It is the greatest scourge of our times; full-grown men are defenceless against its pleasures, housewives fit in a quick session before the children come home and even grandmothers are addicted to its dark forces. Lash me to the mast- I can only be talking about the sirens of dailymail.co.uk.

Educated as we are, it seems like none of us can resist a furtive visit to The Daily Mail’s outraged shores. We know the paper’s politics could be politely termed as alarmist- its dream headline would probably read ‘Illegal Immigrant Gypsies Groom YOUR Daughter Online and Force Feed Her the Contraceptive Pill.’ Never fear, for in this ideal world there would also be some token collecting scheme for Princess Diana’s ghost to personally creep out of her shadowy grave and save the day. However, it is not for these hilarious allegations that so many of us visit the belly of the beast. No- it is its gossip columns (Femail) which bring us back time after time. A bounty of delicious salaciousness, they feed our secret but overpowering need to know whether Jessica Simpson is having a ‘fat day’ or not.

A schizophrenic cacophony of conflicting messages, Femail ensures no woman will ever have that pesky problem of ‘healthy body image’. Why would we want such a burden? The thrill of not knowing when the next bout of body dysmorphia will strike adds an element of intoxicating danger to life.

In around three articles per week, singer LeAnn Rhimes is pictured with every sinew on display, the reporter criticising her ‘worryingly thin’ frame. Poor LeAnn- perhaps she is just from the Stanislavski School of acting and trying to win ‘Best Costume’ at a Halloween party with a convincing skeleton guise. More realistically, she could have an all-consuming eating disorder that is only being fuelled by such lavish attention. Anyway, thousands of non-twiglet women across the land feel a tiny bit better about their bodies after reading such pieces.

Then we have that rare specimen- the ‘healthy looking’ female celebrity. The Daily Mail usually insinuates that she is four months pregnant. Recently, How I Met Your Mother star, Alyson Hannigan, had to issue a statement saying she had merely had a burger at a fun fair just before the paparazzi had snapped her because of the speculation sparked by her slightly rounded stomach. Suddenly, in the eyes of Femail, all of us ‘normal’ looking women are swollen, elephantine mothers-to-be, should we choose to indulge in a chip or two.

The strangely addictive emotional pendulum does not end there, however. Next to these articles, there is usually a piece on the corpulent beauty of Mad Men actress Christina Hendricks. A jiggling Victorian seaside postcard brought to life, her ‘curves’ are lauded as a sexy ideal. It is all very confusing, but Femail reels in the hits because it is catering to our dark little desire to feast on the lives of the rich and famous. It allows us to aspire but also to treasure that tiny feeling of ‘I’m-better-than-you’. Complicated as the female gender is, it also reinforces our own negative preoccupations about our bodies, providing some credence for our imagined faults.

Do not worry- Femail provides for a male demographic, too. It has an unhealthy obsession with buxom pop star Rihanna. Pages are dedicated to lambasting her supposedly smutty performances, portraying her as a wet colonial dream of  unbridled exoticism. Instead of ‘protecting’ our poor menfolk from her, the articles actually seem to be a rather shabby veil which allows them to print the suggestive pictures of her they claim to hate. Reporters were positively gleeful when they found her (filming her latest music video) topless in a Northern Irish field. One can only presume that they thought one look at her unleashed Barbadian nipples would turn them to stone or summon her voodoo priestesses- Femail’s collective knowledge of Rihanna’s culture seems to come from the Pirates of the Caribbean films.

All in all, The Daily Mail is the ultimate guilty pleasure- we can see what is wrong with it, yet are still powerless before its grubby grasp. For many, it the go-to procrastination tool when Facebook is just not enough. Don’t believe me? Just have a snoop around your fellow students’ screens in your next lecture…

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