May 21, 2010

Ilonna Burton -v- Phillip Schofield – The Anorexia Debate (Natasha)

Blog fans will know I am not adverse to expressing a potentially controversial opinion – I’ve been known to incur the wrath of the established medical profession on many occasion and “steady on, Tash” must rank up there amongst my friends’ most frequently repeated phrases. Freedom of speech is one of the main reasons I’m so very glad I was fortunate enough to have made my debut into this mental thing we call the World in Essex, England, where you can rant ‘til your hearts’ content without fear of imprisonment/death and I like to exercise that particular human right whenever possible.

I hope that the above demonstrates how genuine I am when I say I am absolutely divided in the Ilona Burton – v – Phillip Schofield (Nikki Grahame) debate as it rages on, fueled by the two penneths of the general populous and our nation’s favourite silver fox’s vehement tweets. Hard as it may be to conceive of, I have chosen to sit on the fence on this one.

For those of you unfamiliar with the entire debacle, here’s a summary:

Nikki Grahame has written a book about her anorexia battle, went on GMTV to promote it and was asked by host Phillip Schofield about the “tricks” she used to resist recovery, which she duly described in some detail. B-eat ambassador and recovering anorexic Ilona Burton then blogged furiously, claiming that Nikki and GMTV were irresponsible to broadcast what was essentially a Guide to Staying Sick.

Que unfathomable mayhem as Nikki Grahame fans, Ilona supporters and the hefty might of the GMTV watching public engaged in a war of words. Nikki was described as “marmite”, Ilona was described as “ignorant” and there were a few choice words of an unrepeatable nature thrown in the direction of Phillip Schofield, too. Phillip and Ilona went head-to-head in Tweetland – throwing balls of indignation like cannon fire into cyber space.

Naturally, as someone who works with the media, having had personal (and rather extensive) experience of an eating disorder and also heavily involved with Body Gossip (for which Nikki Grahame is, it has to be said, an excellent ambassador) I couldn’t resist sticking my oar in.

So, the first point I’d like to make abundantly clear is that I cannot bring myself to blame Nikki Grahame for any of this. She has been incredibly brave in admitting she has anorexia (which many similarly slender celebrities will not, and simply put down to yoga and eating sushi or some such bollocks) and the proceeds from her book are going to B-eat, so she clearly has honourable intentions.

Having said that, I can understand totally why Ilona was angered by the episode. It’s a classic dilemma which I have encountered with the media on several occasions. Fortunately, I have been lucky enough to have been taken into the bosom of Cosmopolitan Magazine, the fantastically empathetic and responsible journalist Ken Goodwin at ITV West and the regional BBC radio stations, all of whom have heeded my insistence that, whilst I am prepared to speak candidly about my eating disorder, I will not divulge specifics concerning weight or tips on how to excel at bulimia. Ultimately, the message should be positive.

In fact, just last week I took my Body Confidence Campaign to a school in Hertfordshire and was asked my a student what ‘diet’ I had gone on in my teens to drop such a significant amount of weight that my terror at regaining led me to bulimia and I made a point of refusing to tell her, and to explain why I was refusing to tell her.

However, scandal sells, and people are interested in two things: celebrities and extremes. At this moment in time I am neither. I was extremely bulimic, not that you would have been able to tell unless you were specifically seeking out the swollen glands, red raw knuckles, constant flu-like symptoms or mood swings which characterize the disease. And therein lies my point. The idea that an encyclopedic list of all the methods one can employ to fool doctors into believing you are recovering is in any way “raising awareness” for non eating disorder sufferers in utterly specious. Secretive habits surrounding eating disorders are exactly that: Secret. If they can be concealed from a doctor, your average GMTV viewer won’t have much better luck detecting them.

Having now fully recovered and being a healthy weight, I would be extremely taken aback if GMTV invited me onto their sofa to discuss my experiences, or indeed my ongoing campaign to prevent young people from following the same path as me. I’m simply not shocking enough in my current happy, fleshy, bosomy, feisty form. We do not see enough genuinely recovered people in the public eye and the message we are sending to current sufferers as a result is “this will haunt you forever”. Which is almost as soul-destroying as the fundamental message “there’s no point in trying to get better”. That, however, is hardly Nikki Grahame’s fault. My hat goes off to our Nikki for making the best she can of the circumstances she find herself in.

Eating disorders are consuming the lives people in the UK at a terrifying rate. Like anything dangerous, there is a responsibility to report it responsibly. Whilst I applaud GMTV for giving the issue air time, I do agree with Ilona that the interview could have had a detrimental affect on current sufferers. Would a self-harmer have been asked to explain exactly the ways and means they inflicted pain on themselves and how they concealed their cuts and bruises?

I want to open this one up to the floor, because it’s a debate which interests me immeasurably. Are you Team Ilona or Team Schophey?

So there you have it! I do believe that might have been my least rant-fuelled blog of all time. Could it be that the passing of my 29th birthday last month marked my passage into well reasoned and mature adulthood? Probably not. I’m sure something will inspire me onto my soapbox in the forthcoming weeks so stayed tuned!

To read my recent report for Flavour Magazine on Body Image, Eating Disorders and the Media, click

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