Thursday, October 23, 2008


My life has always been dominated by weight – either putting it on or taking it off.

When I was a child I was incredibly thin. So much so that various nuns who took responsibility for pupils’ health fed me copious amount of milk and cod liver oil to boost my size. It failed to work and hence school children being cruel I suffered by becoming the butt of jibes and worse.

When I became around 23 I ballooned in size. Maybe the cause was metabolic or perhaps it was my discovery of draught Guinness (nuns please take note). I have a cartoon from 1975 by Jon Donohoe that was created to go with an article I’d written for the Irish Press that shows me decidedly low-chested. Over the intervening years I have ballooned and deflated and am now at my fighting weight, but sin Guinness.

Hence the trials and tribulations of those who suffer from anorexia and bulimia strike a chord although I have been inflicted with neither.

This week the prosecutor’s office in Guipúzcoa in the Basque region of Spain announced that it had closed down three websites that were visited by girls aged between 12 and 18 years that were related directly to anorexia and bulimia showing them how to drastically loose weight.

The prosecutor ordered the closure reporting that “between 1,500 and 8,000 girls regularly visited the sites and that 60 per cent of them were in the first phases of these illnesses and 23 per cent were at an advanced stage.”

According to the technical investigation unit of the National Police the websites organised competitions between users to see who could loose the greatest amount of weight the quickest. The prosecutor decided to act when it appeared that the ultimate conclusion could be suicide.

Whilst when I was a child my lack of weight caused me much pain these girls are urged to be thin to become “group leaders”, are assured that it is a form of “social success” and wait for it – told to tell their parents to order a coffin no more than 40 centimetres in width.

As a journalist and a liberal I strongly believe in the freedom of expression and object to any form of censorship. The prosecutor justifies the decision to close down the websites because they were not a mere forum for spreading information amongst sufferers but actively promoted being thin and anorexic amongst minors.

A tough call then.

I have to say that I view anorexia as a disease of our modern society and it will not be solved by simply closing down a couple of websites.

When I was young “Guinness was good for you” so much so that it was poured out in hospital for pregnant mothers and offered in Ireland to blood donors.

For my part I wished I’d discovered the miracle brew when I was a child and given it up in my 20s. Then the shape of things to come may have been very different.

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