The other day, I logged into my Facebook account and found ads, supposedly targeted at me because of my age, gender and interests, informing me that Cheryl Cole lost 16kg on a simple new diet plan. Obviously she needed to. In January, magazine covers, TV adverts and even office talk is all about the best diet to be on. And why not? Everyone's on a diet in January, right?
Well no, actually. I, along with many others, am recovering from an eating disorder, and going slightly crazy every time an advert or magazine cover assumes that being 27, female and in possession of a pulse, I must be dying to be skinny.
Been there, done that. Two years ago I was so thin I was on the verge of being hospitalised, and warned that if I didn't stop exercising I risked giving myself a heart attack, and it all started with just wanting to drop a few pounds. Of course, there are a lot of people who want to shed a little excess weight, and they should be able to find a way to do that. But telling every woman between the ages of, say, 15 and 40 that this is what they should be aiming for is to risk telling someone who is perfectly healthy that losing 2kg could make them happier, when actually it could seriously damage them.
For celebrities such as Cheryl Cole to advertise their desire to lose weight is as good as saying that weighing over 7 stone is undesirable. I've experienced the multiple health problems that come with eating disorders. Not sexy, and not beautiful. How convenient though, that these adverts can offer you some lovely cosmetic surgery to enhance the breasts that you lose through severe weight loss. Apparently there's a fix for everything when you're trying to achieve "the body beautiful". Shame they can't offer a personality transplant to combat the fact that eating disorders can make you a very moody and unpleasant person to be around.
I'm lucky. I've made some great progress, and I'm coming out the other side, but every day is a battle. Right now, part of that battle is trying to recapture a healthy attitude to food, as well as gain the last few kilos, and every time I see one of those ads, or hear someone talk about "naughty" foods that they "shouldn't" eat, I get a twinge of guilt. Think how many slimming ads you saw last week, how many magazine articles claiming they could help you lose a stone in 14 days, how much spam appeared in your inbox selling you weight-loss pills. All those twinges create one big tidal wave to swim against.
I want to know the best chocolate to eat on a diet and how to burn calories just by doing the vacuuming, and seeing these options while knowing I need to do the opposite puts me in constant conflict with myself. It's pretty easy to find yourself drowning.
How about we start a new advertising campaign, targeted at the exact same group: ads for social groups where you'll get to meet people who like you for who you are, for self-help books on how to boost your self-esteem, for chocolate bars that aren't so naughty if you don't eat two of them every day?
We should spend time and money teaching women that what matters is who you are inside and not the number on the scales. I paid a lot of money for therapy which essentially pointed out that my friends and family loved me just as much at 11 stone as they did at seven, because of who I am. If there were more emphasis in the media on seeing that for ourselves, I would have been saved a lot of sadness and the torture I subject myself to on a daily basis.