Does Vince look fat in this?

Not a question I’ve heard, but I got your attention!

The way we view men and women is still fundamentally flawed. I imagine our Lib Dem male MPs have several suits they use in cycle, only having to choose a shirt and tie.

But our women MPs? It’s a different matter, though it shouldn’t be. I imagine hair, makeup, matching shoes, accessories and the right outfit for the right occasion are all things our women MPs think about. Why??

As a prospective parliamentary candidate, one of the women-only training sessions I attended was on image. I remember the look on a fellow participant’s face as we were given guidance on what to wear and not to wear. She was aghast, having been a successful business person for years and finding the advice given outdated.

This week is Eating Disorders Awareness Week. And what is a factor in some eating disorders? Body image. There is much pressure in society to look a certain way, be a particular shape. We are taught first impressions are visual more than auditory – that how we look trumps what we say. I accept that’s what research proves, but I’m fighting a society that expects me to look a certain way before they listen to what I have to say.

Eating disorders are complex and the myth of body image is actually just one factor, and not always a factor. Eating disorders are often coping mechanisms and/or ways of being in control of at least one aspect of your life.

A whole range of different factors combine, including genetic, psychological, environmental, social and biological influences.

Eating disorders affect everyone:

While young women are most likely to develop an eating disorder, particularly those aged 12 to 20, anyone can develop an eating disorder, regardless of their age, gender, or ethnic or cultural background. It is thought that around a quarter of sufferers are male.

I have a friend whose daughter was hospitalised with an eating disorder. I have seen first-hand the effect on learning, health and the wider family. Eating disorders are not easy to tackle, and need expert help and early intervention. It is why I am backing Beat’s campaign this week for better provision. Here is a link to the petition calling on the government to introduce waiting times for adults with eating disorders.

Tonight, from 6-7pm, Beat is running a Twitter live chat with the team at NICE using #EDchat.

And back to my opening about MPs dress tutoring – my own view is that we should be encouraged to dress the way that represents who we are. It might be jumper and jeans or skinny leather and piercings. Shouldn’t our representatives look like the general population? Personally, I favour trousers and cardigans.

Aren’t we as Lib Dems for the individual? Letting people be themselves takes away the fake nonsense of pretence, grows self-esteem, and creates a healthier society.

* Kirsten Johnson is an Oxfordshire County Councillor and Day Editor for Lib Dem Voice. She stood as the Parliamentary Candidate for Oxford East in the 2017 General Election.