Curvy, creepy and cringy – how not to do body positivity, by @decadentmadamez

Cross-posted from: Dirty, Sexy, Words
Originally published: 06.08.17

smug, curvy, loveEww!. I mean, really, FFS, eww! Everything about the ‘love letter‘ that’s recently gone viral makes my stomach turn. And no, that’s not because it’s wrong to adore your partner and want to tell everyone that you do: that can be quite cute (if sometimes an overshare).

First of all, it’s because this smug git clearly thinks he deserves a medal for being ‘feminist’ enough to find non-skinny women attractive. His wife is an attractive woman who works as a ‘plus size’ model – which actually means that she is an average size by most people’s standards, and that her attractiveness has already been confirmed by the model agency that hired her: she’s not some self-hating you-don’t-know-you’re-beautiful wallflower – but he writes as though she’s immensely overweight only, brave, selfless manfeminist that he is,  he loves her anyway.

Then, there’s the usual ‘real women are not thin’ nonsense included, just to remind everyone that women’s body shapes and sizes are all subject to some arbitrary standards imposed by men, whether the woman in question likes it or not.

body, curvy, loverThis isn’t to say it’s a bad thing to be drawn to, or express your appreciation of, aspects of a lover’s body which are not the ones usually cited as most appealing. An honest and affectionate compliment on your cute toes, the dimples in your knees, your one crooked tooth or your hairy back can be delightful. But if you follow that compliment up with a whole load of self-praise about how perceptive, special and super-sensitive you are to have noticed this ‘fault’ in your beloved and yet find it adorable, your partner is likely to feel self-conscious rather than flattered.

It’s something to be aware of when writing erotica, as well: there are enough lame, derivative stories about the heroine who ‘thinks’ she’s ugly while describing herself in a way that makes it clear she’s nothing of the sort, therefore setting the scene for the hero to come along and convince her of her wonderfulness. This stuff is even more irritating when it comes with subtle-as-a-flying-brick misogynistic moralising about the heroine’s ‘natural’ beauty as opposed to her rivals’ slutty use of makeup, hair dye or expensive clothes. Sure, make a character curvy rather than the thinnest woman in the world who can still eat whatever she wants, but don’t make body shape or size an indication of personality, and please, no more stories where the main character’s non-mainstream body type is the whole fucking plot. Don’t be that guy…


Dose of Decadence : Promotion for my assorted works and views on sex, sex industry, feminism, atheism, flogging weird stuff and anything else I happen to fancy having a rant about. Twitter @decadentmadamez

Dress Rules for Women over 40 by @JumpMag

Cross-posted from: Salt & Caramel

Another summer, another list of rules for women on what they should and shouldn’t wear. From the ‘how to get a bikini body’ articles (top tip – buy a bikini, put it on your body, done!) to this incredibly stupid list of rules for women over 40 years.

Here are my dress rules for women over 40.

1. Problem Zones

I try to hide my problem zones. This is generally done by throwing a dish towel over the un-washed dinner dishes or shoving the ironing basket into a cupboard when visitors are due.

If you have bits of your body that you don’t particularly like (and let’s be honest, most of us do) treat them the same way. Hide them if you want to and don’t if you don’t. Don’t feel obliged to shield innocent children from the sight of your wobbly arms, but if it makes you feel more confident to cover them up, go for it.

Read more Dress Rules for Women over 40 by @JumpMag

Chocolate slice prohibited! Is food shaming harming our kids? by @meltankardreist

Cross-posted from: Melinda Tankard Reist
Originally published: 10.02.17

About 15 years ago, a message was sent home from my daughter’s primary school teacher. It wasn’t about chocolate slice. It was about her hair.

My then six-year-old’s head was covered in tight, thick ringlets. While many clucked and cooed about her “gorgeous” hair, they didn’t have to wash it, or try to get a brush through it.

It was an ordeal, one I approached with dread — she’d cry and flail about. And so it wasn’t washed or brushed as often as more patient parents might have done.

