Photo credit: Liz Jones and Daily Mail
This afternoon, whilst I was scrolling through Twitter, I saw a post discussing the cover of the Daily Mail (DM) and how they wouldn't share it. The post went on to slate the publication and its journalism.
After seeing this my curiosity was peaked, so I googled today's DM cover and was disappointed, but not surprised, by what lay before me. I won't share it here, and I don't recommend that anyone looks at that cover or reads the articles it refers to, but let me tell you a little about it.
The entirety of the cover was dedicated to only two articles, both surrounding the same general topic - obesity. The main story of the day covered a report that discussed taxing foods high in salt and sugar, the second story was about a journalist and her "hell" of wearing a 20-stone empathy suit for a day.
For starters, a cover focussing solely on food and body image is risky and for a serious news publication, shouldn't happen because not only could it cause serious damage to some people's mental health but are they really trying to say that of everything that had happened in the last 24 hours, taxing food to try and stop people getting fat was deemed the most important? Over new government policies about racism and riots breaking out in multiple countries or even the constantly developing global pandemic? Ok, even if that genuinely is the most important story to cover today, the double page feature by Liz Jones is just downright irresponsible.
For some context, Liz Jones is a 62-year-old journalist with over 30 years experience, including writing for, and editing, publications such as Marie Claire, Company and The Sunday Times Magazine. Liz has also suffered from anorexia since her early teens, "obsessed with maintaining a weight of eight and a half stone"
The article describes a day that Liz spent in an empathy suit, a piece of technology used by medical students to "get a sense of the challenges faced by the medically obese". The first thing I would like to note about the article is that, while it has been linked to the main cover story, it actually has very minimal relevance. A project of this size would have been commissioned some time ago and is clearly, when you read the article (an activity I wouldn't recommend to anyone), an extravagant advert for her debut novel.
The way Liz talks about the fake body she has found herself in throughout the first half of the article, with its "monoboob" and "Himalayan foothills" stomach, is horrific. There are people out there who do weigh that much, who do wear a size 26 dress, who do have "people, even small children, stare at [them] with no sympathy at all"because they look like this. Many of them haven't chosen to look that way and many of those are at least trying to go on the difficult journey to do something about it. Whilst the framing of her opinion on people that size does see a small shift in the later section of the article, this doesn't excuse her poor language choices in the opening paragraphs, nor does it hide her disdain at the mere thought of her living like that.
I do understand that many of these words will have come from a dark place for Liz, who has grappled with anorexia, a horrific illness, for most of her life. She never had children as she "was scared of defacing the life-long artwork that was my body". It was irresponsible for her or the Daily Mail to put her through this ordeal, I cannot even fathom the kind of negative impact she could have felt over the next few days, the setback it may have caused to her recovery.
Some people may think that it is easy for me to hold a negative opinion of this article for it attacks the very thing I am - obese. I know I'm overweight, I am aware that I have built an unhealthy relationship with food over my life, starting with an emotional dependency, one that still hasn't fully gone away, now paired with a level of obsession over the number of calories I'm putting into my body. Have I burned enough in my workout today to eat this biscuit, or have I earned a cheeky Maccies for dinner? I always have to recenter myself, reminding myself that food is not something to be earned, rather the opposite, it is something the body needs, and that one meal that is higher in calories won't ruin my progress nor is it anyone else's business. I have learned to love myself as I am, which has enabled me to begin making the changes I need to be healthier. I am still obese, but that doesn't define me and I'm not angry about it anymore, but Liz's words still struck me like a knife through my chest, whether they came from a malicious place or not
Obesity and anorexia, whilst they present in different ways, are often quite alike. In many cases, they are the result of obsession and dependency, whether that be on the perfect body image or on food. They will forever be linked to one another and the best thing we can do, rather than donning an empathy suit and then being cruel, is to support one another through recovery and create a caring world in which the initial value of a person is not determined by the number on the scales or on the label of their t-shirt, but rather by the amount of love and value they have to share with the world.