My Top 5 Twitter Feeds Of 2019

Social Media is a funny thing. I’ve been on Twitter for years, but I didn’t really ‘get it’ until recently. Maybe it’s since they upped the character limit; I struggled to compress my thoughts into 140 characters! I still often have difficulty with 280, to be honest. But lately, I’m finding Twitter really useful, so I thought I’d share BigBirthas Top 5 Twitter Feeds of 2019.

#1 of Big Birthas Top 5 Twitter Feeds of 2019 = @justsayinmice

If I had to pick just one Twitter feed to tell you about it would be @justsayinmice.

Tweet from @justsayinmice pointing out (yet again) a news article quoting research as if factually correct for humans is based only on mice.
Big Birthas Top 5 Twitter Feeds of 2019

It’s the Twitter feed I didn’t know I needed, until it existed.

If you’ve ever read a long article about a research project which seemed super important and relevant, only to be irritated when a small paragraph near the end mentions it was a rodent study, this is for you.

It’s brilliantly simple. When a report’s title implies a study is about humans, but is actually on mice @justsayinmice retweets saying “IN MICE”. It’s international too; if it’s a Spanish study they write “EN RATONES” etc. instead. Saves a lot of time and frustration. Now I know which studies to ignore, and it’s having a positive impact by encouraging more responsible reporting too!

If you want to read a bit more about how the Twitter account came into being, it’s here: https://medium.com/@jamesheathers/in-mice-explained-77b61b598218. And yes, before you say it, the profile picture is a rat, because that’s funny.

Recommendation #2 – @justsayrisks

Following on from @justsayinmice, @justsayrisks takes on the reports which love to misrepresent statistics. You know the ones – “being obese TRIPLES your risk of [insert undesirable outcome here]”. Often these risks are very tiny, and so the increase in risk is negligible, but sounds really bad.

The author has written more about this here: https://medium.com/swlh/relative-vs-absolute-risk-e80efd68fa5

Human beings are, by and large, terrible at understanding risk. But that’s mostly because no one has ever explained it properly.

Author of @justsayrisks Gid M-K

I’ve only just found this one, but it’s already saved me wasting my time on some clickbait headlines!

@ObesityUK_org

Obesity UK is a relatively new charity (set up in 2014). It doesn’t even have a functioning website at the moment, just a landing page at https://obesityuk.org.uk/. But it is fighting the good fight against obesity stigma, and tweets and retweets are positive, useful, and relevant.

@millihill

Often I’m reading an article about pregnancy or labour, nodding along, only to discover it was written by Milli Hill. She’s a freelance writer penning articles for The Guardian, Telegraph, Independent etc.

Milli is also the founder of the Positive Birth Movement, whose aim I wholeheartedly agree with:

We aim to challenge the epidemic of negativity and fear that surrounds modern birth, and help change birth for the better. 

Positive Birth Movement

Milli is good to follow as she tweets and retweets about all sorts of pregnancy related issues.

@WRISK_project

Lastly I wanted to mention a project Big Birthas is involved with that I’m really excited about.

The WRISK project is interested in the way that risk messages are communicated in pregnancy, particularly to marginalised groups. It’s a collaboration between the British Pregnancy Advisory Service and Cardiff University. The WRISK Twitter feed is great because they’re very quick to notice any relevant news stories and comment on them.

And of course, don’t forget to follow @BigBirthas on Twitter too!

Who do you follow? Feel free to comment and share below!

The Plus Size Barbie Reality

So, five and a half years ago now, I wrote this article: The Plus-Size Barbie Controversy. Back then, I posed the question:

But which came first, the chicken, or the egg? Did generations of children growing up being marketed the implausibly proportioned Barbie learn to love the lean, or is Barbie merely holding up a mirror to the attitudes already prevalent in society, and giving consumers what they want?

There are other dolls!

Of course, while Mattel is the biggest player in this market, I knew other, more realistically proportioned dolls like Lammily and Lottie existed. They’ve always been very much on the sidelines, however.

Plus-size Barbie Reality - the Lammily doll, Barbie's less fashionable, less popular, still plastic cousin...
Lammily, Barbie’s less fashionable, less popular, cousin…

Lammily is supposed to mirror the proportions of an ‘average’ 19 yer old. She’s chunkier than Barbie, for sure, but still seems to be the average proportions of a slim 19 year old, if you ask me. Lottie is modelled on the proportions of a 9 year old, but with a bigger head to enable more ‘hair play’.

