Puff Piece

A dishonest melange of irrelevant and empty arguments

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Rockin' Rolls

What with all the kerfuffle over Jean Paul Gaultier sending the bodacious Velvet D’Amour undulating down the catwalk in a basque, it’s got me thinking about the importance of role models for those of us who strive to love our fat selves in the face of public scorn and obesity warmongering.

I was heartened to read in a recent interview with indie-punk goddess, Beth Ditto of The Gossip, that she won’t be going the way of Carnie Wilson. As probably the first pop star in history to actively champion fat acceptance she’s determined not to sell out, for which I could positively snog her, despite not being that way inclined. I often used to wonder whether it was Carnie’s choice to shy away from the camera in those old Wilson Philips videos, or if it was the director’s decision to either shoot her from the neck up or not at all. Either way it sent an unmistakable message to young, impressionable female minds – namely that fat girls should be heard but not seen. Catching Ms Ditto for the first time on MTV last week positively warmed the cockles of my heart. As my pal Gina remarked, “Good grief, she’s got more front than Selfridges!” Which is probably just as well. If The Gossip ever make it into the mainstream, (and stranger things have happened – look at Björk or P.J. Harvey), she’s going to need every inch of it.

As current heroines go go Velvet also gets my vote this week for consistently bucking the fat-girl stereotype in response to some pretty unimaginative, (some might say manipulative), questions from the Sydney Morning Herald. But long before Beth and Velvet, there were others who challenged many of the negative things I’d been brought up to believe about fat.

As a little girl there was a lesbian couple, whose English country cliché of a garden figured prominently in the sun-dappled Sunday afternoons of my childhood. ”Pat must measure at least 60”around the hips!” my (less) fat, dutifully self-hating mother remarked one day. I was too young to understand why this should matter. All I knew was that Pat and her equally well-rounded lady friend gave soft, supremely comforting cuddles.

Then there was Zoë, a law student who attended a mutual friend’s 21st birthday bash. Despite having bingo-wings and no discernible waist, Zoë opened my eyes to the possibility that fat could be sexy. In a crepe de Chine frock that clung lovingly to every generous roll of unfashionably pale flesh, she made Jessica Rabbit look like an amateur. Men fell like ninepins; even my 17-year-old git of a stepbrother turned into a gibbering fool at the sight of her rippling mane of deep chestnut curls and impossibly long-lashed, come-hither eyes.” I fancied that fat woman!” he told me, in palpable shock, on our cab journey home.

Later still there was the mysterious stranger in Venice who taught me that fat could be chic. She must have been roughly the age I am now and stood waiting for a vaporetto near the Doge’s Palace. It was spring but icy cold. Her hair was swept off her immaculately made-up face and swathed in a plain black turban; her only adornment the huge jewel-encrusted brooch which served to fasten her long, sweeping black coat. Italy abounds with poised, elegant, stylish women but this one had something extra. Besides enabling her to get away with a bauble the size of a side-plate and still look classy, her stature gave her presence. Not only have I eschewed delicate, understated jewellery ever since, I learned a valuable lesson: when a big woman pulls out all the stops, there’s more of her to make a favourable impression.

...which brings me to TV and radio presenter, Nancy Roberts, fat activist and author of a fab, fab tome called Breaking All The Rules. “If you’re as big as a London bus,” Nancy shrugged, “you might as well wear red”. At the risk of sounding seriously naff, this book changed my life. Don’t get me wrong; I was wearing red already – but Nancy’s account of her own experiences around childhood dieting and adult fat, her involvement with support groups that grew out of Susie Orbach’s Fat Is A Feminist Issue, her advocation of HAES long before anyone had heard of it contrived to open up a brave new world I’d never dreamed of.

Dawn French, Allegro Fortissimo, Alison Moyet, Jo Brand, (even though she’s far too self-deprecating and makes altogether too many jokes about cake), the now-slim Victoria Wood, Jennifer Weiner, Jennifer Portnick...I wish I could say that the list was endless. The sad fact is fat role models are all too thin on the ground. But tell me – who are yours and why?


At October 28, 2006 8:28 PM, Blogger mimi said...

Buffpuff, just a quick congratulations on the new blog. I am so clueless with this that I've tried at least 3 times to leave a comment and the Thing has shut itself down. Sister Gina sends her best too.

I won't pretend I am a fat accepter, but nor am I a hater. Having problems with my own image leaves me unable to see fat women as role models - not that I don't think some are great, I just don't see myself as them. But I am trying to be more open-minded.

I'd also like to say hi to Kate, in case she is reading this - her comments on FMB always gave me a lot to think about, even if I was mentally saying Yeah but, No but, while I was reading them.

Have a great time blogging, I'll be reading avidly!

At October 29, 2006 12:23 AM, Blogger buffpuff said...

Ta, Mimi. Great to hear from you, (you can't possibly be more of a techno-klutz than me!), and say hi back to Gina from me too.

Not being a hater and keeping an open mind both sound pretty good to me. I wasted the first half of my life dissing my fat, even when there was minimal fat to diss, and it took me a long time to realise acceptance was even possible. I also set a lot of store by faking it till you make it.

At October 16, 2007 12:56 AM, Blogger C said...

Wendy Shanker is a good one. I really like her book "The Fat Girl's Guide to Life."


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