Comment:

I'm not sure when I adopted a policy of shouting 'BOOOOORIIIIING!' in the face of anyone who tried to tell me about their 'naughty' festive encounters with a Yule log, or their new year plans to emerge, butterfly-like, from the chrysalis of their former flab, but I can tell you I've been infinitely happier since. So-called 'diet chat' isn't just tedious, it can be actively dangerous, particularly for those of us with experience of eating disorders.

Yet, no sooner have we begun to cast off the shackles of one set of oppressive ideas than another rears its ugly head - a phenomenon I'm going to dub 'sober chat'. And just like diet-chat, sober chat is inextricably linked with the way women are viewed within society.

Dry January has become increasingly fashionable, with an estimated 5 million Brits undertaking the 'challenge' each year. Indeed, I am one of them. What follows shouldn't be perceived as an attack on Dry January as an abstract concept - alcohol is a highly addictive substance, most of us drink more of it than we'd ideally like and limited periods of abstinence can be a good way to check in with and moderate your degree of psychological or physical dependence.

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What does bother me, however, are the accompanying social media declarations, as (predominantly) women clamber over one another to share before and after snaps with statuses describing how many pounds they've shed, how much more energised they feel and how much clearer their skin looks. For what is this if not toxic diet chat in a slightly different guise?

Predictably, this is a trend which began with celebrities. No doubt mindful of the fact that the once-acceptable promotion of hugely restrictive eating and dangerously obsessive exercise regimes was likely to provoke a public backlash, everyone from Geordie Shore's Charlotte Crosby to GMB's Susanna Reid have revealed the 'secret' to their 'miraculous' weight loss was ditching booze.

Pop culture gurus like Russell Brand also began discussing the benefits of their long-term sobriety and this trickled down into public consciousness via an ocean of admiration from their fans.

Today, there are almost 50,000 posts tagged #sobercurious on Instagram, the best selling book of the same name is just one of hundreds extolling the virtues of going alcohol-free and sobriety has been described as the newest trend in the online wellness revolution.

This might explain why the last time I posted on twitter about Sober October (which I was doing to raise money for charity) I was met by a deluge of 'encouraging' replies assuring me that if I could do it for a month, I could remain sober forever. Assuming that I wanted to.

It's this assumption, as much as anything, which irks me. I've been on what I believe is called a 'journey' relating to my own consumption of booze. I have, for most of my adult life, enjoyed a glass of wine in the evenings.

As a self-employed person, it's a ritual which allows me to 'draw a line' under the working day and transition into leisure time. Yet, a few years ago, as my schedule became busier and my stress levels spiralled, one glass per night became more like half a bottle.

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On days where I was working late and had to wake up early the following morning, I'd sometimes down a whole bottle. It took a lot of naval gazing and a bit of therapy to work out that this self-sabotaging behaviour was because I'd rather deal with a hangover than have to contemplate the insanity of my schedule.

These days, I get through about a bottle of wine a week. To help me understand my drinking habits and set me on the path to moderation, I underwent some coaching sessions with Behavioural Change Expert Shahroo Izadi, author of The Kindness Method.

What appealed to me about Shahroo's approach is that it inhabits the middle ground between binge and total abstinence. In the absence of a medical or psychological condition which necessitates complete sobriety, I believe it is in this middle ground where the gold standard of health - both physical and mental - is found.

I learned through my long recovery process from bulimia how to exist in a world which both fetishises food and worships thinness and to intuitively respond to my body's hunger signals without guilt or shame. I wanted to achieve a similar result with alcohol. For me, success is the ability not to overthink or consciously restrict. Now, I don't have a policy on 'alcohol-free days' but find myself frequently having them anyway.

So why does sober-chat distress me so? We all know drinking alcohol carries health risks - even then-Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies implored women to 'do as I do' and 'think about breast cancer every time they reach for a glass of wine' back in 2017.

Davies' statement in fact crystallises my objections perfectly. According to Cancer Research UK, alcohol is linked to seven types of cancer - mouth, throat, oesophagus, colon, rectum, liver and breast - and yet she chose to focus on the one which overwhelmingly affects women.

The message seems to be that it is women who should abstain from alcohol, lest we are punished with detriments to our health and looks, and it's one that doesn't sit well with me.

Women's relationship with alcohol has historically been subject to much closer scrutiny and tighter controls than their male counterparts'. This can be traced back as far as the early Roman Empire, when women were severely punished if they touched even a drop of wine, despite being tasked with producing the vast majority of it.

"The idea was that the tighter the control on morality, the more this would be evidenced by women not drinking," Ellen Jones, a classics student, told me.

This perceived correlation between a woman's moral virtue and her sobriety has stayed with us for centuries. In Victorian Britain, visible drunkenness was associated with immorality and/or sex workers, who were considered the scourge of civilised society. As recently as the 1970s, universities imposed curfews on female students rendering them unable to participate in social events which involved drinking. Of course, this was done with the stated aim of increasing their safety.

The notion that drunk women willingly sacrifice a right to safety is another deep-rooted and troubling trope. Even the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, an organisation you might think had a vested interest in promoting abstinence, warned against a 'narrative which says alcohol causes sexual assault' in a recent report. It seems society cannot resist making judgements about a woman's value based on what she consumes.

In fact, a 2011 study found a correlation between increased gender equality and higher drinking rates amongst women. This was acknowledged during the 'ladette' movement of the 1990s, when the new icons of the feminist movement - Sara Cox, Zoe Ball and Denise Van Outen to name a few - demonstrated their right to equality by drinking their male colleagues under the proverbial table.

Writing for Vice Magazine, Louise Donovan describes ladettes as taking "the old, stiff gender model, where men went out boozing and women waited patiently at home and flip(ping) it".

I'm not suggesting that in order to manifest any sort of feminist credentials one must be permanently sozzled. Neither am I implying that a person doesn't have the right to give up alcohol, if that's what they want to do. Merely, I am saying that this is a morally neutral decision, unworthy of note outside of the very specific scenario of asking what someone wants when getting a round in.

The dialogue around sobriety on social media reads to me like the desperate plea for validation of a group of unwitting Patriarchy Princesses. The claims of weight loss, flatter tummies and newly-achieved epidermal flawlessness are just another way of saying 'hark! Admire my femininity!'. It's recycled diet chat and, as such, it's unhelpful at best and oppressive at worst.

The idea that imbibing anything renders the imbiber either 'good' or 'bad' is fraught with issues. That's why, despite the inevitable increased susceptibility to hangovers which accompanies my impending middle-age, this feminist will continue to eschew the trend for sobriety. Cheers!