Today I read a review of Holly Baxter and Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett’s The Vagenda. I have not yet read the book itself, which is aimed primarily at young women. I probably will read it at some point, but for the time being I’ve decided I don’t have to. A man has read the book and offered his own view on womankind’s relationship with popular culture. This has got to be better than anything some stupid Grazia subscriber might think.

David Aaranovitch is not a young woman. He does, however, have daughters. What’s more, he is known to have existed in the proximity of women for most of his life. He walks amongst them, observing their curious ways and idiosyncrasies. Who better, then, to report back to the rational masses on the enigma that is Women Who Do Stupid Things That Facilitate Their Own Oppression? (more…)

This year my New Year’s resolution is the same as it has been for every other year: become perfect. Be true to yourself while ensuring that everyone likes you, lose weight while simultaneously developing a healthy attitude to body shape and food, develop comfort in your own skin while also stopping ageing in its tracks, always be right while maintaining the humility to know you could be wrong, be Yoda-like in your wisdom, bend time and space, become immortal, that sort of thing. The usual.

When it comes to resolutions, I am extreme. What is the point if you’re not going to be? Make your resolution too much of a SMART objective and you might even stick to it, and where would be the fun in that? The whole point of resolutions — and of womanhood, I’m increasingly inclined to believe — is to be a self-flagellating work in progress. You’re rubbish now but tomorrow you might not be (that said, you’re also obliged to live in the moment, so don’t get too carried away).

It often feels to me that New Year’s Resolutions are merely an extension of women’s glossy culture. Or maybe it’s the other way round? Either way, there’s a great deal of similarity to the way in which the likes of Glamour, Marie Claire and Elle tell you that “your best body ever” is just around the corner and the way in which the new year is meant to make self-control and perfection suddenly attainable. You’re meant to spend each month, each year, convinced that this is the very last one in which you’ll be such a total failure. You’re getting better, you are! Nearly there, just one more push … And then it gets too late and you die and the only consolation is that at this point, you genuinely will lose weight.

I know people who don’t read rubbish magazines make resolutions too. I know it’s human nature to always be dissatisfied in oneself and want to change, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The alternative — wandering through life thinking that you are flawless — would be insufferable (that said there will always be an article ordering you to “love yourself” in between all those shiny pages telling you how useless you are). But our expectations of ourselves are beyond ridiculous and the irony is, the more we hate ourselves, the more we end up behaving as though we’re the only people who matter. There’s no time to be kind when you’re busy being cruel to yourself, no space for perspective on world poverty when you’re battling with a self-imposed hunger strike. This is the case even if your resolutions are broken by January 2nd. You now have a huge expanse of time in which you could be looking outwards but instead you turn inwards, asking yourself why you aren’t a better person (the answer is that better people don’t dwell on why they’re not better people but just get on with it. Now there’s another meta-worry for us all).

I did have one year when I stuck to my resolutions. Never again. I was fifteen and filled a whole exercise book with statements of what I would and wouldn’t do for the new year, divided into subsections such as Food, Exercise, Social Life, Charity Work, Cultural Awareness and GCSEs (yes, I know. Even I worried about it at the time). I did not spend the year being a paragon of virtue. I spent it being a miserable sod who did the bare minimum of everything I’d set myself, with no time for anything else (and actually, I broke one of the resolutions anyhow, which was “be much more relaxed about everything”). Perhaps if I’d stopped to think that for once I was actually doing all the things I’d set myself, I’d have been filled with a profound Weltschmerz. Thankfully at least that didn’t happen because I had always had next year’s resolutions to plan.

Obviously I’m never going to resolve not to make resolutions, because that is terminally naff, not to mention difficult, because how can you be sure something isn’t a resolution and just a plan? There’s always going to be something worth doing to make yourself less of a loser. But I do wonder about this endless wallowing in the impossibility of being you and the need to change. Surely there’s a better way? Once I’m perfect I will tell you what it is.

As the magazine More! is about to close, I decided to buy a copy. I’m pretty sure I bought the first ever edition so it seemed fitting to be there at the end. I haven’t bought it much in the intervening 25 years – and for that my sexual repertoire will no doubt have suffered – but I felt it might be interesting to see what the magazine’s like now. Short answer: still crap.

Long answer: possibly even worse than it was before. I don’t know for sure. I was twelve when More! was launched and while I didn’t religiously follow all the advice the glossies threw my way, I didn’t actively question it, either. I absorbed it passively, as you do when you’re working on the assumption that there’s lots of adult stuff out there which might look weird but that’s only because you don’t get it yet. Sometimes you question it, briefly, but ultimately hurry back to acceptance. After all, who are you to know better? I remember watching James Bond films in the 1980s, disturbed by the fact that it looked as though the Roger Moore character was raping women but concluding that he couldn’t be because mainstream films, like glossy magazines, are “proper”. And after all, this is 007 and he’s a goodie, isn’t he? Now I’m older I ask questions more, but to a certain extent I still have to force myself to do it. If everyone else appears to think something is acceptable, it feels arrogant to argue otherwise.
(more…)

Every now and then, fashion-y  types decide that the most fashionable thing ever is to pretend to be anti-fashion. Witness, for instance, the so-called “anti-fashion” movement of the 1990s (which, from what I can work out from Wikipedia, involved dressing as though you were either very poor or in a CK One advert, providing you were both thin and not actually poor). I’ve always thought this kind of thing was not just bollocks, but snobby bollocks, the kind of thing a manipulative playground bully would try on (“wear this! Ha-ha! Fooled ya! What we actually meant was wear the precise opposite! It’s un-fashion!”). But hey, what do I know? I’m properly unfashionable, as opposed to being fashionably unfashionable, which is something completely different. (more…)

Equalities minister Jo Swinson, co-founder of the Campaign for Body Confidence, has written an open letter to magazine editors, asking them all to avoid “the reckless promotion of unhealthy solutions to losing weight”. I’ll be honest – this really annoys me, and not simply because I’ve got billions of unhealthy solutions to losing weight to promote, just in time for the new year. I mean, if you’re interested, I’ll have you know that all of mine work. Indeed, on several occasions I lost so much weight I ended up being hospitalised. Plus I can always think up more (it’s just a matter of getting the right combination of not eating enough and brainwashing yourself into thinking that feeling cold, miserable and obsessed with food is acceptable as a constant state). Anyhow, that’s not the thing that’s annoying me the most. The truth is, I don’t want Jo Swinson, or anyone else in a position of authority, telling women how to feel about their bodies. It’s just none of their business. (more…)

It has come to my attention that Chantelle Houghton is struggling to lose her “baby weight”. Chantelle – the woman famous for not being famous, and hence a postmodern symbol for something or other – features on the covers of New! and Now, looking like a normal person with a stomach and therefore totally rubbish. New magazine even quotes her as saying “this is the worst time of my life – I can’t stop comfort eating”.  If, like me, you happen to clock this headline while on your way to purchasing something far more serious (such as cheesecake), you’d be forgiven for thinking “well boo sodding hoo! Some of us have real problems” (such as the absence of cheesecake). In the grand scheme of things, Chantelle’s belly is a non-issue, so why am I still thinking about it at all?

Magazine covers such as these ones really piss me off. They’re sexist, spiteful and bullying. They’re also meant to be trivial, yet they don’t feel trivial to me. There’s something deeply wrong with an environment in which these images and headlines are peddled as entertainment. Moreover, the effect such magazines can have on the self-esteem of young women can be appalling. I think all this yet I don’t bother to say it very often. Mention it and you just get dragged into a debate about the legitimacy of caring at all. (more…)

When modern life started getting her down, Jessica Brinton refused to pop Prozac. Instead she decided to get spiritual and went on an energy odyssey.

