It wasn't words like thin that drove me to anorexia: TV host Adam Richman need not regret using that four-letter word, writes Jemima Owen
(Observer (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) The internet is not happy with Adam Richman. Neither is Travel Channel, the network that planned to host but has now postponed his new show, Man Finds Food. It's understandable: Richman is a celebrity and so telling an Instagram user to "grab a razor blade and draw a bath" because "I'm sure no one will miss you" goes down badly.
Richman's Man vs Food has long been a staple in television diets. Watching a charismatic, funny and rather rotund man plough through gargantuan burgers and burritos with sweat rolling down his forehead is entertaining, if nauseating. Unfortunately for Richman, it was also very unhealthy. After comparing his size to that of a Smart Car, Richman took action and shed 60lb. Proudly of his achievement, he posted his picture on Instagram along with the hashtag #thinspiration.
"What an irresponsible piece of shit!"
"Sure, promote eating disorders, why not?"
Richman suggested a follower kill himself, which is appalling. But we care because he used the word "thin". "Thinspiration" is a term that originated from "pro-anorexia" websites. Images of ribcages, collarbones, spines and other parts that shouldn't protrude too much are shared among users in order to inspire unhealthy weight loss.
Recently, however, the term was adopted by more mainstream internet users, mostly within the health and fitness community. Smiling women (and men) with glowing skin and shiny hair hold up too-big trousers and label their weight loss results #thinspo or #thinspirational while those of us "in the know" raise our eyebrows and tut. How insensitive! Don't they know what that term promotes?
Actually, it promotes nothing. Adam Richman lost 60lb. For anyone who has struggled with weight, that's inspiring: hey, if the Man vs Food guy who regularly eats pizzas the size of lorry wheels can do it, anyone can! Better the tagline be adopted by a man who was once too fat to be healthy, who through weight loss will now live longer and live better.
A few days ago someone said to me: "You're thin - there's nothing of you!" That made me laugh. I'm fairly tall - 5ft 8in - and a size 8-10. My stomach isn't toned but my waist is quite nice. My thighs jiggle if I run, and I have cellulite, but I look OK in skirts. I haven't weighed myself in years, but I am slim. Slim and normal. But not thin. Thin sounds bony. It sits on the rung below "skinny" on the ladder of descriptive weight terms. Next stop: emaciated.
But, to some people, since I'm not fat, I must be thin. My preoccupation with the word - I'm still dwelling on that comment several days later - is relative to my experience of thinness over six years of anorexia. While I was ill, I attended talks from former sufferers who were brave enough to stand in front of an audience of malnourished teenagers with their new, healthy, slim bodies and offer us the hope of recovery. I remember telling my mother afterwards that those girls could stuff their "health" - good for them, but I would not be that fat. Ever. Now that I am one of those girls, I wonder if people I talk to feel the same.
For me, thin was a jutting spine, a bloated belly, armpits I couldn't shave because I couldn't angle the razor in the space where there should be flesh. Years ago I remember watching a Christian Aid TV advert showing a woman dying of starvation, so thin you could see the shape of her pelvis as she lay on her front. I lay on the floor in front of the TV and my webcam and took photographs of my back to see if mine looked the same. I didn't donate pounds 3 a month. That memory now fills me with shame.
To an anorectic, "thin" means anyone thinner than you. My world was divided into two types of people: those thinner than me and those fatter. Nicole Richie's sinewy arms and Alexa Chung's gaunt smile were labelled "shocking" and "deadly." I didn't care. They were bigger than me. My "thinspirations" were new admissions to hospital, and authors of eating-disorder memoirs. Not once did I look to models. It upsets me when people blame "the media" or "fashion" for eating disorders: thinness is undeniably glorified by society. But, like so many other sufferers I knew, I had no desire to be attractive. I wanted to disgust. But I also wanted an excuse to stay ill.
It seems we are starting to blame social media as much as the fashion industry for eating disorders. Pro-anorexia websites, triggering blogs and terrifying Instagram pictures, are, of course, extremely worrying. Anorexia is a competitive disease, and exposure to extremely low weights can perpetuate that desire to be "the worst".
However, just as an alcoholic must hold himself accountable and avoid the pub, those of us affected by eating disorders cannot hold the rest of the world responsible for our struggle. We are addicted to weight loss - the buzz, the control. We will always battle with that. Triggers are everywhere if you look closely enough. But there comes a point when you can no longer be wrapped in a protective blanket. We are in the midst of an obesity epidemic. Eating disorders are deadly, but Richman was not aiming his comments at anorectics. He was speaking to a different audience: the dangerously overweight.
Richman was fat and now he is smaller, and for him that's a really good thing. Last year feminists proposed the "reclaiming" of the word "slut" and all its negative connotations. If the health and fitness community - online or offline - want to reclaim "thinspiration", they're welcome to it. Perhaps we are fighting the wrong battle. Eating disorders will not disappear if we ban hashtags. But if sufferers can access treatment - proper, qualified help - they might be better equipped to focus on defeating their demon.
Adam Richman boasts online of his weight loss, under the hashtag 'thinspiration'.
Jemima Owen: 'We are starting to blame social media as much as the fashion industry for eating disorders.'
(c) 2014 Guardian Newspapers Limited.
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