On 3rd December 2009, an article appeared in the Daily Mail which amounted to a scathing and very personal attack on the lovely Ms French for daring to be proud of her fatness.
Whilst there was perhaps some validity in the journalists’ assertion that Dawn cannot call for fat jokes to be banned when she owes a proportion of her career to them, I cannot agree that she is a “bad” role model for young women.
Dawn has carved a hugely successful niche for herself, despite not conforming to the identikit Barbie-style sociological ideal of beauty which has prevailed for so long. She has done so by being talented, witty, intelligent, caring, funny and self deprecating – qualities which I could confidently assert most of us would want to encourage in our children. She is a welcome breath of fresh air in the entertainment industry, an exception to the rule and that is why the weight of counterbalancing the current trend for thinness falls on her shoulders and she is allowed to be a little radical in her views.
In addition to the brilliantly satirical French and Saunders and her other television projects, she is a fantastic writer and has designed a range of flattering, fashionable and altogether gorgeous designs for larger women in an effort to banish the days when anyone over a size 16 was forced to hide in a sack-like smock of a thing, eschewing glamour and embracing shame.
She celebrates her size and makes no apologies for it and, let’s face it, whilst her particular shape might not be the healthiest, I don’t imagine that hoards of teenage girls are going to be looking sorrowfully at their bodies and eating thousands of cream cakes in an attempt to emulate her look every time she appears on TV, the way they vow never to let another morsel of food pass their lips every time they catch sight of Cheryl Cole or Kate Moss. Dawn’s images are not plastered all over the walls of eating disorder clinics up and down the country and her words are not repeated like mantras by those whose life’s ambition it has become to recreate her look, unlike other celebrities I could mention.
If Dawn disappeared from the public eye overnight, we would not see a steep decline in obesity rates in this country. Obesity exists. It's not ideal but it does. And saying that we do not want to see an example of obesity in the form of Dawn on our television screens is not only denying a large percentage of the population a fabulous role model but is also the adult equivalent of sticking one's fingers in one's ears and saying "la-la-la-la-la not listening".
If you choose to be overweight, or have a larger shape due to a medical condition, Dawn presents an empowering role model that inspires confidence and happiness. She demonstrates that fat and beautiful are not mutually exclusive. And for every Dawn there are a hundred bony, botoxed, plastic princesses. The fact that Dawn’s comments have caused such scandal is testament to the fact she has become so respected, against all odds. And what can we say to that other than “good for her”?
Dawn's stance is reactionary. If we were not all so obsessed with her size and let her get on with being the brilliant and talented woman she is, she would not have to defend herself with potentially offensive comments. Lest we forget, Kate Moss' recent comment – "nothing tastes as good as skinny feels" was in responce to the question "what is your motto?". Her motto in LIFE. Not with particular regard to her appearance but generally. Her answer is a sad testament to the extent to which Kate's physique is the sum of her parts. I highly doubt Dawn's life motto would relate to her physical appearance in any way. She has far too many other attributes and concerns.
I am left with the question, though – What about the huge spectrum of beauty in the middle? Most of us are somewhere between Kate Moss and Dawn French and to whom do we turn for a positive and inspiring role model? One might cite Beyonce or Jennifer Lopez and whilst I applaud the manner in which they fly the flag for the curvacious, they are still far tinier than you could ever imagine in the flesh and still devote a huge and disproportionate chunk of their lives to maintaining their physique. Like the Clover advert says “it’s great in the middle” and the middle is being neglected. The middle needs to be represented and given a voice.
Please visit www.bodygossip.org and join the revolution.