Health Life

Alexa Chung, concern trolling and why her body is none of your business

July 17, 2018
Alexa Chung body concern trolling

I don’t follow Alexa Chung. I can’t afford to buy her clothes, I’m jealous of her relationship with Alexander Skarsgard aka the hottest vampire in the world ever, and I find her ability to look good even when she clearly hasn’t washed her hair in days irritating. So this piece is not a defense of a woman of whom I am a fan, or for whom I feel an excess of emotion in either direction.

Instead, it’s an attempt to discuss concern trolls, who Bustle describe as “someone who pretends to support you but couches their disagreements in the form of ‘concerns’, which allows them to justify criticism as the result of worrying about you”. In the context of Alexa Chung, concern trolls are those who leave comments beneath her photographs stating that they love her, but, “please, eat a sandwich.”

Alexa Chung’s body is none of your business

Something strange happens when you open yourself up to the public via social media. I consider it an expansion of the “customer knows best” mentality that used to plague me when I worked in Brown Thomas, and customers would return Angora wool jumpers they had clearly thrown in the washing machine when they were handwash-only, and demand their money back. In the online world, one’s followers consider themselves customers – and, “if you put yourself out there”, they are entitled to make their views known.

Except, oh yes, nobody’s paying for a service as an online follower. You’re not a customer; you’re a voyeur. You don’t get to be “always right”. In fact, I’d argue that you don’t get a say at all. The exceptions: if you have bought a product created or designed by someone you follow on social media, and you have a problem with said product; if you are a patron of someone’s work and you are disappointed by a choice they have made or a stance they have taken; if they have influenced you to buy a product with a ringing endorsement, but you realise that the product is absolutely rubbish and feel duped. (That last example is tenuous, to be honest – we’re all adults and ultimately responsible for our own purchasing decisions.)

This is not about health

Alexa Chung body concern trolling

One of the major defences of the concern troll is that “we simply can’t ignore the health implications!” Which is patently bullsh*t, because, firstly, you cannot see health. You simply cannot. You can’t tell if someone is more or less healthy than anyone else by simply looking at them, unless (perhaps) you are a doctor – and at that, you don’t get to inform them of your findings unless you are their doctor.

Secondly, if we’re really going to talk about health: what about that person’s mental health? What is it about concern trolling someone – because they are “too thin” or “too fat” (by your reckoning) – is in any way helpful? Do you think someone who is fat doesn’t know they’re fat? Do you think someone who is thin is entirely oblivious to their own thinness? Alexa Chung has been enduring criticism about her weight for the past decade; there is nothing helpful about anonymous strangers telling her that she should eat more in comments on her Instagram account. Nothing.

Nobody owes their health to anyone

Aside from any of that – and let’s not underestimate the importance of the fact that you cannot see health – no one owes their health to anyone else. There is no obligation on anyone, famous or anonymous, in the public eye or firmly out of it, to live up to someone else’s standards of health.

I could name on one hand the people I would listen to when it comes to concerns over my health: my parents and my doctor. (Maybe my sister, but sister relationships are difficult and I’m sure I’d be suspicious about her motives.) There is no stranger on earth whose opinions on my body, whose perceptions of my health, would have an impact in how I present myself or how I live my life. And that is as it should be.

My health – and yours, and Alexa Chung’s – is none of anybody else’s business.

Leave Alexa Chung alone

And, once you’re done leaving Alexa Chung alone, consider who else in your life you’re concern trolling. Have you been badgering your friend about being “too skinny”? Have you been secretly whispering about how your sister has put on a few pounds? “It’s such a pity – she was doing so well.”

Honestly, life is hard enough without being ill-informed and judgemental about other people’s bodies. (Here endeth my Tuesday PSA. You’re welcome.)

Hat tip to Joanne McNally for posting about this on her Instagram; you can listen to her on the most recent episode of my podcast, How to be Sound.

Pics: Alexa Chung via Instagram

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