I didn’t really imagine then that Mattel, makers of Barbie, would manufacture a curvier doll. Who would have!?

So what happened next?

Since that time, Lammily seems to have become somewhat a recluse. I couldn’t find a UK retailer for her, just a few ‘first edition’ dolls listed as collectors items on eBay. To be honest, she always seemed duller and less fun than Barbie, with fewer outfits and scenarios. Understandable since she was decades behind in terms of accessories and marketing etc. but there was never any chance of her catching up if she didn’t seem to be any fun! Who wants a dull doll to play with?

Activist Lottie - complete with placard and loudhailer. A more realistically proportioned alternative to Barbie
Activist Lottie – complete with placard and loudhailer! You go girl!

Lottie, however is definitely still going strong, and seems to be having plenty of fun, with a variety of skin and hair colour options, and lots of accessories and outfits available to facilitate imaginative play, from astronomy, to zoology. My personal favourite has to be ‘Activist Lottie‘ complete with placard and loudhailer!

So, whether Mattel heard the criticisms, or saw the rising success of Lottie who, let’s be clear is still a very small player in the market, who knows?

Rise of the Plus Size Barbie – the Fashionistas range!

Rise of the Plus Size Barbie! The Fashionistas range - tall, petite 'curvy'...
The ‘Fashionistas’ range including new ‘curvy’ Barbie!

In 2016, Mattel did the unthinkable. They introduced the ‘Fashionistas’ range of Barbies with different proportions. This seismic shift even got them a Time magazine cover!

‘At last!’ I thought. Some diversity emerging in the Barbie doll market – now young girls can play Barbie parties where all the attendees aren’t just identikit featureless Melania Trumps in different outfits, distinguished only by who’s had their toes bitten off, or who’s got regrettable marker-pen make up!

But I’d forgotten my earlier prediction. Do girls actually want to play with a new ‘curvier’ Barbie? Some researchers decided to find out.

Plus Size Barbie – what the researchers discovered

Their article is published in the September issue of Science Direct; yes, I know it’s only July! Science is the future, don’t forget! The title probably tells you everything you need to know at a glance:

You can buy a child a curvy Barbie doll, but you can’t make her like it: Young girls’ beliefs about Barbie dolls with diverse shapes and sizes by Jennifer Harriger et al”

They worked with 84 girls between the ages of 3 and 10, asking them to assign positive and negative traits to the various dolls. Their findings make sad, but not unexpected reading.

Results generally demonstrated greater negative attitudes towards the curvy Barbie doll and more positive attitudes towards dolls with a thinner body size/shape (i.e., original, tall, and petite dolls). Girls identified the curvy Barbie as the doll they least wanted to play with. Additionally, girls with higher levels of body dissatisfaction demonstrated less negative attitudes towards the original doll.

Overall, findings demonstrate a preference for thin bodies and aversion towards larger bodies among young girls. Further, findings suggest that the simple availability of body-diverse dolls may not be a powerful enough intervention to overcome harmful weight attitudes, and highlight the importance of continued efforts to encourage exposure to and acceptance of diverse body shapes and sizes in young children.

Jennifer A.Harriger, Lauren M.Schaefer, J.Kevin Thompson, LiCao

Sigh. maybe I was right in the first place. Perhaps we shouldn’t buy them dolls at all and give them better things to play with!?

Girl playing with Quadrilla marble construction toy
Quadrilla Marble Maze
Hermione Granger Dressing Up Outift
Hermione Granger Dressing Up Outfit
A girl and a boy playing with Gears! Gears! Gears! Movin’ Monkeys Building Set
Gears! Movin’ Monkeys Building Set
Girl constructing with a "Fantasy forts construction set"
Fantasy Forts Constructions Set

Why I’m Never Again Donating To Cancer Research UK

Well, this probably seems uncharitable, but here are my reasons why I will never again be donating to Cancer Research UK (CRUK).

Don’t get me wrong, if you’re a friend of mine, and you’re planning on running, swimming, knitting in a bath of custard etc in future and need sponsorship, I will happily donate to a charity in recognition of your efforts. But not to CRUK. You can pick another charity. You can choose one doing great work in cancer treatment or care or awareness or research; Macmillan, Marie Curie, Breast Cancer Now, there are hundreds! Just not Cancer Research UK/Race For Life/Stand Up To Cancer, which are many faces of the same charity.

Why? What’s wrong with Cancer Research UK?

