On Thursday 26th January, I will be hitting the airwaves on the Radio 5 Live Midnight Debate, discussing the impact of sensationalist, body-image related TV documentaries. There’s been a spate of them recently – “Accused: The 74 Stone Babysitter”, “Cherry Healey: Like a Virgin” and “Dying to Be Thin”, to name a few.
I will argue that, whilst awareness of body image issues undoubtedly needs to happen, it’s also crucial to do it in right way. Exploiting extreme case studies for shock value and wheeling out research that’s at least 15 years out of date probably isn’t the right way to go about it.
Of course there are some great people in the media doing amazing work – Gok Wan’s example (and, incidentally, I thought Kate Thornton’s Channel 5 Documentary: Anorexia My Secret Past represented a huge step in the right direction). But is all their hard-work being undone by shows which treat body image issues as light entertainment? Most of us would condemn the concept of a Victorian Freak Show: But did it ever truly go away?
Body Gossip is about real people with real, complex, subtle, beautiful stories. We base our campaign on the premise that everyone has a body, and everyone feels a certain way about that body, so everyone can contribute to the debate. Body image is a far-reaching and multi-faceted issue, which affects people who aren’t supersized, aren’t super-skinny and are likely to be wearing clothes. At present, that’s not the message being given to the public.
I will argue this isn’t just annoying: It’s dangerous too. While television reduces people to two- dimensional stereotypes, defining them by their genetics and circumstances, as opposed to their achievements, not only are health myths being perpetuated that might potentially endanger lives (see my complaint re “Dying to be Thin” below), but we’re also nurturing a generation of people utterly devoid of meaningful ambition. After all, television tells them, they live in a world where it’s your economic situation, weight, sexual orientation, alcohol/drug intake or propensity for getting naked at any available opportunity which defines you, rather than what you positively contribute to society.
With the average UK adult spending a, frankly staggering, 25 hours per week having such codswallop beamed into their brains by the little box in the corners of their living rooms, isn’t it time Television Production Companies started acknowledging their responsibility to treat body image issues with the sensitivity and intelligence they deserve?
We want to get people talking about this issue – tweet me with your views at BodyGossipTash, use the tag #BodyGossip.
Remember to tune into Radio 5 Live at Midnight on Thursday 26th – I’ll also be sharing my thoughts on the implications of this phenomenon within the gay community on the SoSo Gay website in the morning.