Monday, 10 January 2011

The horrors of diet TV

A new year and the old bombardment of diet TV is upon us once more. The ingrained acceptance that “Fat is Bad” leads to some truly repellent TV. The abuse contestants experience on such shows, hidden beneath the pretence of help, is disgraceful. For example, Steve Miller, the presenter of ‘Fat Families’, refers to his participants as “tubbies”. Or equally unpleasant, after examining a specific food, Miller joyously cries into the audience “and if you eat too many of these, what does that make you?” to be met with the delightful term “fatties!” sung in unison from the crowd. Then again, what more is expected from a man whose self-help book is titled “Get Off Your Arse and Lose Weight” (2007). There is an argument that the word “fat” needs to be embraced by those overweight, disempowering its use as an insult in the process. However, within the context of a show focused entirely around embarrassing its contestants into losing weight, this political move is clearly not Miller’s intention.

Steve Miller and the producers of ‘Fat Families’ underlying message is clear; if you are fat, you are lazy and greedy.

Each week the new contestant is subjected to examining “the extent of their problem” via a close up camera designed to scrutinise every bulge of their half naked body. Miller often reminds the audience at home that although this may seem harsh, it is necessary for them to confront the truth. There is no consideration of the psychological impact this may have, or the binge eating cycle such humiliation and (encouraged) self-hatred can lead to. 

‘Fat families’ takes the belief that food is bad to an astonishing new level. Whereas most diet advocates suggest that there exist “good” and “bad” food, Miller seems to take the line that all food is evil. One example of this occurred while a family involved in the show were secretly filmed having lunch in a restaurant (as stooges tempt them with food). In response to one member opting for a plain, dressing free, salad as a started, Steve informs us off screen that while yes, a salad is more sensible than the pâté option, better still would have been to forgo any started. After all, the salad may have contained up to a 100 calories. The implicit message here being that the less food the better. This completely ignores the fact that food is a positive, nourishing and essential ingredient for life. Or even, if we are to indulge in the “diet myth” for a moment, that there is evidence (and common sense) to suggest that eating something light and nutritious as a starter leads to dieters consuming less over all.

Sadder still is the self-abuse, considered reasonable, by the individuals involved in such shows. For example, the woman taking part in “Diet tribe”, who muffled through tears, “if I look back at my wedding photos and I am fat, I will hate myself forever”.

One reaction to hearing this could well be the suggestion that they need to get some perspective on life. However, in a world were fat is bad and thinness equates to your value, the fear exuding from these individuals has nothing to do with weight, but instead is intrinsically linked to their fundamental worth.

If we commit the sin and god forbid, put on weight, this sort of treatment and self-loathing is viewed as an acceptable response. It is the individual’s fault after all. No need to consider the emotional trigger for over eating, or the potential cry for help it covers. Let alone the possibility that some people may be perfectly happy (and healthy) while a little overweight. There is no thought to the protection fat gives us against intimacy, or in women especially, against sexual advances. Nor a moment of reflection honoured to the political implications of fat. The naïve and ignorant arrogance that the likes of Steve Miller spew onto our subconscious gives credence to the idea that our worth can be measured in correlation to our weight. This is a line of thought that under no circumstances should we accept.


‘Fat families’ Sky1 HD Wed, 8pm.            

‘Diet Tribe’ Sky3 Sun, 7pm

Miller, S (2007) Get Off Your Arse and Lose Weight: Straight talking advise on how to get thin.

Friday, 7 January 2011

"Ms? Oh right, you're one of them"


It seems that as a feminist you have two options. You can either be angry, man hating, up tight and probably a lesbian (not a hot lesbian though. Oh no, an angry, man hating, up tight lesbian - most likely with facial hair). Or, worse yet, you can be a Spice girl.

I have been asked whether or not I was a lesbian twice in my life. The first was in response to a suggestion I made at the tender age of 17 that maybe, just maybe, there was a case to increase the age men can apply for a driving license. The second, when I cut my hair. I have, however, been called a feminist on more than one occasion. I hint at the need for equal pay; I sigh at the lack of child facilities; I have the audacity to let slip a smidgen of my growing despair at being bombarded with images of emaciated woman telling me I can “lose that extra ten pounds” and what am I met with? A roll of the eyes, a smug little chuckle, followed by the inevitably “oh we’re a “feminist” are we”. Apparently it’s cute that a little blonde girl has an opinion. You have to give it to them though. It is amazing how people instinctively understand that by using “the F word” they can embarrass most into silences. Nobody wants to be seen as taking life too seriously. As not “getting” the joke.

