Claire Black: Body beautiful | New US law

Wanting the body beautiful is pain, not gain, for most of us

Being thin is celebrated everywhere from billboards to TV programmes. Photograph: Getty
Being thin is celebrated everywhere from billboards to TV programmes. Photograph: Getty

THE other day, I heard a woman say that in all of her life, she had never been able to like her body. Never. Not once.

We were a mixed group, men and women, different ages, different life experiences, different body shapes. The pain and sadness as she spoke about what she felt about her body – that protective case of flesh and bones, muscles and sinews that allows her to exist – was palpable and powerful. And she wasn’t alone. As she spoke, a ripple of recognition passed around the room. Among the women at least half, spurred on by her bravery, spoke about their own struggle with their bodies and with food. Fat thighs and big bums, wobbly arms and protruding bellies – this is what women’s bodies are so often reduced to.

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The others in the group, including me, might not have said anything, but I’d bet you a low-fat snack that we all have our own stories to tell. It may not have been a lifelong struggle. We may never have developed an eating disorder. We may even be lucky enough to feel pretty OK about our bodies, but that’s probably about the best we can hope for. We’ll certainly know something about that critical eye that suddenly emerges when we look in the mirror or see a photo of ourselves, the one that becomes ever more acute as we age. I cannot remember the last time I heard a woman say something positive about her own body. How grim is that?

So you might think that I would welcome a new French law which makes promoting excessive thinness a crime punishable by imprisonment for up to one year and a fine of ¤10,000. And I sort of do, in the sense that anything that creates a bit of space to talk about just how poisonous the whole issue of body image and eating disorders has become is better than the launch of yet another “diet”. But what impact can a law such as this have on the epidemic levels of poor body image that exist in our society? Not much.

The legislation is largely aimed at “pro-an” websites, those where anorexia is celebrated as a lifestyle and photographs of emaciated bodies are posted along with tips on how to starve yourself most effectively. I’m not going to argue against reducing that, but let’s not imagine that this is going to transform the way in which bodies are fetishised in fashion or on runways. Or that it’s going to prevent women and girls from developing eating disorders.

Eating disorders are a mental illness. The reasons girls and women – and it is still largely girls and women who are affected – develop eating disorders are much more complex than because they want to look like models. Seriously. There is no doubt that being thin is celebrated, pushed even, everywhere from billboards to telly programmes, magazines to adverts. But to say that is the cause of anorexia is akin to saying there are alcoholics because there are off licences. It just isn’t that simple.

The vast majority of adult women in this country feel anxiety about their body. It’s going to take more than legislation to change that. It might be sad, but it’s true.

New US law a recipe for disorder

I CONFESS I find much of what passes for politics in America too frightening to follow very closely. Michelle Bachmann. Ted Cruz. Terrifying. But it’s been hard not to notice the car crash that’s recently been taking place in Indiana. Governor of the state, Mike Pence, right, has got himself in a right old pickle with the passing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which rather confusingly seems to have absolutely nothing to do with religious freedom and everything to do with enshrining discrimination and intolerance in law. Whoops. The law allows businesses to take into account religious objections when providing services. This means it has allowed Crystal O’Connor, owner of Memories Pizza, to say on local TV news that she would refuse to cater for a gay wedding.

Firstly, it’s probably moot because no gay person I know would serve pizza at their wedding (I can make a joke like that – I am gay). Secondly, this seems to be not so much about O’Connor’s freedom but more about hating the gayz. And that’s just not nice.

On this side of the pond we had happier dough-related news. Great British Bake Off finalist Ruby Tandoh came out on Twitter to a wave of support and congratulations. UK 1, US 0.

Just treat us on our merits

A WORD to the wise (and by that I mean male and middle-aged) if you’re saying or writing something about a politician who happens to be a woman, do not give in to your weird temptation to mention her hair or her shoes or whether you think she’s attractive or not. We do not care. Really, we just don’t give a Talk about her policies, her track record, her skill (or lack thereof) at communicating her message but resist any mention of how she looks because if you do not then we will assume that you are – consciously or unconsciously – undermining her. We will also be forced then to surmise that you’re a retrograde moron. It’s logic, see. «