Monday, 25 October 2010

The X Factor Issue

On Saturday, I returned home from a hard-days’ networking (at Lorlett Hudson’s fabulous ‘One Hand Can’t Clap’ forum) and, rather misguidedly, it turned out, thought to myself “right, time to usher in the weekend with a bit of light entertainment/escapism in the form of X Factor”.

Two-and-a-bit hours later and I was incandescent with rage, somehow resisting the urge to throw my TV out the window, in a rock star type manner.

Apparently, we now live in a time where Zeppellin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’ is a ‘guilty pleasure’ and it’s considered morally and socially acceptable for a contestant to perform it to millions accompanied by a karaoke style backing track, (with a bloke with a fake electric guitar miming to Jimmy Page’s solo). Is there nothing too sacred for Cowell’s empire to tarnish? Apparently not.

Naturally, I spent the next few hours listening to some more obscure tracks from Bowie’s back catalogue, which I was fairly certain X Factor wouldn’t take on, if only because, as one Twitterer aptly observed, the judges have “all the musical knowledge of a slightly stunned earwig”. Two large glasses of chardonnay and several Bowie tracks later, I was pleased to note I had achieved a positively Zen-like state of calmness.

Having established my emotional equilibrium, I got thinking about the Cher Lloyd issue.




Surprisingly, not one of the judges has yet thought to mention the blindingly obvious: i.e. her inability to sing. “I jooost looove watching yers” said Cheryl. Yes, but do we enjoy listening to her? X Factor is, we are reliably informed, after all a singing competition. That’s something it’s easy to forget, what with all the inexplicable fawning over Cher’s “stage presence”, dancing “skills” and ability to be “current”.

What message are we therefore giving the millions of young women who tune into this show every week? Simples:
1. It’s style that’s important, not substance.
2. Lack of talent is nothing when compared to the might of looking like Cheryl Cole and Amy Winehouse’s illegitimate lesbian love child.
3. Styling yourself like an urban Bratz doll is the quick way to get all the attention, adoration and wealth you crave.

By contrast, immensely talented vocalist Rebecca was told “I don’t like what you’re wearing”.

One day, I hope to be cool enough not to care about X Factor. However, the fact remains that, for now at least, it’s a hugely influential part of Cowell’s commercial empire and, as such, should acknowledge some sort of responsibility.

Some might argue, rather tediously, that being a “pop star” doesn’t necessitate top quality vocals, but is in fact about other things entirely. Whilst there is a smidgen of truth in this, that’s no reason to accept the state of affairs. Barry White and Stevie Wonder produced a lot of their own tracks. They composed the melodies, in addition to being able to knock out a lovely vocal. Cheryl Cole simply nicks her hooks off Kelis (the law dictates that I must state here: Allegedly).

Bring back the era of real rock and roll, sez I, where mad, attention seeking outfits and sex appeal were a bi-product of the music. Not only will it be huge step forward in the industry, it’ll contribute significantly and positively to the beauty debate.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

The Stupidest Thing Anyone has Ever Said? Cast Your Votes.....

Last night I indulged my latest addiction by settling down with a cuppa and watching ‘An Idiot Abroad’. Karl Pilkington, that dear dear round-headed Mancunian buffoon said ‘if you’re in a couple, and one of you is ugly and one of you is good-looking, it’s better to be the ugly one, because you get to look at something nice’.

At the time I thought this was the height of nonsensical (but highly amusing) bollocks.

That was until I happened to pick up my flatmate’s Closer Magazine and read:

“With an eating disorder you can get through it using therapy. But when you’re fat, you’re fat for life”.

Yep. Someone actually said that. In print. For all the World to collectively shake their heads in disbelief. Yet more evidence that the World is becoming increasingly bizarre and frightening.

This story was about an obese Mother (Ali Gilardoni) who had put her 8 year old daughter on a strict (and unhealthily restrictive) diet since the age of 2, whilst secretly gorging on junk food herself after putting her daughter to bed. Her justification was that she wanted to prevent her daughter from suffering the same fate of fatness, which she associated with a life sentence of bullying and misery.

Whilst, on the one hand, it is immensely refreshing to see someone acknowledge that it is possible to completely conquer an eating disorder, I’m not entirely sure it should have been stated with such flippancy, and in response to a GP’s advice that her daughter was likely to develop anorexia. The idea that years of anguish, starvation, hospitalisation and lack of energy for life’s pursuits is in any way preferable to being fat is so utterly ridiculous it doesn’t warrant comment.

What does fascinate me, however, is this notion of ‘being fat for life’.

Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being fat and happy. Just as there is nothing wrong with being slender and happy. But, if one is unhappy, one can change one’s diet and exercise habits and, if necessary, one’s mind-set in order to address it. This, surely, is logic. However, this delusional woman seems to live in a World where, once maximum weight has been reached, it can never be reversed, but must always be sustained. Imagine a World in which that was a universal truth…… Imagine what Oprah might look like.