Maybe it’s just me, but I’d hope that a charity which puts research at the forefront of its identity (it’s in the name, for heavens’ sake!) would understand the need to not make wild claims. I’d hope they understood the difference between causation and correlation – it’s usually taught in secondary schools! Here’s a really useful TED talk explaining the danger of mixing correlation with causation:

So we can see from the example given in the video (if you’re reading this on mobile data and don’t want to watch it!) is that just because the incidence of drownings increases when the sales of ice creams increase (a correlation), does not mean that we can infer ice creams are responsible for drownings (causation). Or conversely, decide that drownings are responsible for ice-cream sales!

We can suspect one leads to the other. We can theorise what might cause this, but without further evidence it is merely a theory. It may be difficult to prove. That doesn’t mean you can ignore the lack of proof and state it as fact for the sake of convenience. Furthermore we must not forget to look for other influencing factors which might explain both results, like the weather, in the TED example.

So, where does Cancer Research UK come into this?

CRUKs 2018 OB_S__Y is a cause of cancer ad campaign.

When CRUK released their ad campaign last year stating, quite categorically, that obesity causes cancer, I was a bit concerned. I knew of the link between being of higher weight and increased risk of certain cancers (and decreased risk of others that we rarely hear about!), but there has never been proven causation. Yet CRUK were happy to state it.

Wait, obesity isn’t a cause of cancer?

No one (and there’s been plenty of research!) has yet proven that obesity causes cancer. It is possible that there is a causal link, of course. The theories may be spot on. I don’t deny that. But you’d hope a charity spending hard-won donations, and with ‘research’ in their name, would be a bit more responsible and careful not to overstate a theory as fact? It’s an important distinction.

As with the TED analogy, research has suggested that common factors could be responsible for the connection. Genetics are particularly suspect. Did you know tall people are more likely to get cancer than short people? Don’t see them putting that on a bus shelter, or claiming that height causes cancer. It’s an accepted correlation. Strangely CRUK don’t feel the need to make anyone feel crap about being tall…

But being fat’s not the same as being tall!

“But people can’t help their height!” I hear the virtue-signallers cry! “It’s not the same! Fat people can lose weight!” (with a in implied side-order of “they’re just lazy/stupid/lack willpower!”).

Except if you’re overweight, and have always been overweight, come from a line of people who are and have always been overweight, and have repeatedly watch them try and fail to lose weight, you know that while the maxims of ‘just lose weight’, ‘just eat less’, ‘just exercise more’ sound so deceptively simple in theory, they’re incredibly difficult in practice.

Of course, there’s always surgery, the one reliable intervention to lose weight – but if that’s so desirable, why wouldn’t we suggest tall people lop off a couple of inches to reduce their cancer risk? (I’m not suggesting that either!) There are significant risks associated with surgery, and significant downsides. It is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Yes. Pun intended. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that there’s a lot more to being healthy than merely a BMI.

But obesity IS preventable! You just don’t want to hear the truth!

Many overweight people struggle with their weight their entire life. Many lose weight, only to put it all back on again and more, often over and over, getting bigger with every cycle. We know this, and we don’t fully understand why. But we’re beginning to understand that willpower and behaviour are probably only a small part of the puzzle, maybe as little as 5%, with many other factors coming into play .

If it was so easy, Slimming World and Weight Watchers would have gone out of business years ago. The fact of the matter is that their business model works precisely because most people don’t and can’t lose the weight and keep it off long term in our modern society. We know this. It’s a problem we’ve been trying to solve for years, and CRUK campaigning that obesity is a ‘preventable’ cause of cancer completely ignores this.

Every time I drove past one of the CRUK adverts last year it irritated me. I knew it was inaccurate, felt it was irresponsible, and I was frustrated that they were choosing to oversimplify a complex problem as a personal failing. I, and many others felt it insidiously feeds the narrative of blame and shame that is so common with obesity.

It allows those who don’t have a high BMI to feel just that bit more smug, just that bit more superior; safe in the knowledge that their predominantly genetic disposition to not be overweight is saving them from cancer, with the added implication that us fat people should really do something about it for the sake of our health…

Maybe they didn’t realise…?

Not everyone reacted as mildly as I did, of course…

But those ads didn’t quite push me to the point of saying never again will I be donating to Cancer Research UK. That only happened this week…

I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt last year. Maybe they didn’t realise? Perhaps they felt the shock factor they wanted to use outweighed the risks of that approach and misjudged it? Maybe in wanting to keep the message simple they went further than they should have in overstating the point, but have learned from it?

