The Positive Power of Youtubers

The BBC does most things well. My father is a proud lifelong employee having travelled the globe on behalf of the public broadcaster. But the newly released documentary “The Restaurant That Burns Off Calories” –  featuring actress Zoe Williams and chef Fred Sirieix – embodies everything wrong about our values as well as the organisations promoting them.

The actions of Williams and Sirieux – and more broadly the BBC’s decision to air something so insensitive – could have severe consequences for vulnerable adults’ recovery from eating disorders. The idea was to illustrate how Britons would be ‘slimmer’ if forced to burn each and every calorie from their most popular restaurant meals.

While obesity is an issue deserving our fullest attention, keep in mind that obesity is often caused by an individual’s unhealthy relationship with food – a disorder in itself – and most categorised as being ‘obese’ have no desire to be as such. They endure enough physical and emotional hardship already, and any attempt to ‘educate’ people into changing their ways reeks of naivety.

This makes fat shaming not only unhelpful, but also completely pointless. Popular television has – and always will have – a limited ability to shift disordered habits, thoughts or behaviours especially those developed over many years.

Needless to say, recovery takes tenacity, optimism and immense courage, and staying recovered does too. But it is as much a shared journey as it is a personal one, and this is where Youtube plays an important role. Not necessarily for videos of cute animals or news bloopers, but for proper informative and relatable content helping to build a sense of comradery, a feeling that you are not alone by struggling.

Helena Rose, Chris Henrie and Hanne Arts are just a few fine examples of Youtubers to have openly shared their recovery journey to hundreds of thousands of subscribers. But the true nature of their lives also shines through, be it shopping, academic study or personal relationships. Life must go on.

Helena Rose is a vegan Youtuber who’s recovery has inspired many. She posts videos intended to dispel your common recovery based fears, such as eating carbs all day, letting subscribers control her diet, or giving up the gym for a week.

While much of her content contains numbers and calculations that could ‘trigger’ some, the wonderful if not brutal trueness of the world does too. In a society endlessly concerned with physical and mental comparisons, recovery must involve an ability to see such things as merely part of everyday life, difficult but no less vital to accept.

In this time of acute crisis, Youtubers give us the license to see how life still blossoms from the inside, and how everyday challenges are beaten through supportive and positive vibes. And like most aspects of the digital world, not everyone is delightfully positive.

An example on Youtube is ‘Freelee the banana girl’, an infamous vegan promoter of the frugivore diet who lives in the jungle with her boyfriend. Her lifestyle screams an early death, and attempts to replicate her eating habits would prove costly. Indeed following the dietary advice of any medically untrained Youtuber is unwise.

But seeing what our favourite Youtubers eat is much more about celebrating the uniqueness of our individual diets, and the great joys brought about by such differences. We become closer to each other when we share our personal stories, especially our brave and courageous journeys towards better health. 

Youtubers have helped me to bounce back from hard times. If Helena Rose can do it, then so can I. Simply watching the lives of others flourish in the knowledge of their previous struggles should allow us to see a way out. Even during my darkest moments, they made me realise my eating disorder was destroying my life, how I was alive but hardly living, and how my dreams could only be realised with a healthier relationship with food.

Anorexia is like a crocodile brooding beneath a lake, its menacing presence very hard to ignore. The trick is to stand as far back from the water’s edge as possible, and to remember your journey – whatever shape or form it takes – is absolutely worth it.  

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Sam Gordon Webb

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September 2021
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The University of East Anglia’s official student newspaper. Concrete is in print and online.

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