Bikini bridges and thigh gaps: on eating disorder concern trolling

If journalists were not so “concerned” about anorexia and bulimia those of us with eating disorders could go back to creating our own arbitrary thinness tests without fretting over which of these now gets external endorsement.

Yesterday evening, I found out what a bikini bridge is. I wasn’t seeking out this knowledge; I was reading the news and it popped out at me, unbidden. The trouble is, now I can’t ever un-know it (to give you a chance, I’m not linking to the piece in question). Bikini bridges will henceforth be stored in my brain alongside thigh gaps, muffin tops, bingo wings, cankles and a million other terms which exist solely to make women hate their bodies a great deal and their minds even more.

To be fair, I wouldn’t know about any of these phenomena if it wasn’t for all the hand-wringing articles which document how “everybody” (i.e. no one) is talking about them already. Indeed, there are few things more damaging to those who already have eating disorders than today’s ever-present eating disorder concern trolling. If journalists were not so “concerned” about anorexia and bulimia those of us with eating disorders could go back to creating our own arbitrary thinness tests without fretting over which of these now gets external endorsement. Not worried about the thigh gap? Well, you should be. Everybody else is! To someone with an eating disorder it starts to feel arrogant not to tick all the body paranoia boxes. After all, it’s not as though you’re someone special. On the contrary, you’re useless, a non-person. How could you possibly let yourself off the hook regarding thigh gaps when “everybody” – including the “normal” people – is panicking about them, too?

At the same time, these articles never fail to make it clear that worrying about such trifles is stupid and means, not only that you are fat, but that you are a bad person to boot. If you can’t be thin, why can’t you at least be more like Lena Dunham, trotting naked around the set of a hit TV show you write, produce and star in? Or Gabourey Sidibe, silencing the Golden Globe body fascists by casually referring to your private jet and dream job? It’s fine to recognize body image worries as pointless and trivial, providing you are also really fucking exceptional in other ways (sadly, the chances are, you’re not. So you’re back to thinking you’re a hateful blob of ugliness, albeit with the added sting of knowing you’re self-indulgent and foolish for even feeling this way).

When I think back to the worst of my experiences with anorexia, I’m unsure whether to see it as a terrible time in a situation beyond my control, or to hate myself for being such a total knob. I know that plenty of people at the time – many of them medical professionals – did indeed see me as a total knob, or worse, and treated me accordingly. The perception that worries about size and shape, however extreme, are markers of privilege (haven’t you anything better to worry about?) follows some women to their painful deaths. Hence when I read about bikini bridges and thinspiration, I wonder about the connections that will be made, and the impact that these will have on responses to seriously ill people. I wonder whether, once again, we will be forced to draw arbitrary dividing lines between the harm done by trauma and abuse, and that done by the hectoring of misogynist popular culture. I sometimes think “well, at least I can think of worse things to blame for being ill. Otherwise, what kind of a fool would I be?”

There’s no returning to a time of innocence when “body shocks” and “size zero horror” were not, apparently, all around us. The pressure to look, but also not to have any meaningful response, is overwhelming. It only becomes irrelevant when the right to take up space in the world starts to feel like second nature. For most of us, for so many different reasons, that is not how it feels. It will take more than the wilful naming of yet another body panic to change this.

This article first appeared on glosswatch.com and is crossposted here with permission

Gabourey Sidibe (left), who silenced the Golden Globe body fascists "by casually referring to her private jet and dream job". Photo: Getty

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of two who works in publishing.

Dan Kitwood/Getty
Show Hide image

I believe only Yvette Cooper has the breadth of support to beat Jeremy Corbyn

All the recent polling suggests Andy Burnham is losing more votes than anyone else to Jeremy Corbyn, says Diana Johnson MP.

Tom Blenkinsop MP on the New Statesman website today says he is giving his second preference to Andy Burnham as he thinks that Andy has the best chance of beating Jeremy.

This is on the basis that if Yvette goes out first all her second preferences will swing behind Andy, whereas if Andy goes out first then his second preferences, due to the broad alliance he has created behind his campaign, will all or largely switch to the other male candidate, Jeremy.

Let's take a deep breath and try and think through what will be the effect of preferential voting in the Labour leadership.

First of all, it is very difficult to know how second preferences will switch. From my telephone canvassing there is some rather interesting voting going on, but I don't accept that Tom’s analysis is correct. I have certainly picked up growing support for Yvette in recent weeks.

In fact you can argue the reverse of Tom’s analysis is true – Andy has moved further away from the centre and, as a result, his pitch to those like Tom who are supporting Liz first is now narrower. As a result, Yvette is more likely to pick up those second preferences.

Stats from the Yvette For Labour team show Yvette picking up the majority of second preferences from all candidates – from the Progress wing supporting Liz to the softer left fans of Jeremy – and Andy's supporters too. Their figures show many undecideds opting for Yvette as their first preference, as well as others choosing to switch their first preference to Yvette from one of the other candidates. It's for this reason I still believe only Yvette has the breadth of support to beat Jeremy and then to go on to win in 2020.

It's interesting that Andy has not been willing to make it clear that second preferences should go to Yvette or Liz. Yvette has been very clear that she would encourage second preferences to be for Andy or Liz.

Having watched Andy on Sky's Murnaghan show this morning, he categorically states that Labour will not get beyond first base with the electorate at a general election if we are not economically credible and that fundamentally Jeremy's economic plans do not add up. So, I am unsure why Andy is so unwilling to be clear on second preferences.

All the recent polling suggests Andy is losing more votes than anyone else to Jeremy. He trails fourth in London – where a huge proportion of our electorate is based.

So I would urge Tom to reflect more widely on who is best placed to provide the strongest opposition to the Tories, appeal to the widest group of voters and reach out to the communities we need to win back. I believe that this has to be Yvette.

The Newsnight focus group a few days ago showed that Yvette is best placed to win back those former Labour voters we will need in 2020.

Labour will pay a massive price if we ignore this.

Diana Johnson is the Labour MP for Hull North.