Sunday Times Style supplement, 12/08/12

It’s been almost a month since I started ‘popping’ Prozac again and I’ll be honest: I have no idea what effect it’s having. I still have feelings that I wouldn’t even want to blog about, but then I don’t know how bad I’d feel without the pills. So I’ll keep on ‘popping’, as it were, while still attempting to make those “positive lifestyle changes which help boost self-esteem” (Step 1: avoid all magazine articles which include the phrase “positive lifestyle changes which help boost self-esteem”). (more…)

I am having a moral dilemma. Well, to be honest, it’s not much of a dilemma. I know I am doing something morally unacceptable. I’m just trying to work out how prepared I am to do something about it.

I do try to be good. Whatever else I might think about myself – that I’m unattractive, stupid, lazy – I would like to think I try to do the right thing. For years, however, I have attempted to convince myself that part of doing the right thing involves getting over-familiar those who do the wrong thing. And thus I’ve sought to justify endless hours spent reading hateful nonsense, both online and in hard copy. (more…)

If seeing pictures of skinny models in magazines makes you feel fat and ugly, please don’t blame the mags. The person you need to hold responsible is actually your mum. This, at least, is what September’s issue of Glamour would like you to believe. It is of course complete and utter crap, but you may well think it anyhow. After all, these magazines always catch you when you’re at your weakest.

Once you’ve ploughed through page after page telling you that you’re eating the wrong foods, wearing the wrong clothes and buying the wrong beauty products, what are the odds on you challenging the idea that you’re thinking the wrong thoughts, too? Not very high, I’d say. That’s why pieces such as Dawn Porter’s “Self-esteem? It’s kids’ stuff” come along and kick you when you’re down (while simultaneously berating you for not getting right back up again). Yes, Porter’s written yet another of those articles which are all about YOU and why YOU need to feel GOOD about YOURSELF and why aren’t YOU doing it yet? Go on, get on with it. Stop feeling shit about yourself RIGHT THIS MINUTE! (more…)

You know that thing you have, when you think you’re fat and ugly and totally unfit to be seen in public? Well, here’s some news: it never, ever ends.

Like me, you might have thought there’d be some vaguely-defined point – getting thin, finding your own style, meeting your Fairy Godmother – when it would get sorted. But no. Sorry. Feel shit now? It’s quite possible that you always will. Why did you ever think it would stop?

You may have counted on the ageing process to put everything in perspective. God knows, this is what I’ve been placing my bets on. I thought that once I actually looked the way I half-think I look anyhow, I’d be forced to accept it at last. Turns out I was wrong. According to Professor Nicola Rumsey, co-director of the University of West England’s Centre for Appearance Research (which is, one imagines, one massive lab lined with mirrors), older people remain as hung up on their appearance as the rest of us. In fact, once you start getting proper wrinkles, as opposed to “first signs of ageing” mini-creases, the way you feel can get worse. You don’t just think “ah, fuck it, battle’s already lost!”, which is certainly what I’d hoped. Quoted in The Observer, Rumsey says the following:

It can cause substantial distress to look in the mirror and see an ageing body, especially if [people] have very visible conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or an obvious skin condition, for example, yet in the UK we can be very dismissive of what is often construed as vanity. GPs are not trained to deal with the psychological impact of these anxieties, which can have a significant influence on overall wellbeing.

Well. How’s that for a total fucker? I’m scared enough of death itself. Now I’ll be torturing myself on my deathbed for wasting not half my life, but my whole life worrying about my appearance. Plus I’ll still be worrying about it then, and about whether the morphine’s making my complexion look even worse.

This is such a contrast to the usual message we hear. Plonked in the midst of a youth-obsessed culture, magazines such as Good Housekeeping and Woman and Home present us with “well-preserved” women in their forties and fifties claiming that they’ve never felt better. They’re now comfortable in their own skins, and don’t put themselves under the same pressures any more. Those “mature skin” serums that are being advertised on the following pages? Well, don’t take them seriously. The magazine editors don’t. They’re just suggesting you part with fifty quid for the sheer hell of it.

My nan is in her nineties. She swears that she got this far by dyeing her hair (it’s deep red and it’s ace). She still cares about how she looks. I’ve always known this, yet I’ve considered it something of an anomaly. I’ve always looked at her and thought “she looks good, but when I’m her age I’ll just be stuffing myself on Werther’s”. Except now it seems entirely plausible that I won’t.

Why can’t being old enable one to put things in perspective? I mean, I could try to put things in perspective now, I suppose. But it’s too hard! I thought you magically got perspective upon hitting 60! And I thought this applied to everything! Love, money, career, all of it – I want to stop giving a shit, albeit without it involving any actual effort on my part! I thought the simple fact of getting older would do it. It’s sooooo not fair! *teenage stomp*

I am so pissed off about this. It’s all such a total swizz, this life business. A total swizz, and then you just cease being. Actually, that sounds quite philosophical, for me. Maybe I will buck the trend after all.

From the perspective of an arts scholar, I’ve long considered Back For Good to be one of the most hugely overrated songs in Take That’s back catalogue. There is one line in particular which I hold responsible: “Got your lipstick mark still on your coffee cup”. You hear it for the first time and think ooh, that’s poignant. It‘s those little things that remind him of what he’s lost. If, however, you listen to it enough times, you’ll come to the same conclusion I have. Lipcote was available in the mid-1990s. Failing that she could have just wiped it off with her finger, as any normal person would. Gary Barlow’s ex was just inconsiderate.

One thing I hadn’t considered before, though (until my partner pointed it out to me), was just how rubbish the song is by way of an apology:

Whatever I said, whatever I did, I didn’t mean it

I just want you back for good

(want you back, want you back)

See I want you back for good

Now as far as I understand it, a prerequisite for being sorry is knowing what you’ve done wrong in the first place. “Whatever I said, whatever I did”? What does that even mean? Is it “sleeping with a best mate” sorry, or just “not taking the rubbish out” sorry? These things actually matter. If you think you can just offer a blanket “sorry” (while making your self-serving motivations clear enough in the very next line), well, that’s not good enough. After all, if, potentially, you didn’t mean anything you said or did, does anything you say or do now mean anything also? What about the bit about wanting your ex back for good? Or even the bit about not meaning the bits before? It’s not quite the Cretan Liar Paradox, but we’re getting there. Crikey, the more I think about it, the more I’d be tempted to leave Max Factor on the crockery and get the hell out of there, too.

Before we leave it at that, though, I’ve found an apology that’s even more of an apology for an apology than that previous apology was. This time it’s not from Gary and the boys. It’s from ex-editor of Loaded Martin Daubney. This time it’s so bad it’s not even laughable. In fact, it’s made me really rather cross.

Daubney was the longest-serving editor of shit magazine Loaded, before he stepped down due to the magazine being sold, sorry, for moral reasons, back in July 2010. Since then he’s come to regret his involvement in peddling soft-porn misogyny and has given all of his ill-gotten gains to charity. Oh, hang on, he hasn’t done that. He’s sold his story to the Daily Mail (click on the link for the article, plus some tit-tastic Loaded covers included for illustrative purposes only i.e. wanking over them just wouldn’t be in the spirit of things). Anyhow, while what Daubney’s written for the Mail is an apology, turns out it’s not one for being a misogynist bastard. It’s an apology for sexual objectification, hardcore porn and rape. And since it’s in the Daily Mail and not in Loaded, it’s far more damaging this time because there are still people actually reading it.

Daubney’s “Loaded is shit” epiphany came, he claims, when his son was born (the magazine having dwindling sales is just a coincidence). Clearly, one needs to be a parent to have any empathy at all. Obviously, I was a right bitch, too, until the arrival of Eldest (if you’re reading this and you’re not a parent, well, I’m sorry; you can’t have any morals yet). Anyhow, prior to the arrival of Sonny, Daubney was a horrible person. I guess you have to be to edit Loaded. It’s not just the content and its crass objectification of women. It’s the editorial view of the clients:

The average Loaded reader — largely white, working class, 20-something blokes — had a simple palate, so we gave them what they wanted.

