Mental health is undoubtedly a serious topic, but as a person ever afraid of serious topics, I constantly have to resist the urge to pull back, pause, and walk around the puddle instead of getting my feet wet.
This was evidently not a problem for Emma Woolf today, whose frank exploration of what she termed ‘The Ministry of Thin’ drew on her own experience of more than ten years of anorexia. Woolf, a columnist for The Times, writer for The Independent and presenter on Channel 4’s Supersize vs Superskinny, took an unusual angle on what for many of us listening was a familiar topic by suggesting the confusion aliens would feel being confronted with the human race’s unwritten rules of attractiveness. At this point I would like suggest the confusion the human race would feel being confronted with aliens that weren’t one-eyed, oozing, green creatures but that’s getting into a whole other stereotype.
Woolf dove so far into the metaphorical puddle with her confessional talk that she encouraged others to jump in after her. It was genuinely touching to hear other people’s stories of their own experience with eating disorders and disordered eating, and all credit goes to Woolf for creating an atmosphere in which they felt brave enough to share such personal things. And apart from all the facts and figures about the general mentality of the British public towards thinness that, let’s face it, we’re all in some part aware of, Woolf interestingly argued that self-deprecation is something women bond over. No, that doesn’t mean that if I and the woman next to me on the bus agreed that we both looked ridiculous on a particular day that we would become besties – although I’m not knocking the bus as a place to find common ground, especially if the Transport Appreciation Society jump on for an impromptu game of I-Spy. It actually means bonding over the fact that you ‘probably shouldn’t’ have had that piece of cake last night while you agree to spend an extra ten minutes at the gym together making up for it.
It’s safe to say that this did, and does, resonate with most people (yes, that does include men) even if you haven’t suffered from a full-blown eating disorder. So I applaud Woolf for continuing the conversation on such a difficult topic and raising more awareness of the problems of eating disorders and disordered eating. I also applaud her, quite amazingly, for managing to make me restrain my natural impulses of mockery to a gentle teasing and a bizarre metaphor about puddles.