Slim Pickings

I know I shouldn’t be surprised by the hypocrisy of the Daily Mail, but does that mean I can’t be enraged by it?

The paper lapped up news this week that children as young as five are receiving NHS treatment for eating disorders. A neat companion piece, if you will, to their recent “fat children should be taken into careseries, this story allowed for sensationalism, moral outrage and a healthy dose of blame-apportioning: the bread-and-butter (no pun intended) of the Daily Mail.

While conceding towards the end of the piece that eating disorders “can be triggered by stressful events,” the Mail’s coverage focuses largely on how children “can become obsessed with body image”. This latter view of eating disorders is common, but it is reductive and unconvincing, as Hadley Freeman explains in a clear and compelling piece in the Guardian. My, albeit far from expert, understanding of eating disorders is that they are outward manifestations of – or coping mechanisms for surviving – deep internal troubles, such as low self-worth and feelings of powerlessness. It seems to me that a society that values and denigrates women and girls primarily on the grounds of appearance, in which the prized female aesthetic is one of malnourished fragility, is likely to have a negative impact on girls’ sense of worth and experience of self-efficacy. In such a landscape, regulating one’s intake of food presents itself as a readily available means of experiencing a sense of control. It is undoubtedly far more complex than girls looking at photos of celebrities and wishing they were skinny, and requires a nuanced analysis that is lacking from much media discussion of the topic – and which I won’t pretend to offer here.
For now, what I would like us to do is just step into the Daily Mail’s world. Don’t worry: I promise we won’t be there long, and I’ll hold your hand if you like.
In this world, “youngsters – particularly girls – are increasingly obsessed with being thin”. Why? Because they “idolise ultra-slim models and celebrities.” Obsessed with being thin, you say? Idolising ultra-slim celebrities? Why, surely that’s the Daily Mail you’re describing! Let’s just cast our eyes over some of the “stories” rubbing shoulders with this piece on the DM website:
–  the “newly slim” Natalie Cassidy “looks great”(the same paper reported that she lost weight due to stress after being assaulted by the father of her child, but hey, whatever works!)
“Curvy Kim Kardashian’s lithe sister Kendall Jenner”  – that would be the 15 year old Kendall Jenner – “unlike her curvy sibling, […] hasn’t got an inch to pinch”. I wonder which one is the Mail’s favourite sister?
– Kerry Katona has apparently “dropped the ball” with her weight-control regime and “vows to lose weight after she swells from an 8 to a 12”. While her earlier dieting displayed “hard work and determination”,  the description of her “comfort [eating] her way through junk food meals” and “gorging on booze and curries” clearly implies a disgusting lack of self-control.
– “Gerri Halliwell displays her ‘mummy tummy’ jogging in cropped top”; God forbid that one should exercise in cool, comfortable clothing. Apparently it’s clear that Gerri “chose [the] wrong outfit” because “the skin around her abdominals appeared to be slightly loose as she jogged”. Slightly loose? She had a small human living inside her!

If you were to buy in to the theory that eating disorders are caused by the media, you’d have to put the Daily Mail right at top of the list of offenders. The article is accompanied by a photo of Cheryl Cole, the first lady of the tabloids, with a caption that suggests her “slight frame” could “encourage an unhealthy body image in young girls.” Blaming individual female celebrities for young women’s self-esteem problems is a nice try, but how about looking in your own back yard, at the DM’s relentless torrent of value-laden commentary on each pound gained and lost by women in the limelight?

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