Ha ha! “Sitting around a boardroom table with six other university-educated men”, Daubney treated women like shit to produce shit to sell to men he viewed as shit. Wow. There’s an awful lot of shit there. But, not being a parent yet, he didn’t notice.

It’s not that no one tried to point this out to him:

Pretty soon, we were accused of being pornographic, and there wasn’t a month when a minor Lib Dem MP or feminist lobby group didn’t try to make a name for themselves by demanding we were placed on the top shelf, or banned altogether.

This is rather marvelous, isn’t it? Anyone who said Loaded was sexist at the time was clearly motivated by nothing more than nasty self-interest. This, remember, is being suggested in Daubney’s retraction of his former ways. How could he have known the damage he was doing when the only people who made a fuss had ulterior motives? You know how it is; the number of perks and bonuses that come with being a high-profile feminist, it all gets confusing. Just ask Andrea Dworkin (oh no, she’s dead. Was it the life of unremitting luxury that got to her?).

So how would having a child change all this for Daubney? Well, it enabled him to stop seeing women as mere objects; now he could see them as possessions and/or the objects of their own children’s gaze!

I started seeing the women in my magazine not as sexual objects, but as somebody’s daughter. Some of Loaded’s models had children themselves, and I’d think ‘what’s your kid going to think of you when they’re old enough to understand Mummy used to get her boobs out for a living?’

To think that the girls who posed for our magazine had once had their nappies changed, had once been taught to take their first steps and had once been full of childlike hope . . . it was almost heartbreaking.

To be honest, I find the whole “had their nappies changed” bit getting towards a whole new level of perviness, but I’d rather not get into it here. The basic point is, Daubney’s “transformation” has fuck all to do with starting to see women as people. As an anti-objectification message, it was already summed up in 1982, when The J. Geils Band released My Angel is the Centrefold (‘my blood runs cold, my memory has just been sold’ – I’ve actually posted about this song before, what with it being one of the worst in human history). This, pretty much, captures the whole of the Daily Mail anti-objectification message. It’s not because women deserve respect; it’s because these tits need saving for their rightful male owners.

And yet, this isn’t the worst of what Daubney is saying. Not by a long shot. Not only does he underplay the sheer nastiness of his magazine, he also overplays its influence, dreaming up a post-Loaded society in which hardcore porn is the norm and women are abused because hey, the poor men can’t help it. The real victims of Loaded are not, apparently, women, but the helpless boys who will grow up to assault them:

How will these tainted children be able to interact with real women later in life if the first ones they ‘meet’ are on-screen mannequins? By allowing children free access to pornographic images, the next generation of young men are becoming so desensitised, I genuinely fear we’re storing up an emotional time-bomb.

Porn objectifies women, demeans and cheapens them, because it sells a fantasy where men are always in control and get what they want.

But real life isn’t like that. In porn, women cry, ‘yes, yes, yes!’ but in real life, they often say, ‘no’. Not all men have the intelligence or moral fortitude to understand they cannot take what they want.

Fuck off, you useless, hateful man! Abusive, misogynistic porn is not all around us. Where we find it, feminists call it out (and not, you’d be surprised to know, to get some kind of status boost, or even the payment you’d get for your average Daily Mail article. Just because it’s, y’know, wrong). Not one of us shrugs our shoulders and says “crikey, since it’s this bad, looks like rape’s an inevitability and it won’t now be the perpetrator’s fault”. Not one of us talks about “an emotional time-bomb”, not least because many of us, like you, are parents of little boys. We don’t think of them as “tainted children”. We think of them as people and teach them that women are people, too.

How dare Martin Daubney overplay the power he had and misused. Sales of magazines such as the one he used to edit are falling rapidly. Hence we also see Terri White, former editor of Nuts, providing her own crappy (but less damaging) mea culpa in the Guardian. Why don’t they all piss off? There’s plenty of intelligent and committed people prepared to take on misogynistic porn for the right reasons. We don’t need Daubney, White and their two-faced apologies (although perhaps they do need the money now they’re no longer the top porn peddlers in town).

Gah! I am actually pretty fucking furious about this. Need to calm down a bit. Will think of Take That.

[5 mins “quiet time”]

Ah, yes, anyhow, another rubbish line in Back For Good is that one about how “we will never be uncommon again”. Has anyone, ever, used that phrase in real life? I also don’t like the bit about “in the twist of separation, you excelled at being free” as it makes me think of the eHarmony ads.

And you? Which bits of Back For Good irritate you most? On a scale of Shine to vaguely listenable, how bad is it really? And, most importantly, how much would you just want to explode if you ever came face to face with Martin Daubney?

PS And another thing: Gary Barlow doesn’t sing the song properly because I’ve now had two comments correcting my rendering of the first offending lyric (amendments duly made). Barlow needs to enunciate properly!

Not a joke title, btw. There is, quite seriously, a very good piece in the June edition of Glamour, and by that I don’t mean one of those ‘serious’ articles about depression or domestic violence ( i.e. the ones which still manage to be shit but which you don’t really want to criticise for fear of looking like a knob). This is a Glamour article on Glamour issues and it genuinely is great. This is perhaps because it’s written by Zoe Williams, who is quite far from being your usual Glamour writer.

In the piece, Williams tries to live like a celebrity for a week. So far, so potentially annoying. She does all the “celebrity” stuff like having a personal trainer, getting acupuncture, eating “special” food etc. At this point it really doesn’t sound good. It all sounds like an excuse for a journalist to piss about, really. Or for one of them to get all ‘Louis Theroux’ and take ‘a sideways look’ at the crazy world of celebrity rituals. Yet Williams doesn’t do either of these things. She has fun, a bit, but overall seems to find it all a bit sad and pointless, and she makes it obvious to the reader why that might be so (far more eloquently than Britney Spears did with that terrible ‘Lucky’ song, where the superstar ‘cries in her lonely world’ and pisses off everyone in the entire Cosmimegaverse).

Williams discovers that her entire time as a ‘celebrity’ is devoted to how she looks:

In other words, just getting into the kind of condition to do a job that requires you to look like this is, in itself, a full-time job. Then I suppose you’d spend a few months doing your actual job, by which time you’d be back to square one.

Put that way, I’d prefer some half-hearted, ineffectual faffing around with my new Bad Gal mascara (free with the magazine!) before getting on with my day. Because yes, celebrities look better than I do (generally), but they probably don’t feel any better:

But in the end, it’s not the effort or the time so much as the sheer anxiety about your appearance that I think would get you down. There’s no escaping it; you cannot look rubbish, not even for a minute […] There is so much pampering and attention, that in the end you’d either have to give in to it and believe you were that important, or you’d have to reject it, and not believe anything anyone said. It’s a bit of a stark choice.

To sum up, Williams simply says “I don’t think it’s much fun”. Which is sad given that the rest of this month’s Glamour is devoted to the magazine’s Women of the Year, women such Amanda Holden, Kylie Minogue, Fearne Cotton, Holly Willoughby, Lea Michele and Eva Longoria, ie women who are no doubt having precisely the utterly not-fun time that Williams describes so well (Caitlin Moran is also a Woman of the Year, but she’s the exception that proves the rule. God, I hate it when people use that expression).

I’ve often suspected that being a female celebrity feels rubbish due to the focus on appearance, but the thing I’ve always dwelt on is the hunger. Being celebrity-thin has to involve thinking about food pretty much all the time. I wonder how celebrities maintain relationships since being so skinny must kill a person’s sex drive (perhaps that’s the real reason for so many divorces). To be honest, I wonder how celebrities do anything. And up till now I hadn’t even considered all the other ‘appearance’ bollocks.

