simple is beautiful
Too Fat For Fashion: Oh You Little Things...
2 ... 2 ...

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Oh You Little Things...

I fear I am rapidly becoming the misanthropic yin to Miss J's delightful yang, as here I go again with another negative story. In contrast with her sunny tale of the beautiful Crystal Renn appearing left right and centre looking radiant, I bring you this week's award winner in the Most Idiotic Journalism Prize.

With apologies for the poor image quality - I don't have a scanner so this is merely a digital photo of the newspaper:

The photo is of supermodel Kate Moss - I think it's a clear enough picture to see that she looks no different from usual, and actually better, since she's lacking that useless appendage known as Pete Doherty - on the front cover of the London daily newspaper, The London Paper. This is a free broadsheet distributed from around 3 pm every weekday near tube stations, train stations and office buildings, sort of the evening equivalent to the long-standing morning Metro. Launched in the autumn, its rival is the London Lite; both papers are laying claim to the Evening Standard's territory, a newspaper retailing at 50p per copy (95 cents), and readership - the thousands of London commuters who need a read and some city-centric news to get them through the long train journey out of London, or the equally long tube/bus journeys within the city. The two London papers, Paper and Lite, have fast become a familiar site on the city's transport system, with dozens of copies littering the trains and platforms. Each copy is read, on average (based on entirely unscientific observation of my fellow passengers...) by five different people.

Anyway, that long-winded explanation out of the way (as if none of you can possibly grasp the concept of a free newspaper - apologies for my patronising waffle), let's address the subject of this post. The headline, in that wee purple box there, reads A TRICK OF THE LIGHT?

The text goes like this:

Millions of women can allow themselves a satisfied smile today at the sight of Kate Moss on a Caribbean photoshoot looking decidedly chunky-thighed. The 33-year-old was in St Barts for a shoot with New York jewellery company David Yurman.

Let's address this point by appalling point. Before we even reach the "chunky-thighed" comment, which would be vicious, unnecessary and hateful enough even if applied to someone with actual chunky thighs, we have that bastion of lazy writing, the concept of women hating women. This kind of writing comes from the same Big Book O' Cliches as "girls just want to have fun!" and "tired of sneaking your expensive purchases into the house? Try shopping during a footie match. Your man won't even notice that Selfridges bag during the big game!" - it's 'tee-hee, aren't women shallow and silly' writing disguised as news.

Do you watch, wait and pounce for other women to slip up and be seen chunkier of thigh, bigger of hip, rounder of belly? Do you smirk in satisfaction when women are photographed looking rounder than usual? Do you chortle at the pages of Heat and People - see how they've helpfully placed a red ring around the stars' cellulite, to save you the bother of reaching for your red marker pen! Does waiting for the day Reese Witherspoon look anything less than perfect keep you up all night? Don't you long for the day her bottom sags? I’ll bet you do - and when it does, you'll invite the girls round (1) for a bottle of wine (2) and some choccies (3) to have a good laugh (4) at the gruesome pics (5).

Wow, I just crammed five female-unfriendly clichés into one sentence. That must be some kind of record...I hope the prize is a staff writing job at Loaded magazine! Women only have female friends and refer to other women as "girls"; we bond by drinking and having (horrible term) 'girly nights' (2); where we eat chocolate because (a) girls love chocolate! and (b) we're happy and healthy and can indulge with 'treats' every now and then for fun! (3); we spend lots of time laughing at these get-togethers, because women rarely socialise for work or serious talks or discuss art or literature - it's all about fun with the girls! (4); and fun with the girls means laughing at other people's looks (5). Which isn't to say I'm a miserable teetotal bore who never reads Go Fug Yourself, but is more to point out my utter boredom with women's journalism which seems to categorise our entire gender as living their lives as a chick flick montage cliché.

