Sunday, 22 March 2009

Happy Mothers Day

To be honest, I think Mothers Day is a bit pants. It's just a Christian thing that's been turned into a Hallmark Holiday. Now, being a secular Jew, I don't celebrate Christmas or Easter unless I'm staying with Christian friends, so I don't really see why I should have to celebrate Mothers Day when I'm not even at all close to my mother.

It's just as bad as Valentine's Day, for similar reasons. On Valentine's Day, men are pressurised into buying flowers and chocolates for their girlfriends and wives, which allows them to be as crap and ungrateful as they like on the other 364 days of the year. On Mother's Day, anyone whose mother is still alive is expected to fork out for flowers, chocolates and, bizarrely, anti-wrinkle cream (since when was that "the ideal gift"?) and then they don't have to even acknowledge their mother for the rest of the year, even though she might be a complete saint. "Here Mum, happy Mother's Day, here's somthing for your "deep set wrinkles". Have you ironed my shirt?" Luckily, my boy is every bit as unenamoured of Valentine's Day as I am, so we didn't do anything. We weren't even in the same country that day. In fact, I don't even think we texted one another. I am nothing if not unromantic. My mother however has expressed no interest in opting out of Mother's Day, so I couldn't avoid that one.

The problem is, if you don't get on with your mother, hardly ever see her and are not close to her at all, acknowledging Mother's Day is rather like sending a Valentine's card to your ex-boyfriend, who you sort-of stay in touch with and don't bear any ill will, but who makes you want to slap him round the face with a large fish after five minutes in his company. And don't get me started on Father's Day. If sending a Mother's Day card to my mum is like sending a Valentine to an ex-boyfriend, then acknowledging Father's Day is like sending a Valentine to my abusive ex-husband because of whom I've had to move to another country and assume a new identity.

When I was growing up, my mother was the Bad Mother who chain smoked, swore like a sailor, had crazy hair, wore DMs and didn't come to my concerts. However, despite the fact that she's had just about the most disastrous love life of anyone I know, she did, when I was a child, come out with some really good advice about sex and relationships. You have to imagine the following lines delivered by a woman with mad hair, puffing on a Gauloise, and somehow managing not to look a day over 35 despite the fact that she is in her late fifties and has smoked like a chimney since she was a teenager:

  • Don't ever get married because you want to get married. Get married because you want to be married.
  • Don't ever rely on a man for anything. If he leaves you, you're screwed
  • It is not fair to rely on a man financially. You have the right to work, so work
  • If a man doesn't want you to contribute financially, either he's just being too chivalrous, in which case you shouldn't take advantage, or he wants to control you
  • Money means power, and that is never truer than in relationships
  • Don't ever commit to a man who only appreciates you for your looks - he'll trade you in for a younger model at the first wrinkle
  • Don't EVER have children (erm, thanks...)
  • It's okay, as long as you wash your hands afterwards (can be applied to any number of situations, but yes, she was referring to what you're thinking)

    So basically: Be independent, don't get involved with dickwads, and wank yourself silly. Which is as deserving of a Mother's Day outing to one of North London's finest tea establishments as anything.
  • Saturday, 7 March 2009

    LOLClits...not so funny akshully

    I love b3ta, and sitting down with a cup of tea, or possibly something stronger, to read the weekly newsletter when I get in on a Friday night is an enjoyable ritual. This week, the chaps and chapesses at b3ta linked to LOLClits (NSFW!).

    Now, at first, I thought LOLClits was pretty funny. Then I saw this. Not funny. SOOOOOO not funny. So not fucking funny that I have complained to b3ta, informed the New York Times, which is where the pictures came from, and worried about whether I ought to be giving LOLClits the publicity that this post might generate.

    As well as thinking that female genital mutilation is hilarious, LOLClits also seems to indulge in childish cyberbullying tactics like linking to people who've blogged unfavourably about them, presumably hoping that they'll get flamed, whilst not advertising their own email address on the website. This is kinda like a small child firing at you with a slingshot from the safety of a treehouse. Cowardly, annoying, but not in the least bit scary. They can link to me all they like - I would consider it an honour to be regarded as a threat to anyone who allows shit like that to be published.

