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.

Reflections on Primary Care and Public Health Conference 2019

Well, that sure was an exhausting but very worthwhile couple of days!

NEC Loading Bay – Hi-vis really sets off my outfit beautifully!

As my first experience as a conference exhibitor it was possibly a bit of a baptism of fire doing two days @PrimaryCareShow, plus set-up and take down. Definitely a steep learning curve, but really excellent to have the opportunity to put our Parenting Science Gang Research findings before a wider (and very receptive) audience!

Met many, many lovely healthcare professionals across the two days, the vast majority of whom are totally sympathetic to the rough deal bigger mums often experience, and are all too aware of some of the hurtful and unnecessary things that can be said and done while navigating maternity services; some of whom knew from personal experience!

Some interesting discussions too with healthcare professionals who clearly thought their practice was empathetic, encouraging, and open, but whose use of language belied a weight bias, or a propensity to be dictatorial in their provision of care…

What Women Wanted
Postcard – Words used by women in our research to describe the birth experiences they hoped for

Did they notice my (hopefully subtle) efforts at positively reframing their words? Who knows, but I didn’t get into any heated debates, so my challenging of attitudes was at least successful in that I seemingly didn’t make any enemies or get anyone’s backs up, I just hope my words didn’t fly completely undetected under the radar!

We did raise some eyebrows with some of the quotes from the research, even from very experienced midwives, and hopefully prompted some thoughts and reflective practice. Also gained a few new followers on Twitter and some new sign-ups to the Facebook chat group, hi if you’re reading!

Although most of the time was spent in the exhibition hall speaking to delegates, I did manage to get along to 4 conference presentations across the two days – two in the Mother & Baby programme and two of the Obesity & Weight Management sessions, with mixed reaction!

What Women Got
Words used by women in our research to describe their actual birth experiences

I was shocked and frustrated to listen to Judith Stephenson, a Professor of Sexual and Reproductive Health, waxing lyrical about a 2018 study which promoted a ‘drink only semi-skimmed milk for 8 weeks’ diet in order to facilitate rapid weight loss and thus be in a better position to enter into pregnancy – when all studies I have ever encountered suggest that restrictive diets and rapid weight loss do more harm than good, and while seemingly effective in the short term, are rarely successful in the medium to long term.

I was also frustrated that she feels that obese women planning pregnancy need to be told that they would decrease risks by losing weight. “This isn’t about blaming women” (except it sounds a lot like it!!). In my experience women are VERY aware that we should lose weight, and it’s not that bloody simple; repeatedly telling us this fact does nothing to help us, and just increases blame, guilt, and disengagement. If you actually want to help us, just ask if we’d like to do something about weight management/fitness or like to hear about local options available to help, and if we say no, move on!

I was at least able to put these points in questions after the session, and several attendees came and sought me out afterwards to thank me/agree/discuss further, so definitely glad I attended that one!

On the plus side, I do agree with her that healthcare services are missing a trick when women attending a family planning clinic for removal of a long-term contraceptive device are not given basic information about preconception health, e.g. to take folic acid, and offering signposting to services available to help with weight loss, smoking cessation etc. given that pregnancy is a very pivotal moment in a woman’s life and the likelihood is that we are at our most receptive and motivated to change any perceived negative behaviours, for the benefit of the planned-for baby.

I later attended an excellent talk by Debra Bick of the University of Warwick on the Care of Women with Obesity in Pregnancy which was far more supportive in the use of language, remembered that there’s often a husband or partner in this equation, and a really useful review of recent studies and their results – which I now need to seek out and read!

The following day was more of the same – firstly a really aggravating talk on
Weight Management During Pregnancy and the Post-Natal Period by
Dr Amanda Avery… who was billed as the chair of the BDA Obesity Specialist Group and an Associate Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics, but just so happens to be on the payroll of Slimming World and who uses a LOT of ‘they’/’other’ and presumptive-generalisation-speak when talking about women with obesity. Very judgemental/dictatorial/patronising – pregnancy is a “teaching opportunity”. All right, we get it: you’re not and never have been a fatty, and those of us who are overweight just need you to swoop in and educate us! Grrrrrr. Haven’t we moved on AT ALL?!?