Obviously there are still times when I imagine myself being famous. But I would, quite clearly, have to be a) talented, and b) a celebrity minger, as it’s the only way I’d be able to cope. But then being a minger would have to be a central part of my celebrity. It would make me “down to earth” and into someone who “doesn’t care” about what her detractors say. I’d have to be a sodding role model, but then I’d also get lumped together with people as diverse as Ann Widdecombe and Beth Ditto as someone who “dares to challenge the beauty status quo”. Because just looking the way I look, right now, would be a political act if I was doing anything at all of note. And when you look at it like that, being ugly and famous is probably just as much effort as being beautiful and famous, only in a different way.

Hence this, and not being talented, is why I’m not being famous. I’m just going to stay here, sitting on the sofa with my netbook, while my three-year-old feeds me ice-cream (it’s important I eat it; I’m the first customer at his ‘shop’). Unfortunately I think that, just a moment ago, he also fed me a bit of snot. I bet that never happens to Amanda Holden. So yeah, famous or not famous; I guess it’s just swings and roundabouts.

All my life I’ve been looking for a reason to criticise Emma Thompson. It’s not right; it’s not fair. But I can’t help it. It’s in my blood. My mum can’t stand her. “She’s so middle-class”, she’ll say, sniffily, standing in the fitted kitchen of the Cheshire house she shares with her barrister husband. Yes, that Emma Thompson. She’s not down with the likes of us.

I do, sort of, see what my mum’s getting at. The mind-blowing liberal smugness of Peter’s Friends, and the lingering aftertaste of the Branagh-Thomson 1980s public love-in should not be taken lightly. But still. It really could be worse. Imagine my delight, therefore, when I discovered that it actually is worse. Emma Thompson isn’t just an unimaginably annoying actress; she also writes crap magazines for little girls! Only it’s a different Emma Thompson, this time minus the ‘p’. Which makes me look a prat cos I didn’t realise this at first and wrote a whole post using the erroneous belief that they were one and the same person as a starting point. But still, having two Emma Thom(p)sons  – it’s gotta be worse than just one.

The other Emma Thom(p)son is the creator of Felicity Wishes, a sparkly pink fairy who offers little girls shit career advice with a wave of her sparkly pink wand (actually, I made that last bit up. She delivers the advice via the far more prosaic medium of magazines). There are lots of suitably girly careers that Felicity has to suggest: ballerina, beautician, cake-maker, glitter-butterfly-dream-wisher, that kind of thing. I’m not going to go into it in any detail here; The Alpha Parent has already done so quite brilliantly here. What interests me is Thomson’s response to this much-deserved criticism. It’s pretty damning, to say the least.

To be fair, it is admirable that non-actress Emma Thomson made the effort to respond to the blog post mentioned above, and that she did so in such a calm manner. If I were her I’d have just gone “well, fuck you, I’m a rich actress! There’s a career choice I don’t regret”. Then I’d have sought advice on the best way to flounce via an internet comments box (Thomson could probably pay for a professional opinion on this. That is, if she was the actress Emma Thompson. Which she’s not). But anyhow, that’s not what non-actress Thomson did. She wrote a very measured response. A very measured response, yet also a remarkably rubbish one.

If someone tells you something that you’ve written is total crap, should you:

  1. throw a tantrum
  2. argue that it isn’t crap
  3. sort of agree that it is but then argue that no one will read it much anyhow so it doesn’t matter

While the first option is the most fun, the second is probably the best. Yet Thomson has, unexpectedly, plumped for the third:

Of course, I am well aware of the allegorical impact of children’s stories. However, these were not books (intended to be read many times over) – the editorial content of these limited-life magazines often only have a single-read life span.

Not only does this suggest that “the editorial content” of these magazines is indeed rubbish, it displays a remarkable capacity to underestimate a child’s affection for a magazine.

I tend to buy magazines in Asda in order to keep my children quietly seated in the trolley. Usually they ignore this ploy and carry on grabbing random tins of spaghetti off the shelves. However, now and then there’s a magazine that totally captures their attention and won’t let go. And if it’s a shit magazine, you start to worry that it will poison their minds.

For me and my eldest, this occurred with one particular issue of Thomas and Friends, which included a comic strip story called “Dream On, Thomas”. In it, Thomas meets Spencer “from the mainland” and wants to be as big, strong and shiny as him. Only he isn’t. Not to worry, though, because hey, Thomas is still Really Useful ™. And that’s the whole story (apart from the bit in the middle where Thomas fucks up due to trying to be more special than he is). The moral? Don’t aspire to be remarkable because you’ll just make a prat of yourself; just be a good economic unit and leave being shiny to your betters. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read this story. Way too many. And the worst thing is, children memorise the words and won’t even let you try to slip in a more nuanced message:

And so Thomas decided he was happy to be Really Useful. Although ‘Really Useful’ for whom, that’s the question. Could it perchance be for the bigger, stronger, shinier characters? Could it-

MUMMY! You’re not reading it properly!

So there’s nothing you can do (other than play Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger’s The Ballad of Accounting at the end of every reading, in a desperate attempt to offer an antidote).*

On top of being in complete denial about repeat readings, Thomson seriously underestimates the extent to which the magazines you read as a child can stay with you. I can vividly recall the magazines I loved when I was younger. And I don’t mean stuff like Mizz, Jackie and Just 17. I mean the things I read as a pre-teen. And it wasn’t shit like Felicity Wishes. Hell, no. I read Nikki, possibly the most undervalued and totally fabulous magazine of all time.

No one ever talks about Nikki these days. People remember Bunty and Mandy but Nikki, the slightly younger, funkier sister, was way better, and for several years during the early eighties, it was my world. It didn’t offer rubbish career advice. It wasn’t pink and full of fairies. It was a magazine for girls that recognised one essential, pertinent fact: little girls are people, too, and as such they can be complete and utter psychos. Many of the stories Nikki featured were utterly mental, and terrifying, but I absolutely adored it. And for those of you who missed this total master of the pre-teen magazine world, here’s a run through of the best bits (or at least the ones I can remember):

  • The Comp – a regular strip included at the start of every edition, it documented the life of Sam Green after her arrival at a new Big School. Pitched betwixt the prissiness of The Four Marys and Grange Hill at its Zammo-on-drugs worst, it was perfect for anyone who hadn’t yet been to Big School and had no idea how boring it is in real life
  • School for the Forgotten – serialised strip. Selina Something moves into a new house. Every night when she goes to sleep she’s transported to the School for the Forgotten, a nightmare Victorian workhouse-style hellhole. I can’t remember how or if she escapes, just that being a passive voyeur in all this was rather good fun.
  • The School on Sinister Street. Can’t remember what happened in this one. I can only recall the title. But I imagine it was along the lines of School for the Forgotten, and hence total class.
  • The Power of Eve Black. Takes place at a boarding school where Eve Black is a total cow yet manages to gain more and more power over others. Eventually you find out that the headmistress intermittently turns into Eve Black by drinking an evil potion. How cool is that? (once again, I’ve no idea how it all ended)
  • Rosemary. The story of a girl who left her old school after being a total bully who had no friends. When she arrives at her new school, she finds she enjoys having friends but misses the bullying. Therefore she (Rose) pretends to have a twin sister (Mary) who goes to another school. This enables Rose to have fun with her mates and kick the shit out of them later. Result!
  • Fashion pages: no skinny models here – these pages were drawn by an artist! Good weeks were when C&A featured because there was a C&A in Carlisle. Bad weeks featured Tammy Girl because there wasn’t one of those in the whole of Cumbria (afaik).

Man, I loved Nikki! The stories totally creeped me out, but in a good way. They never made me feel I should be anything other than who I was. In fact they made me happy to be me, a girl who didn’t end up in a Victorian school every night or get slapped in the face by her best mate on the way home.