    Sunday, 1 March 2009

    Anorexia Porn

    I've always known I have it in me to write books, and that writing feminist books would not be an unrealistic goal. Something I've always thought about is writing a middlebrow self-help manual on how women can get on with their lives in a patriarchal world (because I'll admit it, I often think that people who spend a huge amount of time writing long tracts of feminist ranting need to get a life - sometimes the most rebellious and empowering thing you can do is to stick two fingers up at the patriarchy and simply get on with your life), and it's still something I might do one day, but lately I've been thinking about something else: the possibility of writing a book about something that I find sinister, creepy and disturbing in the extreme: anorexia porn.

    No, not porn sites featuring anorexia sufferers (although these of course do exist). I'm talking about the grim obsession that the media seems to have with anorexia. Last fortnight's issue of Private Eye:


    There was no shock whatsoever today after a fat teenager who died suddenly this week didn't get her picture in any newspaper.

    "If only this poor overweight girl had died of a slimming disease, then we'd have felt duty-bound by the scale of the tragedy to run loads of photos of her in skimpy tops to salivate over," said all newspaper editors.

    - Private Eye, issue 1229, p22

    Gawd, I love Private Eye. Ian and his team have brought into the open something that's bugged me for years: why this complete obsession with anorexia?

    It's a rare women's magazine that doesn't carry an anorexia feature. The "I thought THIS *insert lurid picture of protruding ribs* was FAT" coverline is almost as ubiquitous as "How to please a man in bed", "How to have the best orgasms", "How to lose 10lbs" and "SHOES! We have pictures of SHOES YOU CAN'T AFFORD!"

    Here are the rules for an anorexia story:

  • Photos. There must be photos.
  • There must also be statistics: height and weight at heaviest and lowest points, and preferably in between too.*
  • The disease (and I remind you that this is a severe mental illness with a higher death toll than any other) is presented as vanity gone too far.
  • The victim suffers or claims to suffer** from severe dysmorphia, believing she is fat.
  • The whole thing is presented as simply an extreme form of the dieting and self-hating rituals that a lot of young women go through and that these magazines actively encourage.
  • At some point during her recovery, the victim must get a man who will help her on the road to health and make her realise that she is beautiful and not at all fat.

    Susie Orbach argues quite convincingly that compulsive eating is the opposite side of the same coin as anorexia, so why are women's magazines not lavishly illustrated with photos of women who have eaten themselves into morbid obesity? Or whose bingeing has led them to die of gastric rupture from constant vomiting? Compulsive eating and bulimia (basically the same horribly distressing and dangerous illness but for one minor detail, the presence or absence of self-induced vomiting) just aren't seen as glamorous.

    Having suffered from anorexia is seen almost as a badge of honour. Watch a woman tell another woman she's suffered from anorexia in the past: 50% of the time you'll get either sympathy or a "whoah, you're mental" look, but the other 50% of the time her eyes will glaze over in barely-concealed admiration. Those are the women who devour these stories. Why do they devour them? Why the demand?

    The problems as a direct result of such media coverage are as follows:

  • People thinking that anorexia is a diet gone too far which can be solved by telling the victim that they are not fat
  • Because anorexia is presented as a mere extension of "normal" body hatred, it's seen as something that affects only young women and adolescent girls. Tell that to male sufferers, older female sufferers or the parents of children struggling with the problem.
  • People thinking that anorexia sufferers' bodies, much like fat people's and conventionally-attractive women's, are fair game for public consumption, that it's okay to stare as much as you like and say whatever you want. Essentially, anorexics are presented as freak show acts that exist for public amusement. Hooray - now I have an excuse to link to The Boy With An Arse for a Face
  • People thinking that unless you look as if you're about to drop dead, you can't be anorexic. This one is particularly dangerous: most anorexics refuse treatment, and so intervention by friends and family is paramount. Experts unanimously agree that the later treatment is started, the grimmer the sufferer's chances of recovery. If the friends and family of an anorexic wait until she "looks anorexic" before dragging her to a doctor, it may be too late to avoid permanent physical and mental damage.
  • Essentially, it's completely voyeuristic, offering freak shows of these women whilst glossing over their actual problems.

    So yes, I want to write a book on anorexia porn, exploring the phenomenon of this public obsession with the illness. It reveals so much of the creepy way that a lot of women tend to view other womens' bodies.