Anyway, I digress. The Mother in question is essentially allowing us an insight into her thought process, in which she is making excuses for the fact that she quite obviously suffers from Compulsive Binge Eating Disorder, which is, in fact an eating disorder.

So, perhaps she should ‘get through it using therapy’? Just a thought.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

20th October 2010 - Body Gossip Your Status Day!

Tomorrow (20th October) is officially ‘Body Gossip Your Status' Day – An all-inclusive, never before trialed cyber event taking place on Facebook and Twitter.

We all have fleeting body-related thoughts, pretty much every minute of the day. Everything from ‘my hair needs cutting’ to ‘my back’s hurting a bit’ – So this is an event that everyone can hop on board with, regardless of gender, race, or location.

Just to pluck an example out of thin air, as I type I am thinking ‘I wish this desk-chair had an inbuilt cushion, it’s hurting my bum bones’. Which has inevitably led to the thought ‘why don’t I have a J-lo/Beyonce style pre-cushioned arse of fabulousness, then I wouldn’t have to worry so much about my upholstery?’. (Also – ‘I bet J-lo doesn’t need that many scatter cushions in her house but has them anyway, for who can resist a scatter cushion and what simpler way is there to transform your home’s interior?’ – Although that’s not strictly body related, just demonstrates my love for cushions – Which I’m fairly certain I genetically inherited from my Mother).

The thought I tend to have every day, though, is how wonderful it feels to be healthy. I can still recall distinctly the feeling of waking up during the bulimia wilderness years, after bingeing and purging the previous day, despite my last ‘episode’ being almost three years ago. The immediate sensation I encountered on those days would be a mixture of shame, exhaustion and dehydration.

There’s a split second when we wake up each morning when we register the physical but our emotions/thoughts have yet to catch-up. Usually, it happens when you’ve split up with your boyfriend, cried yourself to sleep, awake abruptly to the thought ‘what in Bowie’s name is wrong with my eyes and why have they been replaced with tiny balls of fire in my cranium?’ and then suddenly remember ‘oh. That’s right’. A friend of mine was experiencing this on a daily basis, following the termination of her 3 year romance, and found that if she immediately pressed ‘play’ on her CD player, before she had time to wallow in her misery (in which was invariably a Russell Brand audio-book) she could dampen the feelings of dismay, the awful sinking feeling of dread where all her emotions and memories rushed to the surface in a great big tidal wave. (I’m pretty sure that the fact that she’s now convinced Russell is making a momentous mistake marrying Katy Perry on Saturday and that she is, in fact, his one true love is largely unrelated. I think).

A similar thing used to happen to me – I’d open my eyes and think ‘why the pounding head, sore throat and aching limbs. Why the sense of shame?....Oh right’.

If it never rained, we wouldn’t learn to appreciate the sunshine. In a similar way, for the past three years I’ve noted with glee the lack of constant flu-like symptoms, the absence of mental anguish surrounding food and the changes which have occurred in my healthy body. Little things others take for granted, like the presence of brand new, thick hair framing my face, and my nails no longer sporting deep ridges caused my vitamin deficiency, are things I can acknowledge and be grateful for.

I always describe the memories of my eating disorder as being rather like they happened to an old friend – Someone to whom I was very close at the time, but have since lost contact with. In recovering I rediscovered my true self. It’s a shame, then, that the stubborn notion that eating disorders are a life sentence, something to be battled every day, even in recovery, remains ever present. I have encountered some prejudice, in the same way as someone who has a previous drug addiction might, even though it ceases to have any impact of their life today.

So, tomorrow, I’ll be tweeting tweets and facebooking statuses (statii?) of joy, as I contemplate the fact that I can bound out of bed, ready to face the day, every nerve and sinew robust. I can celebrate my abundant curves and my naturally muscular frame. I can make evident my love for my body in its natural and healthy state (bony bottom included).

To get involved in tomorrow’s event, simply tweet of facebook your body gossip and tag #bodygossip. For more information go to www.bodygossip.org.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

The World has Officially Gone Bonkers

I’m having a nervous breakdown. Everything I thought to be righteous and true in life is turning topsy turvy in terrifying, apocalyptic style manner.

First came the news that X Factor contestants are covering David Bowie ‘Heroes’ as this year’s for-a-good-cause-but-still-hugely-manipulative-and-a-bit-rubbish charity single. I fear that combining the entity from which emulates everything which is good about music and life, i.e. Bowie, with the artistic void which is X Factor will inevitably lead to a black hole above the universe and we are all destined for obliteration. Apparently, also Simon Cowell is badgering Bowie to appear on the show. In the eventuality that this travesty against everything occurs, we can only hope that Dave does the ‘Bing Crosby/Kenny Everett alien death stare of coldness’ throughout (hard core Bowie fans will know exactly what I mean). The whole concept is enough to drive one to despair.