One area in particular that inspires such accusations of feminism concerns what, in the bigger scheme of things, is really a rather minor point. My name. Or more precisely, my title.

I feel strangely attached to “Ms”. It represents not only my independences within society, but also a stage in my life where I took control of my own identity. I used my right to choose my name. At the time, I had no idea the impact it would have on those around me. Hence, my surprise to discover that correcting someone for calling you “Miss” is the height of rudeness. And rude I have been called for doing so. Along with “snob”, “aggressive” and of course, the dreaded feminist. On the whole, I do not mean it aggressively. I simply do it automatically, as you would were someone to mispronounce your name. Do I find it somewhat patronising as a fully fledge woman to be referred to as “Miss”? Well, yes, but I don’t hold a grudge and sadly it’s so ingrained in society that I wouldn’t expect anything else. Yet, the hostility I experience in response still leaves me bemused. From what I can gather, people seem to feel that I am imposing some grand statement on them. That I am creating a fight where there need not be one. That there exists some implicit criticism towards men within the title. In short, that I, like all other good feminists, simply do not like the male sex.

To dismiss Feminism as a shallow vendetta against men conveniently undermines the ideology and its supporters. The resentment such a little word evokes reveals the true significant of the movement as a potential threat to the status quo. The intense resistance that “Ms” inspires should encourage its use rather than shame us into discarding the simple privilege that is bestowed upon the male sex automatically with age. 

In short, I shall continue to use the title “Ms” and I shall continue to smile sweetly at the sniggers as I do so. 

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Dr Catherine Hakim fights against the “feminist myth”

It is unfair really. If Dr Hakim were a man, I would harbor so much less distaste for her and her findings. However, sadly for Hakim, this is not the case and therefore her recent report for the Centre for Policy Studies I find particularly repellent. Sexism is a cruel fate indeed.  According to the investigation the equal opportunities battles has finally been won. Yes, so woman in full-time employment are still paid 17% less, rising to 36% for part-time jobs, among numerous other deeply depressing statistics, but not to worry. We can ignore all this for Dr Hakim assures us that it does not matter anymore. The disparity simply corresponds with the difference in gender aspiration (to be considered in another post).

In case you are now wondering what the true explanation could be to for why the vast proportion of top jobs are held by men (considering women officially experience the same luxurious opportunities), well, clearly woman just prefer low status jobs. (Yes, seriously).

She asserts that women now have more choices than men, requiring us to believe that educated, capable women are taking poorly-paid, low-status jobs purely because they prefer them. “Why are women less likely to achieve the top jobs and associated higher pay?” she trills, swiftly concluding that there’s no way of knowing and that we therefore needn’t worry ourselves about it.” (Rowan Davies 2011)

That’s what Capitalism is about after all - “choice”.

Another favourite snippets from the fantastically titled “Feminist Myths and Magic Medicines” include:

 “Unfortunately, feminist ideology continues to dominate thinking about women’s roles in employment and the family, and on how family-friendly policies are universally beneficial in promoting sex equality.” (Hakim 2011).

Feminist ideology dominating? I am beginning to wish I lived in Hakim’s world.

Not forgetting:

“On top of that, new feminist myths are constantly being created, seeking to portray women as universal victims” (Hakim 2011).

This sad interpretation begs the questions: what is Feminism to Dr Hakim? According to her report we can only conclude that Feminism is the out dated belief that men and women are not equal and that as a consequence women must be “protected” from the male agenda. The implicit assumption here being that men and women are separated by this movement and as ever, on opposing teams. Personally I always understood Feminism in terms of its fight for equality. Or it’s acceptance that although human beings are different and therefore may have varying skills and needs, fundamentally gender, nor any other superficial contrast, justifies discrimination. Feminism is a movement created to fight for those unable to shout loud enough alone - be that women or men, regardless of race, age, education or class. It is about equality. It is about strength. By encouraging the belief that feminism is the fight against men, the population is segregated; diminishing the power we would otherwise have in numbers. It is extremely sad to hear the words, “I’m not a feminist, I’m a man”, as though one excludes the other. Feminism may have evolved from a need to free women, but it’s ideologically beliefs scan far beyond this one area. Or at least, in my opinion, it should.


Hakim, C (2011) Feminist Myths and Magic Medicine: The flawed thinking behind calls for equality legislation.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Feminism? Pah.

