I've been in this industry for 10 years, and although that statement makes me feel incredibly old, I'm proud of everything I’ve learnt along the way. So here goes. The trials on I’m A Celeb are as gross as they look (blended camel penis anyone? No? Didn’t think so!) Drinking on TV isn’t always the best idea (though it might be entertaining for you lot, the beer fear is a lot worse when you know there are millions of people watching). And what they say is true: you quickly find out who you can - and can’t - trust. Unfortunately not everyone is worthy of your time and friendship. But without a doubt one of the most important lessons I have learnt is this: being skinny does not always equal being happy and healthy.
Last week, I was just scrolling on Instagram and I was horrified to learn about some of the quite frankly terrifying trends emerging on TikTok. Apparently, there’s a trend where young girls are wrapping their iPhone headphones around their waist - and the more times you can get it round your body the more ‘attractive’ you are. Girls are holding up pieces of paper, hoping they will obscure their waists. And there are young men who have the audacity to make comments on women’s BMIs. Utter madness.
I’m not a doctor or an expert but you don’t have to be to know not only is this heartbreaking, but extremely unhealthy. It’s already estimated that 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder and trends like this do nothing but exacerbate that already scary statistic.
Now I’ll be the first to admit I am on Instagram too much for a 33-year-old woman. My screen time is embarrassing in general - must work on that! - but, I’m going to be honest here: TikTok bloody petrifies me. Obviously I’m not living under a rock. I’m no stranger to the phenomenon. But what scares me the most is how young people on TikTok actually are. And I know, through having friends and family who've had kids, that there are little ones as young as four or five on it. I know parents may think it’s the lesser of various evils when it comes to social media apps - after all, it’s just people doing silly pranks and dance routines isn’t it? The answer is no, it’s really not. And even if it was, is being constantly bombarded with these ‘perfect bodies’ from such a young age really a good idea for the developing minds of our children? I honestly believe there should be an age restriction for the app.
I’m so worried about these young lasses, thinking this is what everybody looks like, and that, in order to be fulfilled, you have to be thin. And if you aren’t thin, or don’t look like these glossy girls in the videos, you aren’t beautiful.
I remember being my smallest - and my God, I might have been tiny, but I was not happy. And I was nowhere near as young as these girls. A few days ago, I shared a photo of me at my lowest on Instagram, alongside an image of me now, thankfully, healthier, happier and with a good relationship with both food and exercise. I’m evidently not the only one worried. Since posting that, I've received so many messages from women who say they’re terrified of their daughters being on social media. And I completely understand their concern.
Of course, while technology makes it more frightening, the pursuit of skinny is a phenomenon as old as time itself. But I was fortunate enough to grow up without social media. (Can you believe MTV actually had to sit me down and force me to join Twitter when I was 24? Must have been during my ‘rebellious phase! You can’t bloody get me off it now!) My pressure to have the perfect body came more from print media, and stories of wild celebrity diets. Years ago, I remember reading how Beyonce ‘got into shape’ and shed a few stone for her up and coming role in ‘Dreamgirls’ by using a wacky diet: lemon, honey and Cayenne pepper, to be precise. (Trust me, ‘get into shape’ is in inverted commas because, as far as I’m concerned, she’s always been in bloody brilliant shape.) Thankfully, a diet like that seems completely outdated in 2021. But I remember thinking: should I give this a go? I could do that. Like, what the actual hell?!
My relationship with my weight wasn’t an obsession until I was older. Being on Geordie Shore exacerbated things that were already potentially forming. We were all thrust into the spotlight around the same time that shows like Made in Chelsea and The Only Way Is Essex were emerging on TV. And ultimately, a lot of people compared the shows - which you can't blame them for doing, it was a three pronged reality TV attack - but I think what is frustrating is that they didn't necessarily compare the boys.
They compared the girls.
If you look at the boys, they were all very similar; they were all very good-looking and wanted to kiss girls. On MIC, it was like ‘Ooh, he’s such a cad ’ - but on Geordie Shore, it was like ‘He’s a top shagger’. It’s the same thing - just a different dialect. However, they really wanted to pit the girls against each other in some sort of imaginary competition. On MIC, the girls were leggy and lovely; on TOWIE, they were ditzy and impossibly glamorous; on Geordie Shore, we were young, relatable and a bit controversial. (OK, maybe more than a bit controversial. But give us a break - we’ve all made mistakes.) They also wanted to draw similarities and opposites with the way we looked. And there was no comparison, man. Every woman is different.
It left us feeling like we weren't as good as the other girls - and most of us felt the pressure to look a certain way. We wanted to have clothing lines, like the rest of the girls, and to be invited to glitzy parties, too. But it manifested in quite a nasty way for a lot of us.
When I was on a really scary conveyor belt of reality TV, and I was in a relationship which everybody else could quite evidently see was toxic, I felt like my weight was one thing I could control. I couldn’t control the edit of Geordie Shore, how the nation was beginning to perceive me, the misconceptions about my character - but I felt I could control the way I looked. In 2013, I also did a fitness DVD. I think it’s important to stress that I didn’t starve myself, but I was exercising obsessively at the time. I was quite clearly a little bit too small for my frame when I was doing it, and I know getting my body in that shape wasn't natural.
The sad thing is I lost so much of myself trying to be what I thought everybody wanted. And the truth is when you are fucking hungry, you have very little time to enjoy life. When you are counting how many blueberries you put on your porridge, when you're obsessing over what you look like in every picture. Or heaven forbid, you go to a restaurant, and you're obsessing over whether you need to ask a waiter if they’re going to cook your food in butter. When you are being that person, unfortunately, you have very little time for fun.
Thankfully, my relationship with food and exercise now is now a world apart from that scared and obsessed little girl. I firmly believe life’s too short not to have that extra glass of wine, because you’re worried about the calories, or not to enjoy pizza, because you’re scared of the fat in cheese. Like, seriously, you miss out on all the joys of life!
I credit this new found acceptance of my body to a number of things - I have lived through the alternative, being obsessed with a number on a scale is quite simply not a life worth living. Also, I think as you get older, you realise there are more important things that what the size on your label says. I’m also incredibly lucky to have support in my amazing partner, Ercan. He has helped me a lot in learning to accept my shape and love who I am - I thought if he loves me just as I am? Why the hell don’t I? And I’ve also been lucky enough to interview some amazing body positive women for my podcast, like Courtney Black and Alice Liveing, who actively campaign for women to be strong and healthy and they all reaffirm my belief that we should all just be striving to be healthy and happy - whatever that looks like on you!
If I could go back now, to the time I was at my lowest, I’d give myself a hug. Whenever I see those pictures, I take a second to look into my eyes: I was miserable, I was lost, and I was scared. Trying to gain control in a world where I felt so powerless. But I realise now that your happiness is not in any way related to that number on the scale, and your self worth is no way tied to your dress size. And that’s what I hope young girls, who might be influenced by trends on TikTok and Instagram, remember. You’re kind, you’re smart and you’re important in the world whatever size or shape you are.