I’M going to start this week’s column by saying I’m going to be discussing disordered eating, body dysmorphia, nutrition, and food. If you’d rather avoid reading about these topics, please know that I respect your choices to avoid media which you might find upsetting, and I’ll be back next week with a new topic.

The New York Post recently published an article stating that ‘heroin chic’ was back in fashion. For those unaware of the term, it refers to the 1990s trend for appearing as gaunt, emaciated, and skinny as possible, in order to emulate an unachievable runway-ready look.

The internet provides rapid and unregulated dissemination of information available to people of all ages, and stages of development. Beauty trends fluctuate, and regularly shift to oppose each other; what once was used to ridicule people can often earn them praise in later years, and vice versa.

In many cultures, historically the most desirable bodies were said to be rounder, softer, figures evoking nourishment and fertility and yet it seems that what once was the epitome of beauty has become something to actively avoid.

Now, of course, there are industries built on insecurities they themselves manufacture: products which claim to remove, reduce, or enhance benign, naturally occurring features are pushed to make a profit, and the demonisation of such a benign aesthetic attribute is representative of an industry which exists to make us feel less so that they can make more.

Hip dips, thigh gaps, bingo wings, back rolls, none of these physical features that have been singled out by societal standards as issues to be addressed are in any way moral failings, and we only have to look at historical representations of beauty to see their presence in even the most desirable representations of humanity.

Overcoming the pervasive narrative of inadequacy is hard, but a shift in perspective can help remind you that your body is worthy of respect, regardless of aesthetic. For example: stretch marks are a physical manifestation of growth, whether acquired through the creation of life or the living of one they are a beautiful, natural representation of the effort our skin goes through, making room for us to take up the space we deserve. Bodies come in all different configurations, and each should be allowed to exist in peace without judgement.

Celebrities, the media, and those with social influence have a responsibility to ensure that they do not use their platform to perpetuate harmful narratives to the people who consume their content, many of whom are impressionable people who already struggle with self-image.

Famous individuals, who have ready access to resources which can and do dramatically alter their appearance, can often be seen to promote products which they claim can achieve results only truly attainable through surgery, steroids, or software.

There is nothing wrong with altering your own body however you see fit, but to use the outcome of surgical procedures in order to market items which played no part in the transformation is at best disingenuous, and at worst deadly. Diet pills, a commonly celeb-endorsed product, often contain laxatives which are not an always an effective or sustainable method of weight-loss. Indeed, many of the restrictive diets recommended to lose weight can end up having the opposite effect.

Other items subject to deceptive marketing are appetite suppressants and meal replacement products, which do little to establish healthy relationships with food and hunger, and instead can cause people to gain back additional weight once they stop using them. These food supplements are not required to undergo the same rigorous licensing, testing or registration as medicine and as a result often contain ingredients which can be detrimental to the health of those who take them. An example of this is activated charcoal, which can absorb other substances it encounters in the stomach and intestines, decreasing the effectiveness of prescription medications.

It is important to acknowledge that the issue of disordered eating does not just affect women and increasing numbers of men are bravely coming forward to normalise discussions about negative body image and the relationship they feel it has with toxic masculinity. Men are also subject to intense pressure to appear a certain way which can often result in over-exercising and restrictive eating.

Often, disordered eating arises out of a need for control, and under the intense pressure of beauty standards, trends, and the expectations to look a certain way, many people can turn the judgement they feel inwards and hate themselves from the inside out. When society mirrors the voice in your head telling you that who you are is something that should be fixed, you feel guilty for every second you aren’t actively working to change yourself.

Health looks different on anybody and every body – at my lowest weight I matched societal expectation and beauty standards, but had no energy, experienced heart palpitations, my period stopped for months on end and I was constantly hungry, cold, dizzy, and shaking. The pervasive narrative of inadequacy forced upon us by those with a product or a message to sell is not without consequence: eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness or psychiatric disorder. The Center for Discovery in the US states that without treatment, one in five eating disorder cases result in fatalities, with twenty per cent of those deaths happening as a result of suicide.

Food is morally neutral and is not something which needs to be ‘earned’ through exercise, exhaustion, or restriction. The stuff we eat is fuel, but it’s also something from which we can, and should, derive pleasure. When I took a job cooking in a restaurant I began to see people taking genuine joy in their food and it inspired me to begin repairing my relationship with eating, and with my body.

The value that food has cannot be restricted to the calorific value or the amount of protein it contains, and you should never have to feel guilty for your food choices – even if all that particular meal provides you with is a smile.

One of the most important lessons I learned in therapy was that if a person finds themselves gaining some weight once they start to eat in a way that satisfies their nutritional needs, that is weight their body is meant to have. Nothing looks better than a properly nourished body, one given the kindness, respect, and food it deserves.