I’m A Celebrity this year has had all the typical drama of tears, fall outs and breakdowns. The women of camp have particularly been especially significant whether their job was at stake with their participation in the show or they were entering the jungle with a history of anxiety, from the very start the ladies have been at the forefront of the action.
It is interesting to see how the female camp mates have dealt with their own personal issues amongst the alienation of a new daunting lifestyle in the jungle. Mid-Bedfordshire MP Nadine Dorries controversially signed up for the show resulting in her suspension from the Conservative Party. Interestingly, Nadine was completely unaware of this fact since she was cut off from the outside world. She failed to make much of an impact despite claiming she wanted to change people’s attitude to voting and politics. Unfortunately Nadine didn’t manage to persuade the public to vote either in the general election or to save her from leaving. The furore centered around Nadine’s jungle vacation was fiery but dwindled as she plodded along the days in the jungle not making much of an impression. Chief Whip Sir George Young has said she will not be restored to the party’s ranks in the House of Commons until she has rebuilt her relationships with constituents and local activists.
Coronation star Helen Flanagan was spotted at an Australian airport in the run up to the show and newspapers immediately reported on her history of stress and anxiety, commenting how this might impact her during the show. Helen reportedly broke down on the plane flying over. Her time in the jungle was very eventful being nominated to face task after task by the general public. She broke down during many tasks, unsuccessful in winning any stars at all for camp. She even turned down attempting a task declaring she didn’t feel right about it. She left that task with her head held high, proud with her own assertion but after camp mates looked obviously disappointed with her decision she broke down crying.
After several tasks had got the better of Helen, she went and won 12 stars surprising all the delighted camp members and herself. Ant and Dec asked her, in response to the newspapers, whether this sudden turn of luck was part of a game plan. Helen answered that it definitely wasn’t and she’d much rather be the girl who can win them all to save herself the embarrassment. Is sceptic questioning of a highly emotional personality ignorant to the state of somebody’s mental health?
Former mental health professional J. Hurley makes a convincing case in the Independent that the high tension of reality TV gives a warped view of the reality of living with mental health problems.2 The 24 hour cameras, sleep deprivation, lack of food and complete change of lifestyle all grind on a healthy and stable person altering their moods, to someone dealing with anxiety this can be lethal and to the susceptible audience presents mental health as melodramatic and petty.
Helen herself spoke openly about how she has dealt with anxiety in the past and even stated she felt being the jungle on 24 hour surveillance has helped her become more comfortable with exposure to the public. Certain camp mates were largely unsympathetic to Helen’s personal struggles in camp.
Fellow camp mate Eric Bristow would jibe about her causing the camp to starve but when commenting on Helen’s appearance he stepped over the line. Helen replied to Eric in a comment over her ‘bad skin’ stating it was hereditary engaging him with a dignified answer. She soon became upset with this unexpected personal comment and cried in front of the other campmates. Seen as a weakness Helen’s volatile emotional state was amplified in the claustrophobic atmosphere of the show. It is true Reality Shows ‘reinforce this stereotypical image of the person with mental health issues, who is constantly only one upsetting moment away from transforming into an axe-wielding maniac’3. Very quickly the defining trait of Helen became her many breakdowns instead of her sense of fun or kind nature.
Eric Bristow refused to filter his thoughts to the other celebrities too giving him a reputation as someone who ‘says it like it is’. His no-nonsense personality was seen as funny but his comments soon became nastier as he addressed the female contestants. He picked on Helen as she was an easy target and vulnerable. Instead of watching what he said he pushed the boundaries with the ‘skin’ comment noted previously and other remarks claiming she lacked independence and couldn’t do anything for herself.
To Helen these remarks surely made a considerable dent in her already wavering confidence in herself. No doubt Bristow was already aware of her emotional state and would tease her probably not for any sick satisfaction but merely a lack of care. Interestingly Helen left the jungle with only nice things to say about Eric. She claimed he ‘just said it like it is’. The ‘straight talking’ label used on Eric by Ant and Dec and the other camp mates is surely an appalling excuse for his bully mentality and sexist attitude. Eric’s other target was Rosemary Shrager who entered the camp with her booming voice and exuberant personality. She made an impression on everyone including Eric. He constantly made jibes about Rosemary’s weight including a stupid joke about the machine Rosemary would like at Eric’s gym being a ‘vending machine’.
His comments with their incessant nature took a toll on Rosemary. She confessed to Helen that Eric’s comments were hurtful but she wanted to rise above it. Rosemary admitted that she was self-conscious about her weight and had dealt with these issues through her life. Eric didn’t care at all that Rosemary may find the comments hurtful.