So, what happened next?

Firstly, don’t be tempted to read the responses Sofie Hagen received on Twitter. Let’s just say plenty of people decided to tell her she was wrong. Haters gonna hate and all that… We don’t need that kind of negativity!

The campaign garnered lots of attention, was widely accused of fat-shaming and stigmatising obesity, and lauded by others for ‘telling it like it is’ (or as we know, isn’t, but hey-ho). These comments mainly came from smug-thins who think it’s simple to solve the ‘obesity problem’; just regularly tell fat people how crap they are and they’re sure to take it on board…

It also prompted amusing but entirely predictable responses implying the only reason people are overweight is because they eat fast food… yawn. Never saw that one coming. Oh, wait. Yes we did. It’s exactly these kinds of lazy tropes and attitudes that such a campaign fuels and that we’re entirely sick of.

Didn’t anyone explain to CRUK where they’d gone wrong?

Of course! Aside from the discussions on Twitter and in the media, various organisations and experts connected to the study of obesity contacted CRUK to offer their services.

They told CRUK how the adverts were stigmatising and misleading. They explained how simply telling people with obesity that they’re at increased risk of cancer does nothing to help, but does everything to make people feel more marginalised. Experts met with CRUK to explain how a more useful and sensitive campaign could be launched in future…

So, what happened this week?

Cancer Research UK's latest ad campaign - comparing obesity to smoking.

This week, CRUK went one further with this ad campaign.

Cigarette packets branded with “Obesity is a cause of cancer too”. Eyecatching and emotive, certainly. Accurate and helpful? Not so much.

Marvellous. They’ve taken on board precisely …erm… nothing at all from last year’s campaign feedback!?

Or perhaps they enjoyed the publicity last time?

Good grief, I feel sorry for the people who gave up smoking and gained weight as a result. They must feel like they can’t do right for doing wrong! They’re probably having their nicotine addiction triggered by the enormous images of cigarette packets, all while wanting a cigarette to deal with the stress of finding out that they’re doomed to get cancer…

Of course, the media reported the release like this:

Google News search for 'cancer obesity' showing misleading headlines and the standard 'headless fat body' image

With the word ’cause’ prominently repeated, with images of fast food and headless fat bodies galore – despite organisations such as the European Association for the Study of Obesity and The World Obesity Federation campaigning widely against such reporting and providing and free usable non-stigmatising images… Here we go again. Entirely predictable. Blame and shame. Emotive stuff.

There was a swift backlash. The National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care West (what a title!) wrote this great article:

Only this time there’s no room for the benefit of doubt; CRUK know these campaigns are hurtful, and they clearly don’t care.

And then, despite the complaints, CRUK continued the narrative this morning by tweeting this:

What, are we just pointing out random statistics we observe now? No. Clearly CRUK has decided this is the hill they want to die on; might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb. If you don’t like it, go chew some obesity gum or puff on your obesity inhaler… Oh, wait…

Cancer Research UK Budget

Here’s how much CRUK spends in a year.

Caner Research UK's 2017/18 Budget spend by sector (total £652m)

It’s a lot. A sizeable amount is spent on research. So far so good. But when £43 million pounds in 2017/18 was spent on ‘information and policy’ (admittedly, it’s only half of what they spend on raising the cash in the first place…), and when that information and policy is based around misrepresenting that research, enough is enough.

What does CRUKs CEO have to say?

Luckily not all media outlets have responded to CRUKs latest campaign by parroting it blindly… Sky News at least have responded by reporting some of the criticisms the new campaign has received:

https://news.sky.com/story/cancer-research-advert-criticised-for-comparing-smoking-to-obesity

They even quote CRUK chief executive Michelle Mitchell:

“We have a responsibility to tell people about what might increase the risk of cancer.”

Yes, Michelle. Might. So why are you so ready to be certain that it does cause cancer when you’re plastering it on a poster?

I might never again donate to Cancer Research UK. Oh, actually sorry, no. I’m never again donating to Cancer Research UK. Put that on a poster, Michelle.

Boycott Trash Mags

The cover of Bella Magazine: “Claire’s Weight Misery – Two stone heavier after time abroad”, right next to an advert for a £4.99 ‘wonder serum’ and underneath “Fat Blast Diet – Lose 20lb this month”. A masterclass in how to make women feel inadequate and then try to sell them something to fix it.

