Friday 15 December 2017

Gok delivers food for thought

gok's teens: the naked truth (ch4) death unexplained (BBC1)

HAVING made countless women feel good enough about themselves to get tastefully naked on a catwalk, Gok Wan turns his sights on a younger target in Gok's Teens: The Naked Truth.

Despite the title, the only things being bared here are troubled teenage souls. Paige is 15, smart and pretty, but like 70pc of British teenagers (I imagine Irish statistics are much the same), she hates what she sees when she looks in the mirror.

"I wouldn't say I'm fat," says Paige, who's not even slightly chubby, "I'd say I'm bigger than what I should be. I'm not perfect."

Paige illustrated her idea of perfection by showing Gok images of models with legs so thin there's still a gap when they cross them. "Jesus Christ, that's not normal!" said Gok, who weighed 21 stone in his teens. "That's not real. Nobody looks like that."

To prove it, he took Paige to a fashion shoot and showed her how three hours in hair and make-up followed by shameless digital manipulation on a computer can render a young woman of average height and weight into a tall, thin, bronzed, blemish-free goddess descended from Photoshop heaven.

"I just didn't think it would be this detailed," said Paige quietly. And then the tears came -- real tears, of embarrassment, perhaps, mixed with a little relief.

Fifteen-year-old Brianna wasn't any fonder of herself than Paige. At 12, she was already secretly dieting; at 14, she'd starved four stone off her body and was spending hours every day trawling insidious pro-anorexia websites.

She's over the worst of it now but still gets the occasional urge to purge. Gok took her to a therapist who used a computer programme to "age" her so she could see what an anorexic 30-year-old Brianna might look like: death. Jake has Klinefelter syndrome (an extra X chromosome) and at 16 is a bulky 6ft 9ins tall. Bullied when he was younger -- classmates once tied him to a tree and punctured his tummy with a sharp branch -- he's now ridiculed in the street by younger kids. Going out alone is a nightmare, so he doesn't do it much. Jake's twin passions are baking and boxing. Gok introduced him to his own brother, Kwoklyn, a renowned martial artist who's a similar build to Jake -- although a full foot shorter -- and has turned his bulk to his advantage.

"If you're going stand out anyway, you might as well use the attribute," he counselled, before enticing Jake into the ring for a sparring session in front of his friends and family.

It's easy to scoff at this stuff but whatever it is Gok Wan has, it works. In a TV landscape littered with spurious health and weight-loss gurus, he's irrefutably one of the good guys.

So is Alison Thomas, the focus of three-part documentary series Death Unexplained. If Gok Wan deals in restoring people's self-esteem, Alison deals in giving the dead their dignity back.

As the coroner for West London, she admits she doesn't get her hands dirty; the CSI business is left to a team of coroner's assistants and forensic pathologists. Alison's job is to sift through the evidence they bring her and reach an appropriate judgement, and she often digs deep into the victim's past to get the full picture.

Her casebook in this first episode featured the separate suicides of two young women, and the equally sad case of an elderly man called Fred, who died alone in his council flat surrounded by empty bottles -- the evidence of his fatal alcoholism -- and with no traceable family.

Fred's decomposing body had been there for three months, so determining the cause of death was a deeply unpleasant job. But the pathologist approached the task with the same kind of compassion, human decency and respect for life and death that Alison brings to her verdicts. One to watch.

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