    *Websites that help people recover from eating disorders generally have a complete ban on users posting information about their height/weight/BMI because some sufferers find it "triggering"
    **FACT: If you've got an obvious problem, the quickest way of stopping people from asking awkward questions is to tell them what they want to hear
  • Sunday, 11 January 2009

    Goodwill to All Women

    The Blackheath Bugle has helpfully brought to my attention the nauseating KitKat Senses billboard that has been all over the country recently. I hadn't actually seen it as I have been in Germany for the last few weeks merrily stuffing my face with stollen and not-so-merrily going round history museums and concentration camps, but it really is totally eurgh.

    This isn't exactly an original campaign - this sort of thing has been happening for years, from Flake through Galaxy to Mars Delight. Yep, us women are all slavering chocaholics.

    Indulge yourself, go on, you deserve it. Mmmm, creamy and delicious, mmmmm, MMMMMMMM, indulge yourself, fellate it in a bubble bath surrounded by candles because you deserve it, you goddess, you! Go on, indulge yourself, be NAUGHTY, you know you need it because your sex life is shite and you've been eschewing carbs for God knows how long, so what you really need is a quick hit of refined carbs that will cause you to moan in ecstasy. Mmmmmmmmmmmm......

    Creamy chocolate, delicious chocolate, indulgent chocolate, naughty chocolate, sinful chocolate, ONLY 165 CALORIES, yes, yes, YES, YES, YES!!!!

    Take me now, big boy! You know I can't get enough of your raging hazelnuts, fill me up with your hot, throbbing rod of sugary goodness!

    [The rest of this post has been censored. This is a family blog.]

    Friday, 21 November 2008

    Boot Camp

    Over the last few days I have been reading, with a growing sense of extreme sympathy, my housemate's account of having spent a few days at the New You Boot Camp.

    Zara is a beauty writer, and thus she gets better freebies than I do (I'm a classical music writer). She gets free haircuts, more make up than she'll ever use, swanky spa treatments, Rapunzel-style hair extensions, and until now I've been quite envious. Not any more.

    Zara has just spent a week somewhere that explicitly describes itself as a "military-style weight-loss camp" on a strictly-enforced diet, surrounded by other women who are also on a strictly-enforced diet. When I first heard that she was doing some sort of fitness camp I thought it sounded quite fun - I'm quite the fitness freak myself. But the more I've read her diary, the more horrified I've been.

    Lots of exercise? Bring it on.
    Healthy food? Yum.
    Healthy food in very small portions? Hehe. That's funny. Where's the rest of my food?
    5am starts? Eeeep...
    No caffeine? WHAT???
    5am starts with no caffeine? Oh HELL no!
    Swimming in freezing cold water? I wanted my mummy just from reading about that.

    It was the swimming in freezing cold water bit that made me realise that I was never, EVER doing ANYTHING like this, no matter how desperate I am to drop a dress size. It also made me wonder why on earth any woman would pay to have some burly guy in an army uniform yell at her and drag her out of bed at 5am to go for a dip in the North Sea in November. Was it perhaps some sort of self-punishment for not being thin? Over tea last night she told me: "I think a lot of it's to do with control. A lot of women have serious issues with food and exercise, and somewhere like this, all of the control is taken away from you. I think a lot of the women are paying for someone else to take responsibility as much as anything else."


    Zara is now back from the camp and very much alive, although she doesn't look any thinner...but then again, she was very slim in the first place. I have gained a lot of respect for her, and also an appreciation of the fact that I get sent to concerts for work rather than boot camps.

    Wednesday, 19 November 2008

    Target Women

    Or "Why I love Sarah Haskins and want to have her babies"

    Wednesday, 22 October 2008

    Things I often hear

    But women have the vote and equal pay and all that! What's the point of feminism now?
    Women might be legally entitled to equal pay, but they don't actually get it. There have been some extremely welcome changes to the law in the last 100 years, but changing people's attitudes and opinions still needs to happen.

    But what's the point of bitching about people telling you you can't drive and harrassing you in the street when millions of women all over the world are really oppressed?
    It's true, women suffer much more elsewhere than they do here. Women are held responsible for being raped, stoned for adultery whilst the men involved walk free, banned from working, dying from pregnancy-related complications in countries in which abortion is illegal under any circumstances. 100,000 little girls every year have their genitals butchered to ensure their chastity by preventing them from enjoying sex. I'm not suggesting for a moment that I don't have it pretty damn easy here in comparison. But just because I've been granted the privilege of keeping my clitoris, doesn't mean I shouldn't be able to be respected in the workplace, walk down the street without being harrassed, or be valued for anything other than my physical appearance and sexual availability.

