Julia Bradbury: ‘Skinny-shaming is a thing – and I was a target of it’

·6-min read
After posting selfies on Instagram, Julia was inundated with horrible messages - The Outdoor Guide
After posting selfies on Instagram, Julia was inundated with horrible messages - The Outdoor Guide

It was my friend Jenni Falconer who let me know that people were ‘going nuts for my bikini bod’. A few days earlier I’d gone on Instagram and posted two photographs from my garden in west London: one was a staycation snap that showed me lapping up the sunshine. I didn't think twice about posting it – I was wearing a bikini but it was just a head and shoulders shot, not really showing anything other than my big mirrored sunglasses, my collar bones and the gorgeous luminescence of the day. In the second post, two days later, I was sitting at my little garden table with my laptop in a cardboard box – a trick I use to stop the glare from the sun on the screen so that I can work outside.

Neither of them was particularly glamorous shots, it was just a bit of fun to show how much I was enjoying the fantastic weather (I’m half Greek and adore the sunshine). As for the cardboard box hack, I just thought it was funny and quite effective.

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So when I saw the responses I was a little heartsore. I honestly hadn’t put the pictures out there to start a dialogue about body image (although as my dad Michael says, ‘When you put your head above the social-media parapet, expect it to get chopped off every now and again’) and I didn’t understand the vitriol. Most of the negative messages weren’t ones of concern – they reeked of hate. And that made me sad.

The first ‘thin-shaming’ message read: ‘Omg Julia, for god sake have a few bags of chips!’

Next, someone came to my defence: ‘Really ****** me off when people comment on my weight even though I eat more (and less healthily) than most.’

But the ping-pong of dialogue continued: You look ill. Have you had chemo? Eat some doughnuts. Have a pie. You need some chips. More chips?!

I like pies and any fried potato offering as much as the next person. I do eat chips, pastries and dark chocolate (having weaned myself of milk chocolate years ago) – just not all the time. I also walk, practise yoga and work out four or five times a week and I’m outside every day to boost my serotonin levels and generate vitamin D.

Apart from a plumper stage in my early 20s, I’ve been the same weight most of my adult life and my BMI is 19.5, which puts me in the healthy range. According to the NHS BMI calculator, ‘I should keep up the good work!’

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But not so according to others on social media. And anyway, this is all beside the point. I found it weird that people would suggest what I should eat or that I should put on weight.

For years, fat shaming has been vilified and, rightly, it is being stamped out. But skinny-shaming is also a thing– and it’s no less destructive or offensive.

I’m a fairly robust person and I can take the commentary on social media. But while constructive criticism or concern is one thing, people being just plain nasty is miserable. I have 100,000 followers and post fairly regularly but this was the first time my pictures had elicited such negativity.

Over the last couple of years I have noticed that people are becoming more spiteful and ugly on social media – saying hurtful things for no reason other than to be nasty. Maybe it’s some sort of power kick; being able to communicate something hateful to someone in the public eye or on telly who you had little or no opportunity to reach two decades ago. Brexit seemed to be a watershed moment too as, if you disagreed with someone (and the entire nation disagreed with itself) it was suddenly OK to excoriate them about everything.

On this occasion it rolled off me. I was blissfully unaware until Jenni let me know – and when I started to read some of the comments, I just stopped. Who needs that in their life? My family didn’t know what was going on, a blessing. At six and nine, my children are too young to be affected… for now. But this damaging language can cause real harm. An estimated 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder, according to the charity Beat, and eating disorders have the highest mortality rates among psychiatric disorders, so we all need to be careful about the language we use. What would someone with a serious eating disorder make of cruel online comments like those?

Julia says she won't let her experience of social media halt her from using platforms like Instagram - ITV
Julia says she won't let her experience of social media halt her from using platforms like Instagram - ITV

What helped me was that I have a healthy relationship with social media. I usually check my Instagram a few times a day, mostly to find something funny to laugh at and to explore wildlife feeds. As for my posts, I share stories about nature, environmental projects (like trainers made of bubble gum or water pods made of seaweed) as well as my current TV projects, and stories about human kindness and triumph over adversity. I don’t take any responses to my posts to heart and I try to respond to the kind messages and ignore the hateful ones. Like the time someone wrote: ‘She looks ill. I hate all her walking programmes anyway – they’re all about her.’ I didn’t respond to that one.

Social media is a valuable tool in my industry but it’s just a tiny part of life – and it’s certainly not one of the most important things in my world, like friends, family and nature. So, when the skinny-shaming comments started coming in, I didn’t bother blocking anyone. Nor did I didn’t get into futile arguments on Twitter that can’t be won over 280 characters. Instead I went on to the ITV show Lorraine and talked about national Thank You Day (a positive event coming up on 4 July) and discussed what a negative, unkind thing trolling is.

As for my own relationship with Instagram and other social-media channels, I certainly won’t let recent events stop me or change my social media habits. Recently, I’ve posted more pictures of me working out and eating healthily.

I don’t expect everyone to like me but the pleasure people derive from hate will always be lost on me. Bullying and hate is the same online as it is in person. It’s just easier when you’re anonymous, hiding behind a smartphone. My only wish is that people would take responsibility for their words.

So, as the summer continues, I plan to keep on posting my yoga, sunshine and lovely food content. I’ll carry on talking about the beauty of Greece and Costa Rica, and all the fantastic walks around the UK, and the importance of mental health. If people like it, great. If they don’t, that’s on them. But whatever they say, I won’t let the negative comments get under my skin.

A Little Bit Of Positive podcast with Julia Bradbury and Giles Paley-Phillips is available on all platforms now. Julia’s walking routes are free to download on theoutdoorguide.co.uk

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