My point, if you remove the dripping layers of sarcasm, is that women aren't actually 'satisfied' by other women failing (I'm temporarily ignoring Moss's incredible figure) to adhere to rigorous beauty standards. I might be a fashion and beauty writer but shockingly I'm not quite so shallow as all that. I don't have a tick list of hatred: Kate Moss gains weight, check! Liv Tyler's hair goes frizzy, check! Kate Winslet photographed without make-up, check! Heat publishes close-up of reality TV starlet's spots, check! You just won Misogynist Bingo - collect your prize of Trim-Spa at the door!

What would satisfy women, or a large majority of us at least, is: equal pay; access to free and impartial contraceptive advice and healthcare; the right to work and the right to bear children - at the same time; safety in our personal and professional lives; redress for wrongs against us; freedom from discrimination on account of our gender...y'know, wacky stuff like that. I suspect we'd also raise a smile at these other things, to name a few at random: an end to patronising journalist clichés that set us up against each other and paint an entire gender as at war with itself; an end to judgement of the body beautiful and the dangerously narrow aesthetic pervading our culture; plus-size clothing available everywhere as the norm and not as special collections; freedom to exist in our bodies and do as we please with our them; and an end to the forced myth that our only happinesses are derived from each others' misery.

That's point one. The next time I catch sight of anything so offensive as "millions of women can allow themselves a satisfied smile today" in the city's daily newspapers I'm organising a London-wide boycott of the London free press. Also....allow? ALLOW? ALLOW??!! I don't need permission to be satisfied or to smile; I certainly don't wait for some badly produced free newspaper to print pictures of a beautiful woman whom they deem unacceptably large before I allow myself to be happy.

The word choice here is appalling: allow. As if we must be rigorously self-disciplined, on 24-hour watch to make sure we don't gain weight or our hair grow roots or our moustaches go unbleached; we must be constantly on guard, exercising here, eating bean sprouts there, shopping for illegal diet pills on the internet, cutting out pictures of our ideal bodies, always working, working, working, and sweating and worrying and punishing, never letting up for fear that we might fail and be soft or round or slack or less than perfect, until - oh thank god for the day when we can relax, for others among us have fat thighs too.

Let us rejoice, let us smile, let us celebrate with a low-fat sugar-free non-dairy dessert, for today is a glorious day, today is the day when a thirty-something supermodel is pictured in a swimsuit looking mildly different from her nineteen-year-old self, oh happy day! All our rights are won and we may rest easy tonight, satisfied and smiling...correction, allowed to be satisfied and smiling, because someone else has failed in the 24/7 war against their bodies.

Point two. Without disregarding anything said previously, or suggesting in any way that the photograph caption would be acceptable if it were accompanying a plus-sized woman or a woman who had gained a significant amount of weight: take a look again at the photograph the newspaper is using to illustrate this pointless - front page! - story. I defy you all to spot the chunky thighs they are talking about. In actual fact, I think this cover would be less dangerous if it was referring to a plus-sized girl. It would be as offensive, sure, but in using Kate Moss, an incredibly small woman, to illustrate 'chunky-thighed', the piece suggests her figure in this photo is the very upper limit to which we are allowed to let ourselves go.

Anything less - or, more pertinently, anything more - than this is unacceptable. This is how low and unattainable the barrier is in the media. That is as fat as your thighs must get before we will attack you. Do not allow, do not give yourself permission, deny yourself the right, to live inside the body you have. Perhaps I am overreacting to what is, after all, a tiny puff-piece on a slow news day, on the cover of a free city newspaper, with a circulation of less than half-a-million. Perhaps we can let these little battles go, because we have bigger wars to fight. Perhaps I am over-dramatising a photo caption that few will see and fewer bother to consider.

Or perhaps it is this endless, pervasive, corrosive drip drip drip of mean, petty, divisive, cruel commentary, that we see daily, in our city newspapers, our national newspapers, our magazines and blogs and films and commentary, that is the heart of the problem. Perhaps we cannot win the bigger fight until we first address the culture that this war on our bodies arises from - a culture that takes a tiny piece from us day by day by day with comments like this, that surrounds us and mires us in negativity about our natural state, until we are convinced we are nothing, until we have no strength left, until we cannot allow ourselves to fight.


Post a Comment