    All men are bastards
    Try going out with someone nice for a change

    All women are bitches

    Get your tits out
    They're mine. I'll get them out if I want to. And I definitely won't get them out for you.

    You're so slim, you can eat anything
    You can eat anything too. There's no "Thou shalt not eat carbs if thy waist is bigger than 26 inches" in any legal or religious text that I know of.

    She's waaaay too skinny
    Oh, mind your own business and get a life. The "size zero debate" is about pressuring a poisonous industry to stop exploitating teenage catwalk models, not about bitching about other women who are either naturally skinny or ill, neither of which really deserve your scorn.

    She should not be wearing that
    Again, mind your own business and get a life.

    But men and women are different
    They sure are - just take a look in your pants if you don't believe me. I wouldn't be at all surprised if there were meaningful differences in brain anatomy too. But using that as an excuse for blatant discrimination? Making lazy, unsubstantiated assumptions about individuals based on some bollocks survey you read about on a very slow news day? Fuck off.

    Feminists are sexist
    I admit that the actual word "feminism" is a bit unfortunate. There are some women who call themselves feminists who actully hate men or are prejudiced against them, and this particularly annoys me because they reinforce this stereotype. Equally, there are some men who call themselves feminist/pro-feminist who are actually very sexist. I know a few of these and they are some of the most punchable people you will ever meet. I've heard people say things like, "I'm not a feminist - I'm a humanist" but I think it's pretty much impossible to be a humanist without also being a feminist. Feminism is just one of a set of ideologies that promote respect for one's fellow human beings. The reason that it is so needed as a separate ideology is that it is so often ignored. It's not that feminism is more important than anything else, just that it needs to shout louder to be heard.

    Sunday, 28 September 2008

    An open letter to all hairdressers

    Dear Hairdressers,

    Owing to recent bitter personal experience, it would make me really happy if you were to take heed of the following:

    * The customer is always right. Sometimes the customer will ask for something ridiculous, in which case you should explain that it's not a good idea. Other than that, your job is to deliver what they want, not to impose your own tastes upon them. If the customer tells you they want to keep the length, do not then chop off 5cm and feel smug that you've "fixed" their hitherto crappy hair and expect them to be all grateful. Suggestions are very welcome. Just going ahead and doing things without asking is NOT.

    * Not everybody spends hours in front of the mirror every morning. Just because I don't, doesn't mean I'm some mad bag lady with seventeen cats who hasn't washed since 1984. There is nothing wrong with me, so don't look so fucking disgusted when I tell you that I hardly ever straighten my hair. Curls rock, and burnt hair smells like ass.

    * Don't diss my curls. They are not "stubborn", they do not need to be "corrected", they are beautiful and possibly my best feature. I asked you to straighten my hair just for a change and because it takes me ages to do it myself, not because there is anything wrong with the natural state of my hair.

    * Blonde highlights? On almost-black hair? You have GOT to be kidding. Quit suggesting it, it ain't gonna happen.

    * Don't insult me. I know that the beauty industry works by convincing women that there's something wrong with them that needs fixing. I know that by persuading me that what I really need is a cut that only looks good straight so that I need to fork out £100 for straighteners and blonde highlights that need retouching every few weeks you will make more money out of me. But you are not seriously going to convince me that there's anything wrong with having dark glossy curls halfway down your back.* Quit trying.

    * I do not want to look like everybody else. My hair is probably my most distinguishing feature. I'm not amazingly attractive or striking generally, but my hair sets me apart. I know that long curly hair is not in fashion. But I don't want to look like a fashion victim. Besides, I get more compliments on my hair than anything else, so I must be doing something right.

    I hope we can get on better in future. If not, you'll have the straightest arse crack in London considering where I'll shove those GHDs of yours.

    Luv n hugz!

