The Daily Mail and the Sidebar of Judgement

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Last week Penny Smith, writing for the Daily Mail, asked 'Why do we women hate our bodies?'. Several of my fellow tabloid-watching bloggers pointed out the hypocrisy of the Mail's obsession with asking this question (look back through the archives and you'll find several similar stories published over the past couple of years). I must admit I haven't been visiting Mail Online much recently. It's probably been good for my sanity. But following Smith's piece going up, I've been interested to see how the site does absolutely nothing to help the way women might be feeling about their bodies.

The famed Mail Online sidebar has always been the Sidebar of Judgement, the place to go if you want to laugh at women in 'unflattering' dresses or disapprove of average-sized people daring to wear bikinis while pursing your lips at Suri Cruise's lost childhood and Kerry Katona's Ultimate Bad Mother status.

But as the paper publishes columns lamenting poor body image among modern women, the Sidebar of Judgement, dare I say it, appears to be getting worse. There's no longer any variety in the women's interest-flavoured stories it features. It's a relentless rotation of judgemental pieces about cellulite, stomach flab and weight loss. Top story today features 'real women' creating Kate Moss's look in order to show that they have better backsides than she does. Give me strength. But there's more:

- 'I work out seven days a week... but I still have jiggly thighs and cellulite,' admits Kim Kardashian
- So that's why Cher Lloyd looks the picture of health - she lives on greasy portions of chips
- Teen Mom 2 star Jenelle Evans makes for an arresting sight (in a bikini... not at court, that is)
- What a knockout: Sucker Punch star Abbie Cornish does scantily-clad sultry shoot for GQ magazine
- What happened to Nicole's legs? Scherzinger goes for the wrinkly look in mismatched boots and dress

Yesterday the Women's Networking Hub tweeted:

Has disordered eating for women and girls become the norm, as entrenched behaviour patterns are now granted as acceptable?

This is a good question. The phenomenon is certainly being fuelled in part by the attitudes of media aimed at women, with the way it constantly judges the body, insinuates that our bodies, as they are naturally, are unaccpetable and encourages unhealthy and drastic diets as a means of achieving confidence and acceptance. As a result we categorize all food as either 'good' or 'bad'. We justify eating a chocolate bar by saying that it's okay, we'll go to the gym later, or we'll only have a small dinner. We gravitate immediately towards the 'low fat' or 'light' sections when we go to buy a sandwich for lunch whether we're overweight or not. We discuss it and we treat all this as totally normal, totally ordinary attitudes towards eating and sustaining our bodies.

There's a familiar series of events involving celebrity women and the media. Step One: the woman, who does not adhere strictly to the accepted 'thin but curvy' body type, is picked over and ridiculed by the papers, magazines or blogs. Step Two: she loses weight and said papers and magazines run triumphant features on her new found confidence and happiness. She'll be wearing a bikini or a corset and grinning. Step Three: she'll put a bit of weight back on. Step Four: she'll appear in one of these papers and magazines solemnly discussing how that weight loss was unhealthy for her, how she exercised far too much, how she made herself sick or took diet pills or barely ate. And people will shake their heads and tut about the negative influence of the media.

All this will be chronicled in the Sidebar of Judgement.


Anonymous said...

Great post. I don't read The Daily Mail generally, but I went to the site after reading this and flicked through the articles you mentioned (plus a couple of others in the 'sidebar of judgement') and it left me feeling quite depressed! Particularly that Kate Moss story.

I agree that our culture normalises disordered thoughts and behaviours amongst women. It's not just the obvious anorexia, bulimia and extreme diet stuff: it's the fact that so many of us feel guilty when we eat junk food, and feel like we're 'depriving' ourselves when we don't eat it.

sianandcrookedrib said...

i completely believe that our culture normalises disordered eating. when you listen to how many women talk about food or comment on one another's bodies (you have a lovely figure, i wish i had a figure like you/wow look at her, she's let herself go) you realise how much women's bodies are still the centre of our success as women, and not meeting a desired ideal is a sign of failure. v sad.

Blair said...

I always seem to leave it too late to comment, but your posts are always spot on. The titles of the Mail features alone are enough to make me feel a bit sick - slavering over barely-legal girls one minute, ripping into a teenager for her appearance the next (no doubt the latter is all the more delicious for Mail readers because she's working class/a ~chav~, etc). When I saw your retweet about the disordered earting thing the other day, it immediately struck a chord - I think these attitudes HAVE been totally normalised. I know this is the case for most young women I know.
Lots of food for thought! x

Hannah Mudge said...

Thanks Rachel and thanks for linking to your blog - it's going on my reading list!

Sian, it would be wonderful to see women NOT basing their worth on their bodies but i think we have a long way to go. It enrages me so much that this is what's used to measure our success as a woman much of the time, no matter how far people say we've come due to the 'gains of feminism'.

Blair, it's definitely the case for most women i know too. Actualyly not as much in my current circle of friends, but definitely in the past.


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