Anyway, all this has little to do with the beauty debate (issue of Bowie being genuinely original in seemingly just feeling like donning bizarre garb, unwittingly creating media frenzy and every artist since copying this by deliberately attempting to be outrageous aside). The news that has really affected the sphere of body confidence is the recent story of Christina Hendricks going on a diet.



Now, as those who know me can testify, I am an assured woman, confident in the fabulousness of my curvaceous attractiveness. However, the Hendricks news has induced some genuine insecurity. For, if the one size 14 role model in Hollywood has felt such immense pressure as to compel her into starvation, what hope is there for the rest of us?

I’m simply baffled. Why? A quick straw poll of my male acquaintances revealed her to be, without exception, the most lusted-after starlet since Marylin Monroe. Why the quest for androgyny? Why diminish one’s sex appeal? The only response I can reasonably fathom is that Hollywood is so calculating and evil it’s caused her to take leave of her senses.

Christina, in the extremely unlikely event that you happen to be reading this – For the love of everything DON’T DO IT. Millions of curvy (read: curvy, NOT fat) women throughout the Globe will be left disillusioned and you will be left considerably less fabulous. (Also, I will be very upset).

Awaiting news now: “Nigella Lawson slimmed down to size 8 reveals new streamlined shape shocker”. That really would clinch it. Think I need a little lie down…….

Friday, 15 October 2010

Size 16 - What Does it Mean?



This is me. My name is Natasha Devon and I am a SIZE 16.

Michael McIntyre does a hilarious sketch with a (perhaps unwittingly) serious message, involving his wife becoming increasingly alarmed, distressed and aggressive, as she ‘changes size’ from one shop to the next. “She stays the same size” he declares, bemused, “but in one shop she will be a size 8 and then it’s a good day. Yet in the next she might be a 12, and then we have to go home”.

Whilst men might be baffled by this phenomenon, it’s something most women can relate to. Taking a philosophical standpoint (as is my wont), the whole idea of approximating one’s body shape to the nearest pre-defined set of stats and declaring oneself to be ‘that size’ is a bizarre ritual. The sort of thing that would perplex aliens, should we happen to be under extra-terrestrial observation.

Clothes, after all, are meant to fit our bodies and yet, as times have moved on from the bespoke era (a marvellous, Jane Austin style time where everyone’s clothes were made to measure – How I’d like to usher those days back in, if only to stamp out once and for all the Era of the Muffin Top), we’ll hear women screech ‘I want to get back down to a size 10!’ in tones of abject despair. Yet size 10, as the experience of McIntyre’s wife testifies, is an abstract, ever changing and unregulated ideal. So what is it exactly we are working towards?

In the World of Fashion, sizes are a little more finite, strict – Fascist, even. They have remained staunchly unchanged since earliest memory. Hence why my extremely slender former catwalk model mother still refers to herself as a size 12-14, even though the most perfunctory of visual assessments would place her at no more than a 10 on the High Street.

Hence, also, why I will always refer to myself as a Size 16, which is usually met with gasps of disbelief. I’ve realised that the perceived notion of a size 16 differs somewhat from the ideal as it stands in my head. For me, being 5 foot 10 and a size 16 means I have nicely proportioned curves. I see no shame in the admission whatsoever. Yet, for Joe Public, a size 16 seems to evoke images of Rubenesque decadence.

I asked a friend of mine (who shall remain nameless owing to her somewhat controversial opinion) her thoughts on this issue. “It’s because” she said with some vehemence “fat women always say they are a size 16, even when they’re blatantly about a size 24”. So is it, perhaps that a size 16 is the last socially acceptable size before the official and dreaded ‘obese’ classification? Interesting theory.….

Trinny and Suzannah once did a show where they invited (I think) 100 women into a room who all believed they were a size 16. They varied wildly, and not just because of the height factor. Yet, as discussed, there are no regulating bodies, it’s not like a driving licence where you have to go and take a test before you can declare yourself a size 16, so really it was more a reflection on where they shopped than any sort of self-delusion.

Last night I had a first date with a guy I’d spoken to on the phone a few times. He, naturally enough, had asked on the telephone what I did for a living and, in my response I mentioned that I do occasional plus-size modelling. He, rather normally for a bloke, had no idea what that meant, so I had to elaborate and I said I was a size 16.

During our date, he confessed that he had a totally different idea of what I would look like in the flesh (hence me waving at him frantically from the entrance of Spittlefields Market for a few seconds while he looked at me in a confused manner when we first met). “But…..there’s nothing of you really” he said (using an endearing, times-gone-by style phrase), “the way you describe yourself, I expected you to be, well, big. Not that that would have been a problem” he added, manfully.