After Rosemary had left the jungle, the remaining camp mates were told that either Colin Baker or Rosemary had lost two stone and three pounds, a staggering amount of weight to lose in the short time period of three weeks in the jungle. Eric immediately said it must be Colin who had lost the weight and was overjoyed with the supposed weight loss success of his new friend from the jungle. He carried on congratulating Colin until it was revealed that Rosemary had lost the record-breaking amount of weight lost for I’m A Celeb. Eric then turned nasty saying ‘Rosemary really must have been a pig then’ discounting the achievement now he found out the weight was lost by a woman. He was overly proud when he thought Colin had lost the weight but now he knew it was Rosemary he didn’t care, in fact he illustrated with his ‘pig’ comment that this showed just how fat Rosemary really was! This comparison in his attitude clearly shows sexism in action. The only response to this comment was Charlie speaking up to say ‘Credit where credit’s due Eric’. The tone was sharp and Charlie seemed angry but no one batted an eyelid, Eric merely shrugged this off by not responding.
Imagine that Eric Bristow’s personality, his unashamed physicality of being overweight and old combined with his proneness to dishing out cruel appearance based comments and his constant personal jibes aimed at the other campmates was embodied in a woman. Imagine him as a woman. This woman would be the epitome of evil, despised by all viewers and labelled a rude, judgemental bitch. Imagine a woman hearing that Colin had lost a huge amount of weight and then calling him a ‘pig’ on primetime tv. There would be outrage.
How is that a man can get away with veiling such comments as ‘saying it like it is’? Well, this is Eric Bristow. Five time Darts World Champion known as the Crafty Cockney. Maybe it’s his cockney accent which softens the malice in what he says? Surely he’s just old and havin’ a laugh? Surely just banter! Harmless as Eric may mean his words to be they do have an affect. The women themselves have admitted this to camera and to each other.
The reason his attitude has shocked me so much is that there has been no backlash. There has been no negative response. This is what led me to write this, to discuss my own opinions on what was aired. The likeability of Eric all played in his favour and he managed to win 4th place. All contestants including Rosemary and Helen who he was considerably nasty to admitted he had no filter in what he said but didn’t berate him at all for how he made them feel.
I believe his attitudes to stem from sexism due to one reason which considers specifically Rosemary and Helen as the two recipients of his harsh words. They’re both women of course but he didn’t pick on all women. Ashley, the beautiful ex-Pussy Cat Doll was an American beauty who is talented and confident. Charlie Brooks is well-spoken, a talented actress and most importantly a mother to a young child. Ashley’s appearance and Charlie being a mother meant that Eric didn’t say much if anything at all nasty to these women.
Rosemary was less attractive, old and overweight. She may have been a mother but she was a large personality that surely was asking to be brought down a peg in Eric’s eyes. Helen comes across as dumb, an air head, obsessed with herself and with her appearance. With her ‘bad skin’, orange fake tan and combined with her emotional breakdowns she was a perfect victim for Eric to dig his words into. He pointed out her dizziness and stated she couldn’t do anything for herself. He berated her appearance and was unsympathetic to her mental state.
Nearing the end of the competition girl power seemed to fight through with the two aforementioned celebs Ashley and Charlie being voted to be the final two winning out to Eric and David Haye. The two ladies were impressive in getting through the Bushtucker eating trial and showed determination to fight their fears. Ashley and Charlie both deserved their place in the final and it was refreshing to see the first all women final of the show. However I can’t help but think Eric’s attitude to Helen and Rosemary affected the publics voting. Charlie’s struggle with missing her daughter was emphasised during the show, she was put on a pedestal for being a mother and in result, won. She gained votes through her being shown as caring and motherly whilst Helen was deemed unstable and self obsessed resulting in her leaving early in the show despite having the most airtime.
If Eric had treated Rosemary and Helen different would they have stayed longer than Eric himself? If the campmates had treated Eric’s attitude different would he not have stayed as long? Young girls watching the show seeing Eric comment on Helen’s skin and Rosemary’s weight will feel insecure about their own bodies. Young boys, teenagers, even young adults watching the show will feel soak up his disgraceful attitude and feel they can belittle women in similar ways themselves. Not everyone is as beautiful and talented as Ashley and not everyone is the perfect mother like Charlie was made out to be. There needs to be more tolerance and acceptance of all types of women on the screen. All women, less intelligent, less put together, less beautiful should all be celebrated and allowed to be themselves unashamed without people like Eric Bristow bringing them down. Otherwise it’s as if society expects everyone to feel they have to live up to the examples created by TV which are highly exaggerated to begin with. This should never be the case and so when people like Eric, who are being broadcast on prime time TV to millions of people everyday for three weeks, begin to be disrespectful to women they should warned that their sexism is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.