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Breaking: Beth Ditto Is Fat [and she sings, too]!

7 May

I like Beth Ditto. No, seriously! Because she has an awesome voice, and is loud and colorful and smart and funny. Because Gossip make quirky music. Because Gossip isn’t afraid to say they’re a feminist band. Because Ditto is from Arkansas and has had the courage and strength to still be Ditto [trust me, that's a huge accomplishment - I am writing this post at Little Rock].

Also, and this might come as a bit of a shock to some of you, Beth Ditto is fat. Like, FAT. Not curvy, not chubby, not a little on the heavy side, but actually fat. What comes as no surprise in a culture of patriarchal fat-shaming and the enforcement of standardized beauty, Ditto is not known as that great voice from Gossip, or as that woman from Arkansas, or as that black-haired white lady who designs her own clothing, but mostly as that fat girl who sings quite well and wears tight clothing in public despite her weight. *pearl clutch*

You’d think that at some point the novelty would wear off, as I am quite sure that both Beth Ditto and everyone else already know that she is fat (if only because media outlets have been telling people for years now) – but nope. This is Gossip’s eighth album, and still the headlines of magazines’ supposed music reviews read like this one: “The Mega-Madonna“.

Looking on the bright side, one might have thought this could be an ode to the innovative mind or vocal strength of Ditto and not yet another hint at her weight, but: of course not. Andreas Borcholte, a man who has actually studied sociology and yet, seems to be unable to fathom the social dimension of the continuous and rather boring “FAAAAT!!!” puns in this article, cannot but write a “review” in which half of what he has to say about Gossip’s new record circles around Ditto’s weight.

Apparently going for the “How many fat-related word choices can I possibly include”-award [is that a thing? Someone nominate me!], Borcholte commingles Ditto’s music with her weight, calling the singer “weighty”, “opulent”, “Knutschkugel”, gives her height/weight stats, and, oh how very surprising, has to connect Ditto to Adele (because all fat chicks in public know each other or are somewhat alike, right?).  At certain points, he provides a couple of lines about the actual record (*gasp!*), some anecdotes about the band, their views on Madonna, “homosexuality” and subversion, and, finally, a whopping two sentences of actual music evaluation in this review; but: the so very peculiar event here remains Ditto’s fat.

The male* gaze is certainly rather unsubtle in this piece, and the constant exoticization of a fat female public figure whose work can eventually be condensed to her weight, is not less apparent. I guess it is too much to ask of a music critic to write a nuanced piece about the actual music when a non-standardized attraction like Ditto can be gawked at. Thankfully, “Spiegel” linked the entire album – so you can be your own judge. It’s certainly more productive and instructive than reading yet another article about that fat girl who also sings.

Did I mention she was FAT? No, seriously:

Adjust Yourself.

23 Jun

So, one of the reasons I had (and have) to dial down a little on blog posts is that there’s loads of other work to do… Not that I’m actually doing it; I went on holiday to Madrid. And yet – even in between tapas, red wine, glorious sights, handsome men and sunny, summery weather, some people have taken their one chance to piss me off on my last day, when I discovered this in the subway:

That’s right. An advertisement for the gastric band. The poster features a naked fat woman, “Marta”, allegedly 28 years old, an architect and – gasp! – single. The poster goes on to say that Marta has difficulties when it comes to social relations, and that she suffers from joint pain and depression (…in that order). In comes the gastric band: it is advertised as “the definite solution,” and one can pay it off by monthly instalments of 177 Euros…

Seriously. Seriously? Where do I begin… First of all, the mere idea of proactively advertising major abdominal surgery (and yes, whereas surgeons try to perform it as minimally invasive as possible – it is still major abdominal surgery) is just mind-boggling to me. You might as well start to advertise appendectomies (because who needs that little stomp and it’s a preemptive strike, right) or tonsillectomies (which are less invasive than a lap band surgery…). Apparently, being fat is such a horrible state of existence that advertisements like these are totally ethically justified. The European Union has established the imprint of warnings on the mortal danger of smoking on every damn cigarette pack around the continent – and yet, lap band advertisements are completely fine. True, it is probably a lot cleverer not to mention the risks, side effects and the utter uselesness of the gastric band in some cases – probably no one would voluntarily do that to hirself, then.

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Get Your Dogma Off My Cookie.

30 May

Recently, friends of mine told me an anecdote that was supposed to make me laugh (I guess), but was more of (yet) an(other) example to me how beauty standards and misogyny still go so well together:

He (lets call him Tim) and she (lets call her Tom) were working together on updating the university’s noticeboard, when one of the professors came out of his office and wanted to share some cookies with them. Tim (to be polite, as he said) thankfully accepted, but Tom is allergic to wheat, so she declined. You’d think the professor might be able to go on with his day after this, having handed out a cookie, but her response apparently startled him. His go-to-response was: “Ah, sure, you’re trying to watch your diet.”

Tom did not laugh (because she actually did not hear what he said), Tim gave a little chuckle… This made the professor so uncomfortable that he finally buggered off after some awkward seconds. Tim then implicitly told Tom that she was kind of rude and that her behaviour made the professor feel awkward.

As I get annoyed rather easily (…so I’ve been told ;) ), I am naturally annoyed by this – and with reason, I think. I’m also fine with adding that, as a person who has been put on her first diet when she was seven years old (with no eventual benefit whatsoever), I am probably more receptive to this kind of stuff.

Not only was “diet” the first thing that popped into the professor’s head when Tom did not want a cookie, although there is a multitude of explanations available (…maybe Tom does not like cookies, or does not like the professor’s damn cookies, or does not want to eat cookies right now, or has just eaten cookies, or is actually allergic or nauseated or just not in the mood), he actually thought it was worth commenting on her decision; even more so, in a fat-phobic and sexist fashion.

First of all, and most importantly (and I don’t think you can get that message out often enough): A person’s body and (life style) choices are none of your fucking business. Not mine, not yours, not a family’s, community’s, economy’s or of national or even global interest. Don’t get me wrong, certain individual looks, behaviours and choices are most certainly presented as a matter of the public and of policy; many people behave really horribly, downright violently, and have no sense of boundaries when it comes to weight and size. Sometimes things get rather funny and truly preposterous, as the “But I care for these fatties”-tantrum throwing TV chef Jamie Oliver has shown. My personal favourite, however, is the “scientific” revelation that fat people are one of the major causes of global warming and would save the planet if only they’d exercised more – you couldn’t make this shit up…

From Michelle Obama’s war on fatty terror concern for fat children to germany’s federally launched “Fit statt Fett” (“fit instead of fat” – and let me just say: the german word “fett” conveys more negativity than “fat” and is a deliberately derogatory term that could have been replaced by more humane alternatives) campaign, weight is framed as both a concrete political/fiscal and societal/symbolic issue: national security and prosperity vs. decadence and decline; discipline and fiscal success vs. laziness and over spending due to supposedly preventable diseases that allegedly put a stranglehold on health care systems.

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