Surely, on some level, this is precisely the kind of crap that needs reviving for kids today? I wouldn’t even mind if non-actress Emma Thomson had a hand in it. In fact, as a kind of post-modern joke / way to make light of the fact that I mixed up the two when I first wrote this post, you could even have a “The Adventures of Emma Thompson (the actress one)” comic strip, along the lines of those “The Adventures of Five Star” ones you used to find in Look-In. Perhaps every night when Emma goes to sleep she could be sent back to 1980s Cambridge and have Footlights mysteries to solve alongside best mates Kenneth Branagh and Tony Slattery. But then you’d need to have a villain. Perhaps non-actress Emma Thomson gets into the story at this point. Hmm. This may need some development…

* From The Ballad of Accounting:

Did you read the trespass notices, did you keep off the grass?

Did you shuffle off the pavement just to let your betters pass?

Did you learn to keep your mouth shut, were you seen but never heard?

Did you learn to be obedient and jump to at a word?

That is just a small extract from one of the best songs ever. I suspect it was not written as a direct response to Thomas the Tank Engine. But it could have been.

Two weeks ago my moisturiser ran out and I’ve yet to buy a replacement. Thus over the past fortnight I’ve noticed the following things: an increase in the “appearance of visible fine lines”; a decrease in “radiance”; the terrifying onslaught of the “seven signs of ageing”. Actually, none of that’s true. All I’ve noticed is that I have fewer spots, presumably because I’m no longer clogging my pores to treat a moisture deficiency that doesn’t exist. Perhaps I’ll never buy moisturiser again.

Now, obviously, you may be thinking “that sounds a bit rash. What about the long-term signs of ageing – the ones she can’t see yet? Shouldn’t she be protecting her skin so that the damage that is inevitable doesn’t become even worse than it will inevitably be, or at least we assume it will inevitably be, not that there’s any way of proving this unless she has an identical twin to use as a test control, and even then we’d have to make sure they were both smoking, drinking, exercising, breathing in exactly the same way, all the time…” Hey! Just chill! I’m on the case. My foundation still has SPF. And besides, the weather’s shit so the sun’s never out anyhow.

Of course, there’s another reason I’m feeling a bit more relaxed about tackling the onslaught of time. I’ve just finished reading Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman. Her chapter on ageing – called “Interventions” – is fucking ace. You read it and think “hey! I want to be a wise wrinkly sage, not some insecure girl-woman! Saggy jowls? Bring ‘em on! It’s a sign of having finally made it!”. Alas, for me at least, this effect hasn’t lasted. I look at pictures of Caitlin Moran and think “yeah, it’s okay for you. You have great hair and superior eyeliner skills. When you are old you WILL look like a wise woman not to be messed with. Me, I’ll just look like some old biddy to whom no one listens. And I won’t even be able to complain because no one will be listening”. So that’s not the reason I’m more relaxed, not directly. The thing is, though, in the absence of How to be a Woman, I’ve started flicking through that June issue of Marie Claire in bed (i.e. the one I go on about so much on this blog they’ll probably start demanding some copyright fee [lawyers, that’s a joke]). And perhaps it’s reading it in a different context (in bed, that is, rather than in the bath or on the loo, which is the normal place for magazine-reading), but for some reason, it’s like a lightbulb has gone on. Yes, women’s magazines are offensive. Yes, the beauty advice is unrealistic, bullying and inconsistent. The one thing I never realised quite so much until today, though, is that it’s also absolutely fucking insane!

It’s not that you can’t afford these over-priced serums and moisturisers. It’s not that even if you can, and use them religiously, you’ll never look like these models. It’s that, at its most basic level, what you are being told doesn’t make sense! It’s practically another language! Once you start looking at it with fresh eyes, it really is quite remarkable how far they’ll push complete and utter bollocks. Here, for instance, are just a few of the Rules of Insanity that all beauty editors must learn (all taken from June’s Marie Claire – see, lawyers, I’m acknowledging my sources):

1. Throw in some real science to try to mask the completely made-up science

… the tuning forks are activated at different pressure points to stimulate the waters that make up 80 percent of our bodies. This is called Sonopuncture and I’m told it will be as relaxing as an hour’s meditation.

Extreme Beauty, p. 246

Our bodies are 80 percent water? Don’t they cover that at Key Stage 3? And also on the Lucozade adverts? Well, I’ve always believed that to be true. Must mean that the rest is. Even though it’s obviously total crap.

2. Don’t answer basic questions – just say something completely unrelated

Q. I have only two weeks to lose 7lbs. Do you think that’s possible?

Susie, 36, on p. 232

To which they answer is “yes, Susie. Get your head amputated, that should do the trick”. Or, perhaps better, “yes, Susie. But it is a ridiculous idea. Unless this is a legal requirement and you’re facing the death penalty, please don’t do it”. The answer most definitely is not “The antioxidant-rich Radiance Cleanse Juice Diet – £395 for a five-day plan – packs vitamins and minerals into a tasty five-a-day menu. The Pure Package is a bespoke menu and delivery service designed to address personal goals such as weight loss and detox, while the Beach Goddess Programme  – £399.50 for ten days – is a vitamin-rich diet to give you a holiday glow” (and no this, wasn’t taken from an acknowledged “promotional feature”. This is a genuine “Ask the beauty editors” response. To which this is a genuine “me” response: what the fucking fuck? You didn’t even mention the 7lb!).

3. For every social problem, remember there’s a beauty product to be recommended

Or several, in fact. On pp. 249-250, you are asked which type of boozer you are – “Whinge Drinker, Oversharer, Dancing Queen” – and given advice on how to deal with this. This clearly disregards the fact that if you’re pissed, you don’t have the self-awareness to note and later reflect on what drinking “type” you’ve just represented. The only reasonable advice to give is either drink less or stop giving a fuck (the latter is always easiest when you’re off your face). Rather creatively, Marie Claire have found five different ways to say this, each suited to a particular drinking persona. Even more creatively, they’ve added in an “erase it” feature which tells you which beauty products to purchase in order to lessen the effects of a heavy night. Even more creatively than that, they’ve matched them to the different personas, although without any particular logic. If you tend to overshare when drunk, for instance, you need Dermalogica’s new Overnight Repair Serum, £56, whereas if you get all whingey when drunk you need Nanoblur, £19.99 from Boots (obviously from now on I’ll aspire to be a whingey drunk – it’s much cheaper). I’m wondering what’ll be in July’s issue. Which drug addict type are you? With a special on the best concealers for track marks.

4. Bear in mind that it’s okay to be offensive on several levels if you’re talking “skin science”

There are times we’d all like to take our skin to one side, and, in the words of Michael Winner, tell it to just ‘calm down, dear’. But, stop for a moment and consider that your ‘schizo’ skin might actually be trying to tell you that trying to juggle a work presentation/dinner party for 12 is just way too stressful for your complexion.

Face Savers, p. 242

To be honest, while my skin irritates me at times, I have never wanted to subject it to sexist or ablist abuse. I just haven’t. It’s not just because it’s part of me. It’s because it is wrong.

5. Never challenge celebrities over their complete failure to understand basic words such as ‘lazy’

I’m pretty lazy when it comes to skincare. I’ll start with Aromatherapy Associates Renewing Rose Cleanser (I’ve got one of those Clarisonic things but I think I was going a bit overboard with it) and I love Skin Ceuticals stuff. But my favourite serum is one by Linda Meredith, which I add to my moisturiser. I also take Suqqu’s Lip Essence Cream everywhere I go.

Sienna Miller, p. 239

Quite honestly, I’m appalled at Sienna Miller’s skincare laziness. She should be washing her face in fresh mountain dew collected by elves. And I’m not interested in just the “favourite” serum; I want the full top ten. And as for carrying one lip treatment everywhere she goes; I’m never without at least six lip glosses. Always mistaking them for pens, though, of which I’m always short. Juicy Tubes are rubbish when it comes to taking minutes.

Conclusion

It is rare that I will quote Peter Andre to sum up my view on an issue (perhaps I should do it more often). Anyhow, I’m doing it now: THIS IS INSANIA! :

Take a look around, at what technology is found

Is it what we need or are we killing the scene?