(I also had two other children and a baby who needed attention.) 
Read more Chocolate slice prohibited! Is food shaming harming our kids? by @meltankardreist

All Bodies are Beautiful by @MurderofGoths

Cross-posted from: Murder of Goths
Originally published: 19.08.16

She was an ugly duckling at school, teased for being bigger than the others. She wasn’t huge, but kids are cruel. She wanted to model but agencies told her she was too fat, pressured her to lose weight, but one day she had a revelation – she was beautiful! It didn’t matter what anyone else said, she knew her body was a thing of beauty, and now look at her, modelling for high street brands.. welcome our guest today.. differently objectified girl! <applause>

I’m sure you recognise the main gist of that, even if not the last sentence. It’s a story we hear over and over. A girl grows up feeling worthless because she doesn’t fit into a narrow definition of beauty, life is hard, she hates herself, then one day she (or others) redefine beauty to include her body type. And now she’s happy and confident, and an inspiration to all other women.

Or is she?
Read more All Bodies are Beautiful by @MurderofGoths

Everybody’s Talkin’ Bout FAT FOLK- Fat Shame Vs. SA/HAES by @FatFemPinUp

Cross-posted from: Fat Fem Pin Up
Originally published: 15.09.15

If anyone reads this blog …it’s going to cause a little upset….I predict.

I’m tired of the two communities that talk about fatness the most…and the EXTREMES that they go to in order to protect their “safe” spaces or their status quos. Those communities are the fat shamers vs. the extreme size acceptance/HAES believers.

Read more Everybody’s Talkin’ Bout FAT FOLK- Fat Shame Vs. SA/HAES by @FatFemPinUp

#StyleHasNoSize as long as you are this size and shape

Cross-posted from: Murder of Goths
Originally published: 03.09.15

I’d like to say I was surprised when this image appeared on my timeline this morning,

Five similar size and shape #StyleHasNoSize models in Evans shop window wearing jeans and slogan t-shirts

I wasn’t though, I was disappointed, but not surprised.

This was a promotional photoshoot to publicise the start of UK Plus Size Fashion Week, shot wearing the latest Evans campaign slogan “#StyleHasNoSize” in the Evans store window. What a wasted opportunity. These five models, gorgeous as they are, are very much the acceptable version of plus size.

Only a small percentage of people would look at these five and think “plus size”, they are according to the fashion industry of course, but to those who shop at Evans? Not really.

The biggest problem with it is actually not the lack of diversity, like I say, that bit is unsurprising, it’s the use of that slogan. This is a quote direct from the Evans website
Read more #StyleHasNoSize as long as you are this size and shape

I have cried in a lot of department stores. by @NurseBlurg

cross-posted from I am sorry I am like this

orig. pub. August 13/2013

Chubby not quite Fat
Really Fat
Really Fat
Chubby not quite Fat
Fat again
Lost 25kg
Nearly average
Really Fat
Lost 30kg

For the record, this is my body year by year since birth.

My mum put me on my first diet when I was 5 years old. I had a gym membership by the time I was 13. I’ve paid Jenny Craig large sums of money in various countries to try and control my weight. I’m so angry that I feel that I have to explain this to strangers. That I have tried. That I have failed at being what my mother, my peers, my previous lovers thought I should be.

I grew up in Australia for Christ’s sake. You can’t hide your body there. You have to go to the beach. It’s hot. You can’t wear a cardigan all year round. But. I. Did.

A boy I knew growing up said he could never go out with someone who was over weight because cellulite was disgusting.
A girl I was friends with in 8th grade told me the only reason I was goalie of our soccer team was because I took up half the court.
A boy followed me once making sound effects like I was Godzilla crushing the pavement whilst he walked behind me.

I have cried in a lot of department stores.

I made bargains with my mother throughout my life that if I lost weight she would give me large sums of money. I never managed to which is weird because I LOVE MONEY. I don’t blame her, for her generation looks were everything. I was told repeatedly how beautiful I would be if I. Just. Lost. Weight. One of my first boyfriends nicknamed me ‘no tits fat thighs’. AND I LET HIM. A patient in hospital said I could stand to lose a few pounds THREE WEEKS AGO whilst I was nursing her.

Apparently my body is everyone’s business.

I weigh 16 stone right now. For the record. I have lots of self control and determination. Enough to starve myself for periods of up to a year but that made me far more unhappy than being fat does. I’m a size 16/18 depending on how stretchy the material is in my outfit. I ran a 10K last weekend. I am constantly worried as to whether I have more than one chin. I usually exercise between 4 and 6 days a week. If I’m not on a diet, I am planning my next period of calorie restriction. BUT I AM TIRED. I am tired of thinking about this. I am tired of my body being judged. I am tired of everybody’s body being judged.

