This evening I found out what a bikini bridge is. I wasn’t seeking out this knowledge; I was reading the news and it popped out at me, unbidden. The trouble is, now I can’t ever un-know it (to give you a chance, I’m not linking to the piece in question). Bikini bridges will henceforth be stored in my brain alongside thigh gaps, muffin tops, bingo wings, cankles and a million other terms which exist solely to make women hate their bodies a great deal and their minds even more.
To be fair, I wouldn’t know about any of these phenomena if it wasn’t for all the hand-wringing articles which document how “everybody” (i.e. no one) is talking about them already. Indeed, there are few things more damaging to those who already have eating disorders than today’s ever-present ED concern trolling. If journalists were not so “concerned” about anorexia and bulimia those of us with EDs could go back to creating our own arbitrary thinness tests without fretting over which of these now gets external endorsement. Not worried about the thigh gap? Well, you should be. Everybody else is! To someone with an eating disorder it starts to feel arrogant not to tick all the body paranoia boxes. After all, it’s not as though you’re someone special. On the contrary, you’re useless, a non-person. How could you possibly let yourself off the hook regarding thigh gaps when “everybody” – including the “normal” people – is panicking about them, too?
At the same time, these articles never fail to make it clear that worrying about such trifles is stupid and means, not only that you are fat, but that you are a bad person to boot. If you can’t be thin, why can’t you at least be more like Lena Dunham, trotting naked around the set of a hit TV show you write, produce and star in? Or Gabourey Sidibe, silencing the Golden Globe body fascists by casually referring to your private jet and dream job? It’s fine to recognize body image worries as pointless and trivial, providing you are also really fucking exceptional in other ways (sadly, the chances are, you’re not. So you’re back to thinking you’re a hateful blob of ugliness, albeit with the added sting of knowing you’re self-indulgent and foolish for even feeling this way).
When I think back to the worst of my experiences with anorexia, I’m unsure whether to see it as a terrible time in a situation beyond my control, or to hate myself for being such a total knob. I know that plenty of people at the time – many of them medical professionals – did indeed see me as a total knob, or worse, and treated me accordingly. The perception that worries about size and shape, however extreme, are markers of privilege (haven’t you anything better to worry about?) follows some women to their painful deaths. Hence when I read about bikini bridges and thinspiration, I wonder about the connections that will be made, and the impact that these will have on responses to seriously ill people. I wonder whether, once again, we will be forced to draw arbitrary dividing lines between the harm done by trauma and abuse, and that done by the hectoring of misogynist popular culture. I sometimes think “well, at least I can think of worse things to blame for being ill. Otherwise, what kind of a fool would I be?”
There’s no returning to a time of innocence when “body shocks” and “size zero horror” were not, apparently, all around us. The pressure to look, but also not to have any meaningful response, is overwhelming. It only becomes irrelevant when the right to take up space in the world starts to feel like second nature. For most of us, for so many different reasons, that is not how it feels. It will take more than the wilful naming of yet another body panic to change this.