This post is written in response to this Daily Mail article and comments from WIWT founder Poppy Dinsey. I hope my tone doesn’t come across as too combative towards her, because I lav the Poppy. As for the mainstream reaction towards anorexia? All of the combative.
EDIT: To be clear, Poppy did not use and has never used the term ‘manorexia’; that’s something I came across in the Mail. Not sure whether or not it originated with them.
Of the caustic terms that permeate contemporary debate, ‘manorexia’ is one of the worst. Anyone who’s read this blog is probably already aware of my disdain for the term ‘metrosexual’ (read why here), but manorexia is ten times worse. Barring a couple of isolated examples (postnatal depression springs to mind), I fail to see what gender, race or class have to do with mental illness.
I’ve never really had any issues with my weight, but I can’t imagine it being easy for men to deal with having anorexia. It’s traditionally seen as a feminine illness, to the extent that the ‘ideal’ anorexic body conflicts directly with the traditional ‘masculine’ body, i.e. broad shoulders, muscular arms etc. In this way, anorexia not only others you from your gender, but also from your sexuality. I say this as weakness and limp wristed-ness has been historically (not to mention ridiculously) associated with homosexuality.
To go one step further and label their *version* of the disease as manorexia feels seems to completely trivialise it – it reeks of punny newspaper headlines and the idea that ‘it’s like what girls get, only different’. It’s on par with labelling someone’s depression as ‘a bit of a downer’, or calling sexual deviance ‘just a phase’.
Although newspaper columns, Twitter and website articles are awash with women, and men (myself included), highlighting the fact that the trend of calling curvy women ‘real women’ is not only ludicrous, all too many social media users seemed to misinterpret Poppy Dinsey when she tweeted the following:
Despite being directed at the fashion house rather than the model, Dinsey’s tweet led to many of her followers commenting that the model looks ‘disgusting’, something Poppy later protested about. She has since tweeted me remarking that she spends a lot of time arguing that all women are real women. It’s worth noting that my response is mostly motivated by the Daily Mail’s response to the story (link at the top of this post) and the issue in more general terms.
Yes, the fashion industry has traditionally been dominated by underweight models. However, does that mean that their presence should be outlawed? Once upon a time, religion was compulsory – does that mean that everyone should now be Atheist? Homosexuality was once illegal and regarded as a mental illness, does that mean everyone should be gay now? Jumping from one pole to another is never a sensible way to handle something, because it always comes across as disingenuous. Not to mention how impractical implementing either of the above would be…Admittedly, these debates aren’t quite the same thing, as there is a medical risk associated with being clinically underweight.
However, my problem with the ‘real women’ debate and the ‘banorexia’ (a term I think I’ve just invented) movement is that it insists that skinny people aren’t ‘real’. By excluding size zero models, the mainstream media creates the idea that anorexia/thinness is wrong. We’re already seeing this force the culture to move underground. I hesitate to use the term culture to describe a group of people who have what is still widely believed to be a mental illness, but that’s what’s happening – ‘pro ana’ blogs, tweeters and Instagram accounts collate anorexic imagery and intensify it by making it the only point of focus, which is far less healthy than a media that features all different body shapes.
Please don’t take from this post that I’m pro-anorexia, because that’s not the case. What I am tetchy about is labelling a skinny male model ‘shockingly’ thin and ‘disgusting’, especially given that we know nothing about his mental state or eating habits, because it drives a stake between people (who may already be on their way to looking like this boy) and normality. Whether their thinness is due to extreme dieting or their genes, they may feel that they have no choice but to embrace an increasingly toxic underground movement that promotes anorexia as aspirational and beautiful.
Of course, the big comeback to this is that allowing images of extremely thin people in the media distorts young people’s perception of beauty. While that may be true for a tiny minority who already have a predisposition to eatings disorders, it simply isn’t true for 99% of people. I had the following debate with Poppy on Facebook, which I think bears repeating here -
Evidently, I am part of that 99% – yes, pictures of Taylor Lautner, Zac Efron and all those dudes on Abercrombie bags motivate me to hit the gym harder, but never to the extent that I’d start taking steroids or gulping down raw eggs every morning. I’m sure the same is true of most women – they might wish their face looked a bit more like Emma Stone’s, or their rack looked a bit more like Beyoncé’s, but they probably just…well, get on with things because sometimes eating half a tub of Ben and Jerry’s is more fun than going to the gym. Something I know from experience.
So what will help that 1%, the people who are susceptible to images promoting extreme thinness? It’s definitely not labelling them ‘freaks’ or ‘disgusting’. Once we know for sure that someone’s emaciated state is caused by crash dieting, it’s time to raise the idea that they may have a problem. But just as you wouldn’t tell someone with depression to cheer up, this can’t be as simple as saying ‘eat something!’ As for exactly what the answer is, I’m not sure. If I did, I’d probably be writing this piece somewhere a lot cooler than my blog.