Work, Image, Weight, Excess, Scrutiny: As a modern woman, and celebrity, Geldof was always expected to be tick the boxes.

Work, Image, Weight, Excess, Scrutiny: As a modern woman, and celebrity, Geldof was always expected to be tick the boxes.

Join the debate at SMH Comment

Dr Chris Steele did not like the look of Peaches Geldof’s knuckles. “Without any evidence but just to my eye, Peaches’ knuckles are darker than the rest of the finger and they are enlarged. It is highly likely it is from bulimia. That’s not just bulimia of a couple of weeks’ duration, it is a long-term problem … I don’t know of any other condition that causes that in the knuckles.”

Dr Steele is probably the best known general practitioner in Britain. For the past 25 years he has been the resident doctor on ITV’s This Morning program. His views were quickly sought after the 25-year-old Geldof was found dead at her home on Monday, with police saying her death appeared unsuspicious but unexplained.

The doctor told The Daily Mirror  that bulimia-related vomiting can create toxic levels of potassium in the body that can cause severe heart irregularities or even cardiac arrest. Many reports have surfaced that Geldof had an eating disorder. In an interview with the Daily Mail in 2011 she was asked about her thin appearance and replied that she would lose 4.5kg in four weeks by following a juicing diet. Her mother, Paula Yates, died of a heroin overdose in 2000 and had been anorexic. Geldof herself developed a reputation when she was younger for indulging in alcohol and drugs.

Even so, nothing about her life or her appearance suggested she was at risk of death from suicide or a drug overdose. She was good looking, intelligent, articulate, productive, famous and a loving mother to her two baby boys, Astala and Phaedra. Her final posts on Instagram, on Sunday night, were pictures of getting Phaedra ready for bed.

There was, however, pressure. But in many ways the pressures she was under were typical and commonplace. Despite her celebrity, they were the sorts of pressure felt by millions of young women.

She was the breadwinner of the family.  Her husband, Thomas Cohen, had been out of work since the break-up of his punk-rock band, S.C.U.M. Juggling work with two tiny children would have been a very normal strain. Among her posts on Twitter was one about  "waging a neverending war against dirty nappies".

She worked as a freelance TV presenter and brand promoter. Commercial television and advertising are both notoriously intolerant of frump or fat.  Even the BBC is loaded up with chisel-cheeked  female TV presenters.  

She was acutely conscious of social media. She had a habit of turning the intimate details of her life into public fodder for social media, often posting about her daily life to an audience of 271,700 Twitter followers and 150,000 followers on Instagram, which kept her brand in the public eye. Her last post on Twitter, posted on Sunday, was a photo with the message ''Me and my mum''.

 

All of this is common.

Work: the number of women who are the primary earners in the household is the highest it has ever been. The number of working mothers is the highest it has ever been. The number of single mothers is the highest it has ever been.

Image: the images presented of feminine beauty have never been more oppressively and unforgivingly outlandish. The freakish body type of the tall, thin, leggy model is presented as the feminine ideal. These images are often airbrushed or photo-shopped or film-edited into even more outlandish unreality.

Weight: a fetish with weight is reflected in the great majority of women being dissatisfied with their appearance according to numerous social surveys. It is reflected in the current mania for hard exercise among many young women (and young men, for the same reasons).

Excess: the number of young women who are bulimic, anorexic, self-harming, binge-drinking or taking illicit drugs is, collectively, as high as it has ever been.

Scrutiny: then there is the new pressure from social media, the peer scrutiny, the semi-public profile, the capacity to project a public image.

Peaches Geldof was subject to all these pressures, and all were exaggerated by the pressure of the celebrity she was born into. As such she can be seen as an exaggerated version of normality for young women, who have more freedoms and opportunities today than any generation before them.

Freedom has a price. It brings its own pressures. Largely because of the celebrity, and tragedy, attached to both her parents, there had been pressure on Peaches Geldof for a long time. ‘‘I have so much shit put on me,’’ she said in an interview in 2008, when she was 19. ‘‘I haven’t felt like I was a teenager since I was 12. I’ve felt like I was 30 since I was 13. I don’t think I had a teenage time. Maybe my twenties will be easier.’’

Twitter: @Paul_Sheehan_