Dictated by the screen, no more following your dreams

The world has become a difficult place to be

Where are we going, does anyone care?

Hold on to real love, there’s so much to share

Thank you, Peter. Never a truer word was composed in a fake jungle and later released as a single. I open Marie Claire and I think “this is insania!”. Especially when there’s so much love to share. And so much money to spend on working out what my drinker type is, now that I’m no longer throwing it down the drain on moisturiser.

Last night my partner and I were in the bathroom, watching our children in the bath but also managing to flick through this June’s copy of Glamour. This was done in a manner that was in no way neglectful or dangerous. We’d even got to the feature on “best dressed celebrities” when the following insightful conversation arose:

ME If you squint and don’t read the actual words, it looks like a “most thin people” countdown. Excluding Kim Kardashian, who is a bit less thin and therefore “curvy”.

PARTNER What does Kim Kardashian do?

ME Dunno. Let’s make a pact never to find out. It’ll be like never watching The Matrix. There are some cultural phenomena about which we’ll comment without ever knowing the truth.

HIM Yeah, let’s. It’s weird, though. Kim Kardashian’s in the best and worst dressed lists.

ME So are Kristen Stewart and Emma Watson. Although if you compare the two lists, Watson and Stewart are dressed more badly than people whom they’re also better dressed than. How does that work?

HIM Dunno. It’s like –

[sudden interruption from furious, Matey-covered four-year old]

ELDEST SON Mummy and Daddy! Will you stop talking such SILLINESS!

As you might have gathered, Mummy and Daddy “talking silliness” is a common feature in our household. Nevertheless, never before has it been challenged with so much passion. From the mouth of babes, eh? (Or possibly not. I have a terrible suspicion that “from the mouth of babes” has been tainted forever as a phrase due to its use in some lads’ mag for a “women say the funniest things” feature.)

Eldest is clearly in keeping with the public “mood”. The knives are out for glossy mags. Okay, maybe not the knives, but the cocktail sticks at least. In yesterday’s Observer, Eva Wiseman wrote about how time stands still in women’s magazines. It’s a good article. Mind you, the magazine she mentions, and even the first quote she uses, are things I already identified as crap in a post last week (so, yeah, Eva, quit copying!). Although for some reason Eva doesn’t actually name names (either it’s unprofessional or, what’s obviously more likely, she doesn’t want people to trace her piece back to my extremely famous post). So anyhow, I will reveal the true identities for you: the magazine’s Marie Claire and the Carrie Bradshaw wannabe tosspot is called Lindsey Kelk. So now you know.

Wiseman asserts that reading a glossy magazine “is like entering a time machine. You look down at a page and lose a decade”. I’d go much further than that. I don’t think they’ve changed since at least the late 1980s, which is when I first became aware of them. Oh, alright then, two things have changed:

  1. advice on sun tanning (now it’s all about getting a St Tropez spray tan, whereas it used to be Week 1 in Malaga on Factor 4, Week 2 on Factor 2 and final day on chip fat for that ultimate holiday glow)
  2. advice on tackling cellulite (cellulite was invented in an editorial meeting in 1988 and it’s taken the beauty industry a while to catch up)

Other than that, it’s all the same. Isn’t that depressing?

Well, not for Wiseman. She thinks the situation’s getting better because women are losing interest:

Along with many publications (yeah, hi), their sales continue to drop, but I wonder if this is in part because they ignore the growing awareness not only that women are choosing to opt out of the life they draw for us, with the weddings, the diets and the sexual attraction to shoes, but that lots of us have found alternative places to chatter about it. On Twitter. On blogs like The Vagenda, which hits such nerves that the writer of their post about body hair was invited to show off her armpits on This Morning.

Hmm. I have to admit, I’m not so sure about all this. Surely part of the reason why sales are dropping is not because we’re all turning to The Vagenda (which, let’s face it, is just having a moment because some woman who doesn’t shave her armits is considered a national freak show), but because there are lots of places on the internet where we can find the same old shit the glossies used to give us.* With blogging, for instance, surely one of the most pernicious trends of recent years is the rise of the style blogger, the woman who claims she’s encouraging us to be “individual” but is actually telling us that every day – every sodding day – you’re on a fucking catwalk? And there’s no escape.

So what’s the way forward? Well, look. My son is four. HE can see it’s all nothing but “silliness”. Shouldn’t we be catching the kids while they know, innately, that it’s just ALL WRONG? Let’s harness this feeling of “it’s shit” and run with it. Ladies and gentlemen, when it comes to glossy magazines, we need some education!

To get us started, here is a summary of our leading glossies, what they are and what they do. Pay attention. There will be a short quiz to follow:

Marie Claire “Think smart, look amazing.” That is what they tell us. No, Marie Claire. “Think critically, wear clean pants.” That is the way forward.

Glamour The essence of Glamour is best captured by the regular “Hey, it’s okay..” feature near the start, in which readers are “humorously” given permission to do things which they always assumed were okay but now of course don’t. Often it’s “okay” to do things that Glamour tells you aren’t “okay” a few pages later (eating’s often one of these). Glamour is your evil, manipulative “best friend” who “only wants what’s best for you”. She can fuck right off.

Cosmo Older than Glamour, yet has somehow ended up being Glamour’s trashy younger sister. Intermittently does vaguely feminist things, like supporting pro-choice campaigns and being cross about domestic violence. Intermittently allows Irma Kurz to tell rape victims they were probably asking for it due to their suggestive behaviour. Very confused. It’s probably the hormones.

Company One long advertisement for River Island.

In Style Like Company, but for older women, therefore with more expensive brands. Works on the curious assumption that when you hit your thirties (i.e. when you have kids and your career stalls and all the men are whizzing off to the boardroom) you suddenly have money to spend on designer labels. Are you going to tell them, or shall I?

Grazia “Britain’s best-selling weekly glossy”, because no one else can be arsed to produce a weekly glossy. Once ran a TV advert in which a posh woman reading Grazia floated down a shoe production line, much to the puzzlement of some old, scummy, poor woman working the line. It was confusing, and also reminiscent of that Two Ronnies/John Cleese class sketch, but without the irony.

Good Housekeeping/Woman and Home You’re older, the kids are about to fly the coop, now’s the time to sit down and reflect on how you’re still a fat minger who hasn’t found her “own style”. And acquire some additional worries, such as not yet owning an Aga.

Those, I believe, are our main culprits (I’ll be running a catch-up course on Red and Elle later). I haven’t yet written the quiz I promised. I’m sorry. I’m too depressed (and fat and my clothes are shit. I can’t possibly do thinking when I’m like this!). Perhaps I’ll hand the running of this course over to my son. Please allow him to stand before you, covered in bubble bath, proudly proclaiming “STOP TALKING SILLINESS. NOW!”

* Since writing this post (and on the advice of someone I had a go at in another post) I have now started following Vagenda Magazine. It is good. I underestimated it (but lest we forget: Marie Claire still exists).

Is Miley Cyrus a singer or an actress or both or crap at both things but somehow coasting along out of sheer luck and a good publicist? I have no idea. I know only two things: her dad is Billy-Ray Cyrus, and she weighs something stone something. I do know the exact figures for this; I’m just not telling you. It’s in this week’s Star magazine. Actually, it’s not even in it; it’s on the cover, along with the weights of Nikki Grahame, Abbey Crouch and Nadine Coyle.

I saw this while shopping in Sainsbury’s. It put me right off my food, and my body, and myself. There are, apparently, even more facts and figures regarding underweight celebrities if you look inside. I didn’t look inside. The cover was enough.

So, why give the (assumed) weights of underweight celebrities? Is it because Star magazine is worried about them? Well, no, I’m not a complete idiot. It’s because it sells. Women and girls with eating disorders love this shit. But you’re not allowed to actually write “this is what you should look like, fatso” next to a picture of an emaciated celebrity. Or rather, you probably are allowed but it’s not considered good form. So you couch it in fake concern.

