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 She was aghast, having been a successful business person for years and finding the advice given outdated.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 was the PPC for Oxford East in the 2017 General Election. She is a pianist and composer at

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Nothing put me off the idea of being an MP faster than those training sessions… Which I suspect may lead some in the party to think they are having the desired effect LOL

  • Mark Blackburn 1st Mar '18 - 8:52pm

    Totally with you on this one Kirsten. Depressing that when we’re supposed to be representing diversity we’re pressured to conform. I’m sure it’s worse for women but it’s been suggested to me I should dress differently. I don’t think this is a minor issue – it represents a falsity which undermines a politician’s ability to be a genuine person.

  • Ruth Bright 1st Mar '18 - 9:01pm

    My cohort was advised not to have a bob haircut as it was unflattering. Basically, “Come along girls let’s grow out those tresses in time for the General Election”. Also that younger candidates should “accessorize” to make themselves look older. Did anyone ever independently evaluate this training or point out that it sounded like “Women and Home” magazine circa 1954?

  • Kirsten Johnson 2nd Mar '18 - 7:20am

    Barnaby, thank you for sharing this real-life example of how horrific an eating disorder can be. It is truly wonderful that your wife is able to support her goddaughter in this way. The lack of provision close to where people live is a real problem with eating disorders services and mental health services more generally.

  • Sue Sutherland 2nd Mar '18 - 2:42pm

    I think if you expect male MPs to wear suits, as you seem to, then women should wear the equivalent, otherwise they won’t be taken as seriously as the men. Yes, it’s unfortunate that as humans we judge by looks before anyone opens their mouth but women at the moment do have to do what they can to neutralise this hidden bias, especially when they are in a minority in a minority political party.

  • William Wallace 2nd Mar '18 - 3:49pm

    Attitudes to acceptable dress change slowly, for men as well as for women. I have watched in Westminster as Tony Greaves broke the code that peers should wear suits in the Lords by turning up in jacket and trousers, and more recently Paul Scriven not only coming in without a tie on but even making speeches like that (initial noisy disapproval from some Conservatives, but now accepted). When you are a candidate, you have to be carefully conscious about the first impressions you make on the people you meet; so attention to that in candidate training is sensible. But that shouldn’t stop us from stretching the limits of ‘acceptable’ dress.

  • Kirsten johnson 3rd Mar '18 - 12:12pm

    Just to clarify, I am not endorsing the suit at the must go to outfit for men, just that it seems to be the accepted norm in many contexts, including in Parliament. I’m in favour of men dressing as they see fit, and not conforming.

    The article was meant to raise awareness of Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Interesting that most of the comments are on image, showing it is an issue that people have had to wrestle with.

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