Long Reads

The Daily Mail is ranking women by waist size – and we can’t ignore this dangerous message

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Heidi Scrimgeour
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The Daily Mail’s latest ‘scientific’ offering on women’s bodies is at best insulting and, at worst, incredibly damaging. Heidi Scrimgeour explains why we need to stop ignoring the real-world impact of this kind of message.

Aren’t you glad that we live in an era where women aren’t judged on something as demeaning as the size of their waists?

Oh, wait, we don’t. They are.

“Your waist size can reveal your fertility, wealth and availability,” trumpeted the Daily Mail this week. The article goes on to speculate about the size of Kate Middleton’s waist (“as tiny as that of any Victorian heroine,” apparently) and enlist the opinion of a plastic surgeon, who charmingly informs us that “the waist changes with the years, and usually for the worse”.

Also quoted in this horror show of a piece are a “celebrity personal trainer” and a professor of health psychology. The professor makes some interesting observations about the pressures that have been put on women to have tiny waists over the years - something the Mail clearly has no problem with, given that it goes on to literally rank famous women according to their waist size.

“So as Kate steps out looking super-slender, how do the stars measure up?” it asks. 

From there, we’re treated to a “fun formula” that you can use to work out the waist measurements of the stars, plus the lowdown on vital stats for everyone from the Duchess of Cambridge to Kylie Minogue. It reads like a who’s-who of the most meaningless measurement imaginable, by which we can both objectify famous women and make normal ones feel worthless.

“A small waist is the revered look du jour, with celebrities from Kim Kardashian to Jennifer Lopez celebrating their tiny tummies,” we’re told. “It’s the ultimate symbol of health, wealth and success.”

Except when it’s not. Except when it’s a damaging appraisal of women that’s so thinly-veiled it’s the editorial equivalent of Karlie Kloss on her wedding day.

Can you imagine anyone publishing a piece appraising men in the public eye on the basis of the size of their appendage? Or what about a piece judging women’s intelligence based on the size of their heads?

Enough is enough. We cannot keep turning a blind eye to this malicious media game, pretending articles like this do no harm. It’s not ‘entertainment’ to perpetuate the idea that grown women should aspire to a waist that measures the same size as a young teenage boy’s – my son’s school trousers would seemingly fit the Duchess of Sussex’s pre-baby frame, if the Mail’s fun formula is to be believed.

Don’t tell me consuming a media diet like this doesn’t affect our body image. How do you explain the fact that only 57% of women aged 35-49 are satisfied with their appearance, according to the 2014 British Social Attitudes survey? Tell me why more girls than ever are self-harming? Or why 10 million women in the UK feel depressed because of the way they look?

If you think we’re unaffected by the pernicious message that we should envy impossibly tiny frames – literally aspiring to the impossible – then explain to me why children as young as three report body image issues? Or why one in four seven-year-olds have tried to lose weight? Tell me why half a million women have given up swimming because of anxiety about how they look in the pool?

“Don’t tell me consuming a media diet like this doesn’t affect our body image”

Nothing to do with the media. Nah, those articles are just harmless entertainment. Except they’re not.

I’m not usually someone who takes part in the ‘who-can-be-most-incensed-by-the-Mail’ game. I’ve written for the Mail, I frequent the sidebar of shame whenever I’m procrastinating over a piece of work (so, almost daily), and there are some very talented female writers on its payroll.

What’s twisting my melon is that we, the readers, are still creating a market for content like this. We’re lapping it up, in fact. We must be. It’s an oft-repeated phrase in politics that people get the leaders they deserve, but I’m beginning to think we, as readers, get the content we deserve.

We can decry this all we like but it reminds me of the days after the EU referendum; no-one admitted voting Leave, yet clearly at least half of us did. How come I only ever meet people at parties who profess to despise the Mail, yet MailOnline is reportedly the biggest English-language news website in the world, with tens of millions of readers? They can’t all be procrastinating.

These articles are part of an overwhelming cacophony of noise that makes us feel worthless. Quite literally like we’ll never measure up. I know, because I feel it every day.

I went to post a photo of myself on Instagram today. My son – he of the enviable waist size – snapped it for me at the gym last night after our boxing class. (Yes, we box together, because I want him to know that the measure of a woman can’t be found on the label of her jeans, but that’s another story.)

I almost didn’t post it because of the way I look. It isn’t pretty. Thankfully, before I deleted that sweaty snap, I realised something vital. I’m not here to be pretty.

If you want something to measure me by, ask my son about the power in my right hook. Judge me on that. I dare you.

Images: Getty, Daily Mail