As a university student I am presented with the visible changes that feminism has led to. The once exclusively male world of academia, is now equally represented by female bodies. As a result, it is understandable why so many no longer believe feminism to be of relevance. However, if a moment is taken to watch these students more closely, something is amiss. While the men walk around, strong and able, full of energy and life, the women seem to be struggling. For some strange reason though, this image does not fit with the one we are sold. Repeatedly, we are reminded that these women have rights now. They have power and respect, neither held back or restrained by any external force. Yet in spite of this, an ever constant, internal torture exists, actualised by how thin and frail so many of them are. The ludicrousness of this scene does not lie in the starvation itself, but instead at the apparent acceptance of this as the norm. It has reached the point where emaciated woman are seen as the standard. Naomi Wolf (1991) in her book “The Beauty Myth” highlights the fact that as women’s rights in society rose, the average weight of women in the media plummeted. As a result we are constantly bombarded with images of unhealthily thin women portrayed as the desirable norm. Not to mention the intrinsic associations thinness now has with success. As a supposed backlash to the trend towards an ever-skeletal form, the phrase  “real woman” has found a place in popular culture. However, in a world where ‘fatness’ makes you ‘real’, thinness, by contrast, elevates you above mere mortals, into goddesslike status. At best, the implications of such a concept are patronising, at worst it promotes an underlying message concerning hierarchy, reinforcing competition between young women. Such competition divides the female population, underpinned by a fear of one another. At a time where physically vulnerable woman need support, they are instead played off against each another, the glory of winning, personified in the unattainable, and ultimately life threatening.

We are fed the line that feminism is out of date, and that sexism is no longer prominent in western society. This idea goes hand in hand with the negative connotations now associated with the movement. Rather than question the motives behind those responsible for encouraging such a consensus, women increasingly seem to be buying into it as reality. Whether due to conscious manipulation or patriarchal hegemony, men are using the media to talk to woman, and the message they are sending is clear. To be a success, to be desirable, to obtain worth, is to be thin. Where such resistance to feminism ought to inspire woman, instead we are distracted and weakened by an internal struggle. While feminists continue to be portrayed as androgynous, aggressive, man haters, irrational and over the top in their beliefs, images of extreme sexual objectification are eroding our media and minds. Somewhere along the line it became so common place to see woman objectified in this manner, that to say anything against it was to be accused of being “up tight”, “politically correct” or god forbid, a “feminist”. The strength and determination, which is takes to fight back against such imagery, now so strongly a part of accepted popular culture, is not possessed by those women starving themselves in an attempt to override their natural shape and form.

The fashionable female physique is one that aggressively goes against what her body wants to be. Fat is fertility, and in essence womanhood. Not only does it aesthetically separate us from men, contributing to the softness that cultivates in our curves, but also is essential for conception. It represents the power of the female body. Yet the “ideal” portrayal of womanhood is one of protruding bones, pubescent in appearance. On the other hand, the male ideal encourages strength in muscle, empathising the natural development of a man’s biology. Naomi Woolf argues that when femaleness, in the form of fat, is seen as undesirable, then femaleness itself and womanhood as a whole are equally judged as wrong. So much of the apparent equality we experience is confined to the standards set by men. Feminism is again misrepresented in the belief that equality signifies duplicating male behaviour. Feminism has been twisted to encourage competitiveness, aggression, and the general sense that to be respected by men, we must behave accordingly. This is no more poignant than in the apparently trivial slogan of “girl power” pronounced by the 1990’s pop group, “the spice girls”. When the group were asked what ‘girl power’ meant to them, “Geri” (the “outrageous” red head) responded with:

“Girl power is . . . when you reply to wolf whistles by shouting ‘Get your arse out!”  (Walter 1999).

This offers up a somewhat distorted idea of equality. Once you disregard the unpleasantness of the statement, all that is left is a frighteningly naïve and potentially damaging message. By this interpretation, not only is ‘girl power’ defined by mutual disrespect, but it also opens up the door for increasingly derogative attitudes towards women to go unnoticed. Belittling men in general, however unacceptable, does not have the same political implications as it would, were the same directed at women. The contexts by which men and woman have arrived at their positions in society today are not equal nor the same and therefore the impact of negative treatment cannot be said to be equal either. The devastating abuse women have historically been subjected to, still have its footings deep in society’s unconscious. Reducing women to nothing more than mere stereotypes, even under the pretence of a “joke”, reinforces the unspoken truth left over from past generations, that women are less than. Women’s emaciated, sexualised bodies are used as a devise to make men money, and keep woman in their place. More offensive still is the way in which women’s liberation is used as a justification for these increasingly dehumanised portrayals of woman. We are told that feminism allowed women the right to choose, and yet, watching the average female student, overwhelmed by this apparent choice, they do not look free.


Walter, N (1999) The New Feminism, pg 118, (Virago Press).

Wolf, N (1991) The Beauty Myth: How images of beauty are used against women. (Vintage Publications).