A new podcast series hosted by the journalist and youth expert Chloe Combi promises to give an insight into contemporary teenage life. Each episode is themed around a different issue affecting young people – sex, work, popularity, porn – and contains frank interviews with teenagers as well as reflections from adult experts.
There are some important and sensitive subjects considered, such as intimate partner violence (which is more likely to affect teenagers than 20-somethings), in an episode that features moving testimony from a young survivor. I’m glad that young people were given a platform to voice their own concerns about these subjects, which makes it all the more disappointing that one such issue is handled so clumsily.
The second episode, “Body Image”, focuses on eating disorders including anorexia and orthorexia, but its approach feels exploitative and sensationalised. The episode begins with a clip from a 16-year-old (who, we later learn, is severely unwell and undergoing outpatient treatment) who tells us her current weight, height and goal weight, admitting that she knows reaching that goal could kill her. As the episode continues, she makes a number of explicit disclosures about her eating, her efforts to hide her illness, graphic descriptions of her body, and other troubling confessions.
It makes for uncomfortable listening. Reporting guidelines from the eating disorder charity Beat advise against mentioning past goal weights, specific details of disordered behaviour or images of emaciation, as such descriptions are potentially triggering, and eating disorders are uniquely competitive illnesses. But this podcast includes such details, and I found myself hoping that any teenagers concerned about their own body image were not listening.
There are other missteps, too: Combi searches for simple causes (social media and Instagram peer pressure) for what is a complex mental illness. A teenager further into her recovery offers a rare thoughtful voice, but this is an otherwise infuriating, outdated listen.
You Don’t Know Me
This article appears in the 03 Mar 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Humanity vs the virus