“Pro-ana sites promoting stick thin figures are as bad as child abuse”: Supersize vs Superskinny presenter speaks at Exeter Uni

Emma Woolf, presenter of the Channel 4 show, slams pro-ana sites in talk to Exeter students

Channel 4 Emma Woolf Supersize Superskinny the tab the tab exeter

Emma Woolf, columnist for The Times and presenter on ‘Supersize vs Superskinny,’ spoke to Exeter students yesterday on body image in honour of Eating Disorders Week.

The talk opened with the question: If aliens came to visit planet Earth, what would they make of our emphasis on which parts of the body should be plump and which should be thin?

Shocking figures revealed that:

  • Some women would rather have herpes or suffer from alcoholism than be overweight
  • A survey carried out by UWE showed that 4/5 male respondents were unhappy with their beer bellies and lack of muscles in their arms, chest and stomach
  • Half of 3-6 year olds say they feel fat

Emma Woolf

Woolf spoke of how we are all signed up to the “Ministry of Thin” at birth, where we are expected to feel insecure about our bodies.

Losing weight, she said, is the “modern Holy Grail”, and a means of bonding between females as they insult themselves: “God, I shouldn’t have eaten that slice of cake earlier, I’m so greedy”.

Many females tend to subconsciously follow commandments such as: “Being thin is more important than being healthy,” “I must restrict my calorie intake” and “What the scales say is the most important thing.”

The “apology salad,” a “skinny” meal to apologise for an earlier binge, is a popular concept among women, as are changing diet regimes, such as the switch from a 5:2 eating plan to a 4:3 one.

A few members of the audience spoke about their own experiences of eating disorders, and Woolf responded by recounting her personal struggles with anorexia and saying that she was at her strongest, not when losing weight, but when she gained it back.

In her final comment, Woolf said that we CAN ignore the inner monologue telling us “you’re crap,” and if we can praise others, why can’t we do the same for ourselves?

After the talk, Woolf fielded questions from the room.

As a journalist, you must be aware of glossy magazines and other media promoting stick-thin figures. Would you propose changes to this concept, and why?

“I think that pro-ana sites promoting stick thin figures are horrific – they’re as bad as online child abuse.

“It needs to be banned, but it’s impossible to do so – we could shut down all UK sites, but what’s to stop people going onto US ones, for example?

“The aim of such media is to give the readers what they want – but is this really what we want?

“Surely the best way around this would simply be for people to stop making bitchy comments about each other that could trigger disordered eating.”

Many students suffer, or have suffered, from eating disorders. What would you recommend people do to help friends they suspect may be suffering from one?

“Leaving home for the first time to come to University can cause chaos for students. They’re suddenly in complete control of what they do or don’t eat, and this can turn to either extreme of eating too much or not eating enough.

“An eating disorder such as anorexia can be very isolating. A very common problem is when someone says, ‘Want to go out for a bite to eat?’ This causes issues for them, for obvious reasons, and they will most likely decline the offer.

“It’s much better to ask, ‘Do you want to go for a coffee/drink?’ (Wine somehow doesn’t have calories for me!). This helps them to feel less cut off from everyday life.”