Claire Sweeney on cover of Bella magazine - titled 'Claire's Weight Misery'

Shame on @bellamagazineUK for publishing this, and hurrah for @clairesweeney for calling them out on it, particularly as it comes during #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek. #BoycottTrashMags

Why do editors continue to peddle this crap? Such lazy and vindictive journalism; find an unflattering picture of someone and then write some nonsense piece to go with it about how their life must be falling apart, usually with no factual basis whatsoever. Surely this wasn’t why they chose a career in journalism?!

The trouble is, we all know why magazines and newspapers do this; celeb character/image assassination sells. Daily Fail’s sidebar of shame is testimony to that; people love to gawp and revel in the misfortunes of others. But why?

What is it about our society that loves to build people up and then knock them down again? How is it OK that a celeb can be the darling of a publication one week and their metaphorical punching bag the next? Why is this form of public bullying still acceptable, when it’s the publishing equivalent of throwing rotten veg at someone shackled in the stocks?

As a person who hasn’t bought a magazine in at least a decade, this both fascinates and concerns me. Is my lack of attention to these magazines one of the reasons why I am happy in my own skin, perhaps (and why I spend very little on expensive skin and make up products, ha ha)?! Surely this spiral of judgement and derision isn’t helpful for anyone’s self esteem?

Here are my top tips for banning the negativity, and hopefully feeling lots happier about yourself as a result!

  1. Don’t allow trash publications in your house. Don’t buy them, don’t feed the monster. It’s bringing us all down.
  2. Recycle any that are in your house. If you’re keeping it because you find an element useful, take a snapshot, file it in a virtual folder and get rid. In future, source whatever it was elsewhere; you can get tons of recipes online and even see others’ reviews before going to the effort. If it’s makeup tips you’re after, maybe watch some YouTube make up tutorial channels. If it’s fashion you’re interested in, there are plenty of fashion blogs you could subscribe to, you can probably even choose one which more closely fits your kind of style than the generic offerings you get in magazines. If it’s the puzzles you like, there are numerous free apps. The only thing you actually have to give up is the celebrity gossip – and think of that as negativity decluttering!
  3. Don’t even read them while waiting at the doctors/dentists/hairdressers. The articles in these magazines, whether praising someone’s appearance, or criticising someone else’s, just feed into the idea that appearance is worthy of judgement. It isn’t. If they/you feel good that’s all that matters. Read a novel/non-fiction magazine/do sudoku to fill the time instead!
  4. Check your impulses to criticise others, even if you were only doing so mentally. It takes a while (particularly if you have grown up amongst relatives who like nothing more than to gossip and criticise!) to retrain your brain not to look for imperfections, but when you start to notice all the instances you would have said or thought something critical, you realise how much you were focusing on and feeding negativity. You can change this habit, and it gets easier as you keep doing it!
  5. Feel free to notice and compliment other people’s appearances instead! Everyone feels great when someone gives them a genuine compliment, especially if it’s a stranger so there’s no suspicion of an agenda – if you think someone’s hair/shoes/clothes are great – tell them! It’ll make their day, and will give you a warm fuzzy feeling too.
  6. When people compliment you, don’t brush it off. It’s tempting to negate nice things people say about us, sometimes because we feel it’s endearing to be self-deprecating, sometimes because we’re uncomfortable hearing nice things said about us. But that person took the time to say something nice; own the compliment, say thank you, and smile!
  7. Compliment your children on more than just their appearance. It’s nice to think our daughters are pretty and our sons handsome, but what about looking at other personality traits, like commenting on kindness, bravery, innovation, and perseverance?
  8. If you have children, talk to them about advertising, airbrushing, and unrealistic beauty standards, and how the advertisers who pay for the publications need you to feel insecure so they can sell you products to make you feel better about yourself.
  9. Be fabulous in your own skin!

In response to this Bella cover, Twitter is now awash with people sharing pictures of Claire Sweeney looking svelte and glamorous at events she’s attended over just the last couple of days. She clearly hasn’t gained 2 stone recently at all.

Ironically their meanness has led to lots of positive publicity. But even if she had gained weight, why would that be evidence she is miserable?

Again, kudos to Claire – she hasn’t posted any pictures of herself to prove lack of weight gain and refute the magazine’s claims – that’s no-one’s business, and would just perpetuate the myth that fat = unhappy. She just replied with the hashtag #nomisery. Respect.

It’s time to #boycotttrashmags.