    *Well, as long as they're not sprouting OUT of your back. Even then, it would be pretty damn rude to say anything about it unless I specifically asked for some waxing

    Tuesday, 5 August 2008

    English Women Don't Get Smug

    On Saturday, I ended up buying a copy of French Women for All Seasons, the sequel to French Women Don't Get Fat. It was £1 in the charity shop and had yummy-looking recipes in it, which is why I bought it. The recipes are indeed good, but the bits that aren't actual recipes make me want to force-feed Mireille Guiliano KFC until she explodes. A lot of it makes sense, namely the idea that if you enjoy good quality food in moderation you probably won't end up with multiple spare tyres. But a lot of it is total bollocks, and bollocks that tends to assume that all of these slim glamorous French women are white and middle class at that. I haven't spent an awful lot of time in France, but I've never seen a black woman there who wasn't cleaning a toilet. Do these particular French women have the time and money to spend a leisurely hour dipping asparagus into home-made mayonnaise? I doubt it.

    Anyway, the worst thing Guiliano advocates is Magical Leek Soup.

    2 pounds leeks

    1. Clean the leeks and rinse well to get rid of sand and soil. Cut off the ends of the dark green parts, leaving all the white parts plus a suggestion of pale green. (Reserve the extra greens for soup stock.)

    2. Put the leeks in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer uncovered for 20 to 30 minutes. Pour off the liquid and reserve. Place the leeks in a bowl.

    The juice is to be drunk (reheated or at room temperature to taste) every 2 to 3 hours, 1 cup at a time. For meals, or whenever hungry, have some of the leeks themselves, 1/2 cup at a time.

    Apparently, French women all do this "leek weekend" once every three months. What, really? And because you are basically not eating, you're not to do anything strenuous. It is a weekend for sitting around in your pyjamas (Chanel, of course) reading (Proust, of course) and relaxing. Honestly, who has time for this? And can you imagine what it would do to your digestive system? Who has time to sit around farting leeks for an entire weekend? Don't get me wrong, I love leeks as much as the next foodie. I just have no particular desire to live on pond water for two days.

    The other bit that really got me was when she states that a whole banana is two servings. This is the correct, Gallic-approved method of eating a banana:

    1. Peel banana.

    2. Chop banana in half. Place one half in clingfilm in the fridge.

    3. Put the other half on a plate and chop into little bits.

    4. Eat the little bits one at a time with a fork.

    Can you imagine eating a banana like that? It's ridiculous! If I saw someone eat a banana like that I'd assume she had some form of OCD or an eating disorder.

    But of course, the real problem with all this is the self-righteous, punchable smugness that pervades the entire book. I'm a beautiful, slim, glamorous woman, and you too can be like me if you give up your Curly Wurly habit and drink vile leek water instead. Well I'm not giving up my Curly Wurly habit for no Frenchie, I don't care how slim she is. Instead I shall dedicate my efforts to producing a new volume, in order to help those snooty French women be more like us fabulous Brits.


    Introduction: The English are a nation of fat ugly munters and we know it

    The English diet: Stodge, lard, stodge, chips, burgers and stodge. Vegetables? What are they?

    Recipes: Discover just what a spotted dick actually is. And no, it's nothing to do with our chlamydia epidemic.

    Chicken: How the proliferation of dodgy fried chicken establishments has made the English waistline what it is today.

    Denial: How to convince yourself that if you order a Diet Coke with your doner kebab, it cancels out the calories in the kebab.

    Binge drinking: If you puke it into the gutter at 3am, the calories don't count!

    Desperation: The Atkins Diet, The South Beach Diet, The Hollywood Diet, The Cabbage Soup Diet, and how to celebrate breaking them all with a family-sized bar of Dairy Milk.

    Self-loathing: British women have been told for ages that we are pasty, pear shaped, mousy, flabby, inelegant and generally inferior to our sisters across the Channel. And what are we good for? No 1 in Europe for teen pregnancies, GET IN!!

    Reading this book is only the beginning of a wonderful life of self-loathing. If you just stick to these rules of following a lard-based diet, rich in refined carbohydrates and dodgy additives, you will never suffer from the terrible smugness that blights those slim Frenchies across the channel.

    What do you reckon? Should I fire off 3 chapters and a synopsis to Guiliano's publishers?

    Tuesday, 22 July 2008

    Well, there's a surprise


    As a 1930s wife, I am
    Very Poor (Failure)

    Take the test!