In the wake of Kenneth Tong's 'managed anorexia' hoax, Hannah Mudge looks at the varying reactions to the drama and what they tell us about the media.
When Laura Yates wrote about Kenneth Tong for BitchBuzz last week, most people were still under the impression that he was a seriously unpleasant man on a mission to promote what he called 'managed anorexia' - along with diet pills which could supposedly help women shrink to size 0 in weeks - to the world.
But soon after, the legend of Tong took a truly weird twist: he announced via Twitter that his outrageous claims and opinions were part of a hoax made up to prove a point to a friend. Said Tong:
"The discussion centered round whether it was possible, to go from nowhere to be a globally recognized figure within a week harnessing the power of the internet and specifically Twitter...My friend said it wasn’t possible. I said it was. To prove him wrong, I decided as a hoax to promote via Twitter something that was universally appalling, I chose managed anorexia."
Tong - whose only previous claim to fame was that he had spent five days as a Big Brother contestant in 2009 - then withdrew from the limelight, leaving people debating over what the appropriate reaction to the whole debacle should be.
Much discussion centred on the interview that journalist Johann Hari had conducted with him just an hour before he came clean about his 'hoax'. Hari was keen for people to read the interview transcript, not only because it provided such an insight into Tong's thoroughly misogynist mind and beliefs but because he felt there was something more than slightly 'off' about the timing of it all.
In an article last week, he said:
"In our long discussion he passionately defended every word he had said, but when I told him that his arguments could kill young girls and expose him to serious legal liability, he visibly began to panic. When I spoke to him on the phone later in the day, after his ‘revelation’, he said 'it was dangerous ground we were treading on, I can see that now' and begged me not to publish his comments. So I don’t believe it was a hoax at all – but that he was finally scared off by the legal implications of what he was saying and doing."
Hari invited readers to 'judge for themselves', blogging the entire transcript of his interview with Tong - which gave us a picture of someone who believes the only woman worth his 'respect' is his mother; that wealth and material goods are everything and that the fact he was once tried for rape (although acquitted) is somehow amusing. Despite the fact he pledged to donate money to eating disorders charity BEAT, Hari reported that the charity has not been contacted by Tong thus far.
In the wake of Tong's 'revelation', reactions across the internet and print media have been mixed. Journalists have ranged from writing about their concerns for eating disorder sufferers to discussing what they see as a completely over-the-top reaction to a pathetic man who doesn't deserve to be given the time of day.
There's been scorn, too, for angry bloggers and members of forums like Mumsnet, called 'hysterical' by some in their reaction to Tong's views. And some people dislike the concern being shown for the welfare of ED sufferers, calling it 'patronising', despite the fact that Johann Hari has written of the hundreds of messages he has received, thanking him for his support and in some cases telling him how Tong's words had been severely triggering to them.
Tong's antics certainly did prove how the power of the internet can be harnessed in a very short space of time to cause outrage, involving medical professionals, the media and celebrities in the process. If he truly had set out to prove a point to a friend, he was right.
One thing's for sure - the media reaction to his stunt has revealed a great deal of hypocrisy. Many newspapers and magazines were keen to interview him, no doubt to express outrage. Yet they're the ones promoting faddy diets, dubious pills and miracle weight loss solutions otherwise known as starvation every week.
Grazia magazine, which last year regaled readers with Kate Bosworth's 'secret' to a perfect bikini body - only eating three bites of 'bad' meals - recently ran a story on a diet plan to shift those Christmas pounds. The diet, which they called the 'on/off diet' involved ingesting 400 calories on alternate days and cutting back food on the days in between.
We all know that 400 calories isn't a diet. Let's be honest, is promoting eating habits like this any better than what Kenneth Tong was doing? Fair enough, women's magazines tend to come without the brutally in-your-face misogyny, but they're just as guilty of encouraging unhealthy and dangerous eating habits and heaping pressure on readers to look a certain way.
Shame, too, on the tabloids which have been at the centre of the handwringing. They're the worst culprits for featuring countless stories analysing the bodies and of famous women.
Just last week, the Daily Mail featured photographs of self-confessed eating disorder sufferer Amy Winehouse, with a headline screaming that she was looking 'bloated' and showing 'signs of overindulgence'. Which is of course what everyone who has ever struggled with bulimia wants to read about themselves.
Kenneth Tong may be a nasty piece of work, but sometimes you have to wonder if the publications denouncing him are really much better.
Hannah Mudge writes about all things news and feminism-themed for BitchBuzz. You can also read her blog, We Mixed Our Drinks or follow her tweets as @boudledidge.
Image via jaimelondonboy's Flickr.