entertainment

People can't stop watching thin women binge eat on YouTube.

Skye Wheatley, 22-year-old former Big Brother contestant, uploaded a video to her YouTube channel this week titled “10,000 calorie challenge”.

In kilojoules, that’s 41, 840 – more than five times the recommended daily intake for an adult woman.

Wheatley filmed herself over 24 hours eating noodles, McDonalds, Starbursts, Oreo Easter eggs, a block of chocolate, a container of Nutella, a packet of Oreos, Reese’s pieces, V Energy drinks, a frappe, cordial, pistachios and a calippo.

The video goes for 25 minutes, and includes “body updates”, where Wheatley examines herself side on, horrified by her increasingly bloated stomach.

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“It’s making me feel so sick,” Wheatley says in the first few minutes. “My face feels so fat…” she notes after eating McDonalds. Her boyfriend turns to her at one point and says, “That’s just so disgusting what you’re eating… your skin’s going to go rotten.”

Indeed, ‘disgusting’ seems to be the theme of the video. The word is repeated at least five times, and Wheatley argues that it’s “an experiment” to prove what this “shit does to your body”.

By the end of the video, Wheatley says she has developed a “sickly cough”, and can “feel [her] immune system failing.”

But Wheatley is hardly the first to undergo this sort of ‘challenge’.

It all began with the South Korean practice of ‘mukbang’.

In 2015, NPR reported. “Koreans have an insatiable appetite for watching strangers binge eat,” and explored the case study of Rachel Ahn who would sit down at 9pm every week night, to live stream herself eating enough food to feed a family of six.

In the same year, the 10,000 calorie diet challenge emerged on YouTube, with people consuming enormous amounts of food.

Image via YouTube.

The trend gathered momentum when Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson began sharing his "epic cheat days" with followers. After 150 days of eating 'clean' Johnson filmed himself eating 12 pancakes, 21 brownies and four double dough pizzas.

Today, thin women binge eating seems to be one of the most popular challenges on YouTube.

Cartia Mallan, Sammy Robinson and Olivia Jade - all YouTubers with hundreds of thousands of subscribers - have binged in the name of content.

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People cannot look away. So - what is the fascination with watching people eat until they're sick? Why do these videos have such an enormous audience?

Firstly, because it's intimate. It's imperfect. Often, the women will have a touch of sauce on their otherwise entirely made-up face. They will spill something on their perfectly ironed, designer t-shirt. It offers sweet relief from the heavily curated world of social media, where highlight reels deprive us of humanity.

Maybe not every woman has to love her body. Mia Freedman, Monique Bowley and I discuss on Mamamia Out Loud. 

Secondly, because for so many women, bingeing is a hidden shame. Unless we're with our closest friends, we don't talk about it. Culturally, we apply a moral value to food - chocolate is bad, fruit is good. To watch beautiful women seemingly undo that feels, at first, liberating.

Thirdly, it makes thinness look effortless. "You must have such a fast metabolism!" young women comment. "You're so lucky you don't put on weight..." others lament. Women who are thin never want to appear as though they're trying to be thin. That destroys the illusion. By bingeing on YouTube, they declare themselves to be the super-chilled-out-cool-girl.

Lastly - it feels confessional. As though by filming it, and announcing it to the world, they will be 'forgiven' for their 'sins'. It's honest - or is it?

Like any piece of content, calorie challenges reflect and represent the world in which they are created.

What Wheatley's video, and countless others do, is reveal a hidden truth: that disordered eating is the new normal. We binge and then we starve. We diet, and we obsess, and we cut out food groups, and we feast. Food is about emotions and entertainment and morality and power.

For young women in particular, food is loaded with meaning.
For help and support for eating disorders, contact the Butterfly Foundation‘s National Support line and online service on 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673) or email [email protected]. You can also visit their website, here.  

You can listen to the most recent episode of Mamamia Out Loud, here. 

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