The next 30 minutes were spent with me trying, moderately successfully, to convince him that I don’t suffer from body dysmorphia. I stopped just short of showing him the ‘size 16’ label on my coat – One must not resort to empirical evidence when the cunning weaving of words will do just as well. “A plus sized model is just a normal-sized person” I explained “that’s why it was so stupid when they wouldn’t let us model clothes (which are designed for normal people)”.

As anyone who regularly reads my blogs will know, even if someone does fit the pre-existing notion of a size 16 person (as encapsulated by the recent MP calling another MP an elephant debacle – anyone who read the story will catch my drift), that doesn’t prevent the possibility that they are completely, mesmerizingly, fantazmororically beautiful, in my mind. Fat and beautiful are not opposing concepts as far as I’m concerned. Kate Moss is beautiful. So is Dawn French. So are about a gazillion women whose size falls somewhere in-between.

As my (fat, beautiful) cousin pointed out the other evening, the problem with our society essentially boils down to the fact that when an anorexic says “I can’t eat this quarter of an orange, I’ll get fat” our default response is “no you won’t”, when in fact it should be “and what’s so wrong with that?”.

So perhaps the solution is to ban all talk of sizes, for, as evidenced by my experience last night, it’s essentially meaningless and gives no indication of how you’re perceived by others. All I can declare with certainty is that to me, size 16 is a fabulous thing.

Monday, 11 October 2010

To Have and to Hold.....

Yesterday, a friend asked me a bizarre, nonsensical and utterly baffling question. “Do you want to get married one day?,” she asked. For a split second I thought she might be proposing;, that her panic at her impending 30-and-single status and the apparent non-existence of any normal single men in the World had driven her to lesbianism. But no, upon further examination it transpired that she meant exactly what she said – Did I want to get married one day?

‘To whom?’ I enquired. ‘Whoever’ she said. ‘You know, someone’.

‘But……’ I responded, brows knitted in earnest ‘….I’m not even seeing anyone’.

‘Yeah….but…. Do you want to get married? One day? To someone’.

After several minutes of this seemingly impenetrable conversational loop we established that she perceived marriage as a stand-alone ambition. Something one worked towards. Like becoming an Executive, or travelling round the Globe. I differ somewhat fundamentally, in that I always envisaged that, in the eventuality of my entering into nuptials, I’d meet someone and think ‘I’d rather like to marry YOU’. To me, marriage is person-subjective. But, it seems, if the evidence of my mate is anything to go by, a lot of women are walking around nurturing the idea that THEY WANT TO GET MARRIED.

I’m intrigued. How do these women function, cerebrally? What’s it like in their universe? Are they constantly assessing every man they encounter, thinking ‘ooooh, I could marry you’, or not, as the case may be? The mind boggles.
Anyway, the entire conversation got me thinking, unusually, about wedding dresses and their implication for the body confidence debate.

Now, I’m aware that there are lots of different types of wedding dresses and what I am about to say may potentially be a hugely offensive mass generalisation, but one can only speak from experience.

The reason I have a fundamental objection to the prevailing wedding dress trends is this – They are designed to conform to the generally quite patriarchal structure of a bygone society, as is in fact the entire traditional wedding ceremony. “Giving the bride away?” suggests that she is property to be passed ceremonially from one man to another like cattle. “Love, honour and obey” – Obey? Hardly words inspired by enlightening times.

The strapless bodice and enormous great puffy skirt trend instantly transforms the most independent, capable woman into someone who has all the appearance of a six year old at her first tea party. Fairy princess chic is a contradiction in terms, as far as I’m concerned.

If life takes me on a meeting-someone-suitable-for-marriage type trajectory, I envisage myself wearing something that makes me look like a formidable Amazonian Goddess Queen type person. That makes me look like a grown up. For pledging your life to someone by means of a legally binding contract is a really rather grown up thing to do.

I saw a grown-up vision of resplendent elegance in a Bride once. Admittedly, she was my mother, who I can confidently assert shares at least some of my views on the whole marriage issue. She got her dress from Bodice and Bustle, a boutique run by a woman so devoted to finding you a flattering dress and, more crucially, fitting it correctly (if you will insist on the six year old at a tea party look it is at least important to NOT look as though you borrowed the dress from your Mum), I have my doubts as to whether she ever sleeps.

So, brides to be, do it for me – I want to start a revolution with this blog – A trend for women who look like women when they marry their dream man (or, at least, a half decent man, if you’re the ‘I want to get married’ type). A protest against all the androgynous, little-girl-lost images we’re so used to seeing in fashion and therefore shouldn’t be seeing in aisles up and down the country. Go to www.bodiceandbustle.com