Body Positivity

A Journalist's Responsibility

I love a Sunday supplement. As a huge fan of magazines and the like when Sunday rolls round I'm soon heading to the shop hoping all of my favourite papers complete with their free magazines are still on the shelves.

A Sunday supplement that has recently found its way into my favourite reads is the Sunday Times Magazine and while I don't buy the Times myself, it's the newspaper of choice at my parents' house which pleases me greatly.

Packed with interviews, fashion (I could never afford) and plenty of features, it's a really interesting read with exceptionally talented journalists showcasing their literary skills.

However, this weekend there was an interview which left me questioning something.

The interview was with newly returned X Factor judge Sharon Osbourne. On the whole, I really enjoyed reading the article. Many people will know just how candid and hilarious Mrs Osbourne can be and the interviewer seemed to have an absolute hoot spending time with her and writing about his experience. She talked openly about how disgusting she finds the odious Sir Philip Green (her and me both) and didn't hold back when it came to the man on everyone's lips; Donald Trump. Never let it be said that Sharon Osborne is a fan of the could be President of the US.

While describing Sharon's appearance the journalist used a series of words that left me re-reading the sentence over and over again. I couldn't understand why someone would put these words into an article. I couldn't ascertain what he meant.

The words were "starved to perfection". The paragraph itself read "She is 63 and starved to perfection with impressively high cheek bones. She was a fat kid and has always been engaged in a war on weight".

Hmmmm. Starved to perfection. An interesting and quite possibly irresponsible choice of words, I thought.

I took the magazine outside to show my Mum who said that she too had read the article (she is not a fan of Mrs O mind!) and agreed that she was a little perturbed by the words too.

Just what is the journalist Bryan Appleyard suggesting, I mooted? With his series of words is he saying that to reach perfection (whatever that might be) you have to starve yourself? What sort of message is that presenting?

I couldn't help but think of any women or indeed men who might be reading the interview and the profound effect the words "starved to perfection" could have.

Just above the paragraph itself was a quote in large red letters that read "Ozzy was the band clown. He was dyslexic and badly educated. They laughed at him. He was very vulnerable".

Vulnerable. There could well be vulnerable people who are reading this very interview right now, focussing purely on those "starved to perfection" words and wondering whether they have to do the same to reach 'perfection'.

I imagined a reader who was in a bad place mentally. Perhaps they were seriously lacking confidence when it came to their body, maybe in recovery from an eating disorder or in the devastating grips of Anorexia. Those words, no matter how innocent in intention, could have a terrible detrimental effect.

In a world where society's obsession with looks and body image is at an all-time high, journalists, I believe have a responsibility to be careful when it comes to how they tell a story.

While I'm sure (and of course I hope) Sharon Osborne doesn't starve herself to ensure she reaches her optimum weight, that isn't the point. The very connotation that starving oneself can reach perfection is concerning to say the least.

It wasn't just myself who took umbrage to Bryan Appleyard's unfortunate phrasing. I took to Twitter to ask for clarity around his article and while he didn't respond to me, a quick peruse of his feed proved that he'd already been put to task over his feature. Like me, the Twitter user who flagged her concerns to him had said she really enjoyed the interview. However, her trepidation around "starved to perfection" had prompted her to voice her opinion with regards to responsible journalism.

To his credit, Bryan apologised for any offence taken. He explained this was a phrase that had been used in the past and while it was perhaps archaic it wasn't intended to offend. A classy response for sure and I was relieved to see he had taken that stance when confronted by a reader. Another well-known journalist decided to jump on the debate and told him not to apologise because offence is taken not given. A point I agree with but don't think is relevant to this situation.

Words have power and they have meaning. We can of course apologise for things said in haste and anger etc. after the event, however, when it comes to telling a story and making a point, I truly believe journalists, writers and authors need to be mindful of the words they use and the phrases they rely upon.