their illness is an all-consuming obsession and premature death is not only an inevitability, but positively welcomed as marking the end of the torment to which they have subjected themselves.

Eating disorder awareness is a delicate and controversial arena. Whilst television has jumped on the bandwagon of this hugely popular social topic, it must also acknowledge its duty to do so responsibility.

Until such time, expect many more rant-y rage fuelled blogs.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Life in Plastic

If I had to design a symbol or an icon of everything I abhor about society and everything that concerns me about young people, it would look uncannily like Barbie.

Barbie is unnaturally slender with disproportionately large breasts (it is estimated that 1 in 100,000 women naturally has a figure that even remotely resembles hers). Her wardrobe largely consists of Disney-esque floor length ball-gowns and The Only Way is Essex-esque bottom-skimmingly short skirts (all accessorized with eye wateringly high stilettos). Her activities are limited to traditionally female orientated jobs (such as ‘ballet teacher’) and to maintaining her distinctly WAG-like lifestyle (complete with pink jeep, natch). Essentially, Barbie is Jordan in miniature form. Accept Barbie remains mercifully mute.

When Barbie was designed, 50 years ago (by a team of sex obsessed men if a soon-to-be released Matel-expose is to be believed), this might all perhaps have seemed like a bit of harmless (although still distinctly misogynistic under scrutiny) fun. (This might perhaps be because back in 1960 people had the awareness to enjoy Barbie ironically, although that's obviously just conjecture. I wasn't alive.). In today’s climate, however, Barbie provides a worrying commentary on a society in which children as young as 7 are suffering from eating disorders, 15 year old girls are expressing a desire for breast surgery and 70% of female primary school pupils want to be a glamour model.

It is of course unrealistic and irresponsible to blame Barbie entirely for this and there is no conclusive evidence that she even so much as fuels the fire of today’s aesthetic obsessed, quick fix culture. But one must concede that there is a possibility that she might.

Which is why I found it hard to entertain Terri Dwyer’s insistent (and somewhat repetitive) argument when we locked horns on BBC 5 Live last night, which went: “Oh COME ON, Natasha, it’s only a doll”.

Branding Barbie “only a doll” is tantamount to applying the same description to Chuckie. Whilst technically true, the statement collapses under examination. Barbie comes with a great deal of cultural and psychological baggage and, as such, has been the subject of consistent controversy. Some find her objectionable and insulting, whilst others idolise her to the point of moulding their own human bodies to match hers (yes I’m referring to you, Sarah Burge).

Which leads me to my point. Matel are a commercial organisation and there’s no reason why they should have to relinquish the no doubt astronomical profits Barbie provides them with. Not even the most idealistic person would suggest that. But perhaps they could TRY making Barbie more realistically proportioned, they could TRY giving her a less stereotypical lifestyle and an alternative wardrobe……and they could see what happens (they can certainly afford to conduct the experiment). And by try, I mean REALLY try (i.e. not make her waist 3mm bigger and introduce a pair of 'sneakers' into the Barbie footwear collection). It might be that Terri Dwyer is right and that this would have no effect on young women’s self-esteem whatsoever. But it might. And isn’t it Matel’s duty to try?

I’d also, incidentally, suggest that Matel cease with the whole ‘giving Barbie professions’ thing. Whilst I applaud the fact that this was an attempt to ‘empower’ Barbie, what Matel have in fact done is appointed themselves the responsibility of accurately representing a cross section of all the potential jobs out there for today's young women. Of nurturing girls’ dreams whilst encouraging them to be realistic and of inspiring them towards a successful future. The wonderful thing about children is their magnificent propensity for imagination. When Barbie didn’t have a job, I doubt very much that this hindered those that played with her from imagining her in one anyway. A doll which hasn’t been consigned to a specific profession can be absolutely anything to a 3 year old, from Astronaut to Zoo Keeper. He or she can explore and project upon an unlabelled Barbie their own dreams and aspirations. Barbie should not be harnessing and restricting children’s fantasies and potential.

........After all, she is just a doll.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-12820178 - Hear my rants to this effect on the 'best bits' of the BBC website by clicking this link.

Conversation Piece

The ‘Handbook for all those Intent on Perpetuating Body Insecurity and other Evil Things’ (otherwise known as the ‘Daily Mail’) hit an all-time low, when it today dubbed David Bowie ‘overweight’.

Here is a recent picture of David Bowie:

On what planet could this man be described as even remotely ‘overweight’? The ‘Planet of Lazy, Derivative and Sensationalist Journalism’ perhaps? Whatever it might be called, it’s the same planet where, apparently, it is considered acceptable to utter the words “politically correct mixed race marriage”.

Yes, that’s right, of all Bowie’s antics and adventures over the years, apparently it’s the seemingly blissful 20 year union with his impossibly beautiful wife Iman which Daily Mail reading huffer-puffers are most likely to believe is a publicity stunt.

Ironically, the article also focussed extensively on Bowie’s brief obsession with the Third Reich, and yet proved itself to be far more Nazi than David could ever have possibly been, even at his most illogical and cocaine-addled.

As a self-confessed Bowie worshipper (no, really, on my Census I wrote ‘Church of Bowie’) his forays into drug addiction, interest in the occult and sexual misdemeanours are mildly interesting but largely irrelevant. His resulting body of work; artistic genius spanning four decades, seminal, genre-creating, diverse and intelligent, speaks for itself.

I suggest The Daily Mail refrains from reporting on issues it is incapable of understanding and gets back to recycling tedious gossip about *insert cookie cutter female pop singer of your choice here* getting out of a taxi with no knickers on.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

How to Live with Women

Tomorrow at 9pm I will feature in BBC3's 'How to Live with Women'.

The four part show focusses on one couple each week, whose relationship is in jepardy because of the male partner's attitude towards women. Invariably there is some degree of chauvinism or an unwillingness to partake in what are perceived to be 'women's chores' around the house.

This week's subject, Terry, displays both of these qualities, as well as an inherent and unshakable belief that he is 'lush' and therefore his fiance, Tanya, should think herself lucky to have him. He is sent to live with three female mentors over the course of a fortnight, who are tasked with helping him see the error of his ways.

As a representative for Body Gossip, it's my job to make Terry see that true confidence doesn't actually consist of the constant desire to tell people how 'lush' you are all the time. Also, in my capacity as a journalist, I have to use my investigative skills to get to the bottom of what is actually a lack of self esteem, thinly masked in arrogance.

But will I succeed? Well, you will have to tune in tomorrow (March 7th) to find out. The show will also abe repeated later on in the evening on BBC3 and be available on I-player for one week after the original showing.