10% of women with anorexia will die. It shouldn’t be this socially acceptable to display anorexia porn at eye level to people buying their Guatemalan coffee.* It just shouldn’t. So I have decided to write to my local MP.

Is this a ridiculous idea? Writing to your local LibDem (yes, I know! Hangin’ on in there!) to point out that, actually, you find the cover of celebrity magazines a bit offensive, and didn’t want to know the body mass of someone who may or may not still be in Girls Aloud, and could this please be mentioned at the next PMQs? Or could they even table a motion, whatever that means? Or motion a table, if that’s easier? But the thing is, MPs have made a fuss about pro-ana sites before, so why not this? It’s worse; attacking pro-ana sites strikes me as victim-blaming. Anorexics do whatever they need to do to make the long days with fuck all to eat and a brain being driven round the twist slightly more bearable. With Star magazine, it’s just the strong preying on the weak, for money. Should this really go unchallenged?

I don’t necessarily want it to be banned. For starters, it would be a legislative nightmare, and might even descend into just attacking thin women for being thin and thus encouraging others to be thin (sorry, I forgot; we do that already). I just want some loud, formal acknowledgement that what magazines like Star are doing IS BAD. And that NO ONE GIVES A SHIT ABOUT WHAT A CELEBRITY SHE HAS NEVER MET WEIGHS UNLESS THIS PERSON HAS AN EATING DISORDER HERSELF, IN WHICH CASE KNOWING THE CELEBRITY’S WEIGHT CAN ONLY DO HARM.** This strikes me as self-explanatory. Shouldn’t there at least be some degree of shame? And if not my MP, whom do I contact? The shit magazine police?

Anyhow, this is my email:

Dear [name of plucky hanging-on-in-there LibDem]

I am writing to you to express my concern about the proliferation of what I can only term “anorexia porn” in celebrity magazines such as Heat and Star. A recovered anorexic, I am genuinely disturbed that it has become acceptable for such publications to display emaciated, clearly ill women on their covers and inside their pages out of some fake concern for these women’s well-being.

I cannot see what would motivate a person to buy magazines with such features unless it was to fuel an existing or developing eating disorder. The current issue of Star, for instance, includes actual weights of underweight women on the cover. Generally, another person’s weight is of no interest; if you are anorexic or bulimic, it’s fascinating. It might make a person buy the magazine and it might also cause a deterioration in this person’s condition.

Since MPs have previously drawn attention to “pro-ana” sites and the use of underweight models in magazines and on the catwalk, I really think this is an issue that should be made more public. Thin catwalk models are not, I believe, promoting anorexia in quite the same, direct yet entirely hypocritical way that Star is doing. Obviously if the headlines were “this is what you should weigh!” it would be a lot easier. But I think you would find any eating disorders counselor would support me in saying that this active promotion of magazines on the basis that you will be told exactly how low another person’s weight is is damaging and requires far greater public condemnation. I would be extremely grateful if you could use your position to play a part in highlighting this.

Yours sincerely

[me, but the pompous, serious version, including the “Dr” title]

Yeah. This’ll make ALL the difference.

* My partner insists on having Guatemalan coffee. He quite liked it, then read somewhere that only the true connoisseur likes Guatemalan coffee, so then he totally loved it. I humour him. It’s drinkable, and the Percol version has a photo of a monkey on the bag.

** I used a female pronoun here but do acknowledge men have EDs too. It’s just “him- or herself” messes up the flow of full-on ranting to which I aspire.

POSTSCRIPT: I have since remembered that part of my confusion about Miley Cyrus comes from the fact that I always confuse her with Hilary Duff. Didn’t they both used to do similar things? Mind you, it’s all changed now. I’ve finally got the respective roles straight: Cyrus = “being too thin”, Duff = “needs to lose baby weight”.

Many moons (i.e. a few weeks) ago – when I’d first started this blog – I wrote a post on having some mummy me-time (i.e. that rare window of time during which you’re not at work or with your kids but just have time to “be you”, and hence feel under pressure to do lots of “being you” activities which aren’t very you-like at all). Well, guess what? That time’s come around for me once more! The kids are at Ikea for the day with Daddy and hey, I’m ready to rock ‘n’ roll!

So, I bet you’re wondering – how have I made the most of my me-time on this occasion? Well, wonder no more! Here’s an instant update – carpe diem, folks!

  1. I got the bus into town and met a friend and her partner for lunch. The whole thing was so exciting I even tweeted about the arrival of the bus to all my “followers” (did you miss it? Well, if so, don’t worry – the bus did arrive). We all had a nice, chatty, boozy lunch in Café Rouge, during which my friend’s partner regaled me with the tale of meeting a colleague, quite randomly, in Tesco’s in Bognor Regis (this is totally crazy because their office is in Farnham). In the spirit of sharing tales of similarly incongruous encounters, I told him about bumping into a one-night stand I’d had in Cambridge three years previously in a queue for passport control at Los Angeles airport. My friend’s partner didn’t say very much, so I assured him it was okay to judge; I know I’ve been a bit of a slag.
  2. We went our separate ways, then I had a short, skinny cappuccino in Costa in an effort to sober up. Only I’m not sure whether it’s worked. You shouldn’t really be allowed on the internet when drunk. But anyhow, here I am.
  3. I headed for the bus stop but popped into WH Smith on the way, on the basis that I “deserve” a treat. I am not sure quite why I “deserve” it. While having my cappuccino I made a donation to Lulastic’s Thrifty Challenge for the Salvation Army (this was while I was spending more on one cup of coffee than this woman plans to spend on food in a day. But hey, it’s a start). Anyhow, the truth is perhaps I don’t “deserve” a treat, but I got one anyhow. I bought this month’s Marie Claire because it has a free Body Shop lip and cheek stain (bronze glimmer or rose pink! Collect them all! Although I’d recommend the rose pink). Plus it also features the headline “I hid my crack pipe in my Uggs” on the cover. I’ve never had a crack pipe or Uggs. I just haven’t lived.
  4. I also bought a small pack of plain stickers in Smith’s. I am now using one of these to cover up the WordPress Graph of Statistical Doom on my browser. It’s a bit of a pain cos it also covers up other things, but I am quite serious about not wanting to keep track of how many visits I have to this blog any more. My self-esteem can’t take it. It’s too confusing. When I wrote the first Mummy me-time post last month, I had a fraction of the visits I get now, but back then I thought I was fucking famous. It’s all too much. I just don’t want to know (admittedly this will be a bit like when I go through long periods of not weighing myself. After a while I tell myself I’ve got too fat. Then I tell myself I’ve got paranoid and have probably got too thin. Then I weigh myself and I’m exactly the same as I was before, but terribly, hugely disappointed, because hey, you’d at least expect something to happen).
  5. I then went into Lush and bought a bath bomb. This is because Lush is even closer to the bus stop and it smells nice. And I know I said I was boycotting Lush. That’s why I bought two bath bombs, so I don’t have to go in there again. Plus I’ll think of something else to do to combat misogynist torture porn.

I got the bus home and that’s where I am now, still trying to sober up before my sons reappear. Perhaps I’ll see if there’s a re-run of Coach Trip or Come Dine With Me on later. It’s all a bit of a let-down really, given that lunch time started off like Sex and the City (albeit not in a city, or with any actual sex).

Anyhow, that’s today’s installment of mummy me-time ramblings. I may delete this post later, depending on how drunk I consider myself to have been while writing it. Hence, as with mummy me-time itself, best make the most of it while you can.

Seventeen years ago I knew a woman who was dying of anorexia. I didn’t know she was dying; I don’t think she did, either. Even so, she died. She was 35. At the time I was 19 and I thought 35 was old. I’m now 36. It’s not old. It’s just that this woman looked older than anyone I’ve ever seen before or since.