She then went on to minimise the risks to the unborn of weight loss while pregnant, recommend Slimming World (of course!), push for encouraging obese women to lose weight while pregnant, and advocate for a return to weighing women at every antenatal appointment to encourage this – “it’s a low-cost intervention – you only need a set of scales!” – yes, that was dropped because it was stigmatising, anxiety inducing, disengaging, and showed no benefit to fetal and neonatal health!?! Then she suggested that the reason that childhood obesity has increased since the 1990s is because that’s when we stopped doing regular antenatal weighing! For goodness’ sakes – oversimplification maybe!?! I think quite a few other things may have changed in those two decades!?!

So. Many. Issues… I was really struggling to work out which points I was going to challenge about her talk when it came to question time – would it one of the above concerns, the persistent conflation of pregnancy weight gain with obesity, or for failing to adjust macrosomia figures to account for gestational diabetes… but no need – there was no opportunity for questions unless you stayed to listen to the following talk too! Arrrgh!

Fortunately my confidence was later restored by a lovely talk by Karen Gaynor, a senior dietitian from Dublin, talking about The Impact of Stigma and Bias in Obesity Treatment, who totally gets it: You want to build an inclusive empowering dietician service? Then ask your patients what they want and involve them in designing it!

Don’t push for dramatic and unachievable weight loss goals – 10% is about the realistic limit! Remember that around 85% of obesity is due to genetic factors – only 15% down to environmental factors, with only a proportion of that down to personal willpower. Never forget we’re in an obesogenic environment and change is a massive uphill struggle and life-long commitment! Don’t use shaming imagery – there are plenty of online free-to-use gallery images featuring empowering pictures of overweight and obese people (try https://easo.org/media-portal/obesity-image-bank/ ) – and if you see stigmatising imagery or language used in practice or the media, call it out!! Honestly, the talk, and the questions/comments from delegates which followed were so uplifting! What a great session to end on!

I totally need to namecheck our lovely neighbours at https://littlepeopleuk.org/ and https://www.burningnightscrps.org/ with whom we shared laughs (and confectionery when energy was flagging)!

Most special thanks go to (in order of appearance) the wonderful El, Serena, Mawgen, and Dani; who worked charmingly and tirelessly along with me (with the aid of sugar and caffeine) in talking to dozens? hundreds? (wish I’d had the foresight to bring a tally counter – lesson learnt) of healthcare professionals across the two days.

Lastly (this is starting to feel like an Oscar acceptance speech, I’m sure someone somewhere is frantically gesturing me to get a move on as the orchestra pipes up!) huge thanks have to go to The Parenting Science Gang for making this happen, and Wellcome for funding it!

Lots of contacts made, lots of thoughts provoked, lots of ideas forged, lots of avenues opened.

Big Birtha x

Post-show carnage
Post-show carnage

PCPH Conference Here We Come!

Well, this is exciting!

The banners are printed… Collecting the fliers tomorrow… We’re almost ready to unleash ourselves on unsuspecting delegates at the Primary Care and Public Health conference in Birmingham on the 15th and 16th of May!

This is all thanks to Parenting Science Gang, funded by Wellcome.

Representatives from the BigBirthas Facebook group will be staffing the stall, along with representatives from some of the other Parenting Science Gang groups, all eager to talk about our research.

The conference is free to attend, you can find details about it and register here: http://www.primarycareandpublichealth.co.uk/

Come over and say hi!

#FatFertilityMatters Q&A with Nicola Salmon

Are you affected by fertility issues?

Sick to the back teeth of hearing “have you thought about losing weight?”

Want to talk about it, or listen to someone else talk with experience of the issue?

Then join us on Monday April 15th at 9pm.

Nicola Salmon, author of ‘The Fat Girl’s Guide To Getting Pregnant’ and the originator of the #FatFertilityMatters hashtag is going to be with us for an hour to answer your questions on all things fertility related!

To get involved you’ll need to join the Facebook group set up specially (do it now, before you forget!)
https://m.facebook.com/groups/366477067323511

Find out more about Nicola and #FatFertilityMatters at nicolasalmon.co.uk

See you there!