She had huge yellow eyes, massive teeth on account of her receding gums, and a head that wobbled with nothing to support it. I don’t remember anything else. Just clothes, lots of lots of clothes to cover her nothingness body.

If I’m being honest, this woman really pissed me off. She was childish and stupid, I thought. I had anorexia, yes, but she had stupid, childish anorexia. She ate next to nothing, spent lunchtimes rolling the middles of bread rolls into tiny crumbs which she’d flick on the floor, as though none of us noticed. Then in occupational therapy she drew stupid, childish pictures. A five-year-old could have done better. I hated her pictures and I hated her stupid, whiny voice. And I look back and right now I hate myself.

We were in occupational therapy the last time I saw her. She was copying  Christmas cards even though it was the middle of summer. There was a massive bay window behind her head. The sun was streaming in, burning into her head, and she tried to rest her wobbly head on a wobbly hand as she told us she felt sick. The therapist called an ambulance. I resented all the fuss. The next day the woman had a seizure. Three days later she was gone.

I’m crying as I write this, which is pretty self-indulgent, given what a useless, unsupportive bitch I was at the time. I don’t even know what it is I’m trying to say. Certainly nothing funny or original or different. I’ve just seen the cover of this week’s Heat – “The scary rise of the anorexia poster girls” – and it just makes me despair. Another shitty article full of fake concern for women who are too thin, and for the women who look at pictures of them, albeit an article which shows the same pictures once more, just in case you’ve missed them. And it makes me so tired and so sad. I’ve posted about pro-ana and hypocrisy before, albeit when I was in a better mood. But right now I can’t be arsed. This whole thing is just so fucking miserable.

I don’t know what the last days, or years, of this woman’s life were like. She’d been ill since the age of 15. 20 years of misery, for no reason at all. And she didn’t even have pictures in Heat to help her on her way, not like girls today who have even more options as to how to waste their bodies and lives.

Well. That’s all I have to say. Just what a total fucking waste.

In addition to subscribing to Glamour, I often read Private Eye. I like Pseud’s Corner, and the book reviews, and the impossible crossword with gratuitous rude words. Whereas I hate Glamour (since I’ve started a blog, I pompously tell myself I read it for “my material”), I’m quite fond of Private Eye. Or rather I would be if it wasn’t so ridiculously, pointlessly sexist.

This fortnight’s edition is advertising a set of “exclusive” cartoon cards. One of the cards in the set – the one that’s enlarged to promote the rest of them – includes a picture of a woman ironing with a toddler sitting at her feet. The caption is as follows:

Mummy said her first word to me today, Nanny.

It’s okay, I’ll allow you a few minutes in which to piss yourself laughing.

***

Finished? Okay, so that’s proven we’re not all humourless feminists here. But still, I think we can all be agreed that that’s still a pretty shit excuse for a joke. Women who employ nannies not knowing their own children! How totally un-fucking-hilarious! Or maybe it’s not meant to be funny. Maybe it’s just social commentary. A comment on how shit working mothers are (btw, by “working mothers”, I don’t mean to imply that stay-at-home mothers don’t work. I mean “working mother” as an insult aimed at those in paid employment. Don’t worry if you’re a stay-at-home mum; I’m sure Private Eye thinks you’re shit, too).

I don’t actually employ a nanny. I send my youngest to nursery. Does that make me better or worse? I suppose it makes me a bit less like Polly Filla (you could argue that Polly, who’s always being a stupid, insensitive bitch towards her immigrant au pairs, was created to highlight the racism and snobbery of the upper middle-classes. You could, but it’d be a crap argument. Polly is just another ludicrous misogynist stereotype, and she can fuck right off).

It does bother me that I don’t see my children as much as I would were I not in the office (I was about to write “were I not earning money for food and shelter”, like I have to justify what I do in the most basic terms. If I were a man I’d just write “supporting my family”, but it sounds as meaningless as it actually is coming from me). It bothers me more that people seek to make a joke of this, as though we’re all entirely oblivious to the hours and experiences lost and it takes some shitty cartoonist to open our eyes to it. I wonder who will buy this card, and who they’ll send it to. Hopefully not to mums like me.

Dear You

You’re a shit mum and your child doesn’t know you. Still, nice shoes – did the “job” pay for that?

Love,

Some post twat who’s probably never changed a nappy in his whole fucking life.

So, what’s your take on the current predicament of Dannii Minogue? Come on, it’s important to take a position on this (by which I mean the whole sorry business involving Dannii, Kris and Little Baby Ethan ™). Okay, so Simon Cowell might have thrown a spanner in the works with his “I might have shagged Dannii a bit ages ago” revelations, but this doesn’t let any of us off the hook. These things matter, and what we all need to decide is: JUST HOW SHIT OUGHT DANNII TO BE FEELING RIGHT NOW?*

I have to admit, I am a bit of an expert on all things Dannii-related,** what with my inexplicable subscription to Glamour magazine. Dannii is Glamour’s resident “style columnist”, which means she gets to go on about how nice it is to have lots of clothes. She also mentions how nice it is that her sister Kylie also has lots of clothes. Sometimes they even get to swap clothes! Fan-bloody-tastic! Of late, of course, there has been another dimension to Dannii’s column. Since the arrival of Baby Ethan, she also gets to write about “mummy style” and “family life” and all sorts of smug things to do with “having it all”. Except now she doesn’t have it all because Kris has buggered off.

The weird publication dates of glossies such as Glamour means that this May’s edition features Dannii writing about her relationship with Kris as though everything’s still A-okay. Oops! I mean, it’s not even May yet! (Should I save the magazine? Could this sort of thing make it a collector’s item?) I don’t know, perhaps they’ll be back together by May and then it will all be fine (and it will only be, ooh, every single other page in Glamour that’s telling readers complete and utter bollocks). Still, what with the Cowell revelations and the general tabloid shit-stirring, I don’t think this seems likely. Sorry, Glamour editors. And, um, Dannii.

Still, perhaps all this will give Kylie some cause for celebration. After all, it’s been quite a while since she was Top Sister and while she’s never admitted it, we all know, don’t we, that deep down she’s been sick with envy (and cancer, admittedly. But mainly envy). Last year Glamour featured an interview with Kylie and while I don’t now have access to it (it’s now polluting hearts and minds in the waiting room of our local GP), I seem to recall it contained a hell of a lot of prodding related to Dannii having a baby and Kylie not having one. Kylie is very gracious (at one point she says “I’ve got my auntie stripes on and I’m ready to go”, whatever that means) but you could easily see the subtext. Come on, Kyles. You’ve really fucked it up, haven’t you? Younger sis has a baby and you don’t! Perhaps you were that bit too successful? (and too full of cancer, obviously. But we won’t say that, as that would be cruel).

But now the Louboutin’s on the other foot (hell, sometimes I could write for Glamour). Dannii’s now a single mum (although not in the “being poor” sense of the word – she’s still got her nice clothes) and Kylie’s providing the shoulder to cry on (as long as that mascara’s waterproof). So where next for les soeurs Minogue? What do you reckon?

Personally, given that they’re reaching the end of their “women of any value” shelf-lives, I think the next step is to buy a massive mansion in Oz and start re-enacting Whatever happened to Baby Jane? Only I’m not sure which one’s Blanche and which one’s Jane. I mean, which one of them ought to take the plunge and do the whole wheelchair thing? Because to be honest, I think both of them would make bloody excellent Janes (and it is the best role. I should know, given the amount of time I spend prancing about in front of the mirror with too much eyeliner on. And serving my loved ones dead parakeet for lunch).

Anyhow, what’s your view? Come on, out with it. WE NEED TO KNOW!

* If you assumed the big question was “what’s with the two “i”s in her name”, look, I’m sorry, but most of us gave up on that one years ago. Get with the sodding programme.

** Parent-bonding alert:  who else heard that phrase read out in the voice of Daddy Pig?

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