I am tired of being judged because I am angry about being judged.


I’m sorry that I’m like this: My blog is a collection of autobiographical stories and opinion peices about dating, travelling, body issues, working as a nurse and being a feminist. [@NurseBlurg]

About that Protein World advert…(an open letter to James O’Brien)

cross-posted from The Joy in my feetimage

An open letter to James O’Brien,

In the last week almost 60,000 individuals signed a petition to have Protein World’s now infamous yellow bikini advert, used to sell food-replacement shakes, taken down from London public transport outlets. In light of this much reported petition and the upcoming Taking Back the Beach protest planned for Saturday afternoon, you used your Wednesday afternoon LBC radio show to ask listeners what all the fuss is about with this advert. In light of a widespread consumerist culture in which unattainable body images sneer down at us at every angle in almost every public space, what is it about this particular advert which has caused so much offence? The problem, one of your listeners volunteered, is simply that hard-core feminists are getting their knickers in a twist. This is because, another suggested, we live in such a politically correct society these days, that fat people just can’t stand being told that they need to lose some weight. Jealousy is SO unattractive.

Listening to your show at my office when I should have been working, I couldn’t very well call up to provide an answer to your very reasonable question and so, in an attempt to clarify where your callers completely missed the point, I am addressing this open letter to you.

The problem with the advert is not with the photograph of the model in a bikini, oozing unrealistic sex-appeal and making us all feel bad with the way we look on the way to work, when we’ve barely had enough time to brush our hair and wipe the toothpaste from our mouths let alone hit the gym. We’ve seen these images before. We’ve seen this model before. We all know that adverts make people feel pretty lousy; one of your listeners, in fact, wrote in about the mental health implications that pressures to appear ‘macho’ have on men. He was right to raise this. Presumably this listener is also aware that eating disorders are one of the leading causes of ill health for teenage girls. Perhaps he read the research that the number one wish for girls aged 11 – 17 is to be thinner.

No, the problem is not the image, and it’s not even the particularly intense visuals of the image – in blazing yellow, this giant woman glaring down at us like some sort of fantasy Godzilla reeking havoc and judgement wherever she goes. No, the problem with this advert is the tagline that accompanies this image and what this says about the role of women in public space. By asking “Are you beach body ready?” the question this advert puts to women is this: do you have a body deemed by mainstream western notions of female beauty to be sexually attractive enough so as to be aesthetically pleasing to men when on the beach? If not, buy our product or else do not come to the beach.

Do you think that this is a leap to go from the advert’s tagline to the message to women to kindly leave their not-beach-ready bodies at home on the sofa where they belong? Because this is certainly the message that a very large number of women take home and this was certainly the conclusion drawn in a large global study conducted by Girl Guiding and Dove, which revealed that two-thirds of women and girls have avoided actually going out and doing certain activities because they feel bad about their bodies (including, incidentally, 29% who do not go to the beach or pool for this very reason). The CEO of Protein World himself certainly knows that women often feel uncomfortable occupying public space without first altering their appearance; this is what sells his product.

Sure, ok, men don’t just roll out of bed in the morning and out on to the street and, sure, ok, they are made to feel ugly too. But considering the fact that the women who are shown in the media are almost entirely models posing for the benefit of the viewer, whereas the men we see are primarily politicians, business leaders, and sports professionals actually doing stuff, what this says about women specifically is that their primary role in public space is to serve as a sex object.

The reason, then, that feminists are *quote* getting their knickers in a twist *end quote* about this advert in particular is because this is the advert which makes explicit the link between female attractiveness and a woman’s right to occupy public space. It is a) this relationship between women’s subjective sexual attractiveness and public space that is problematic, and this is b) particularly problematic because it feeds into a continuum of violence against women and girls. In government-commissioned research it was made explicit that if boys grow up being repeatedly told by advertisements like this that women’s primary role in public is to provide for their sexual gratification, they are more likely to engage in aggressive and violent behaviour towards women and girls.

Sexual harassment and assault in public is a grave issue in our society. Of the 1 in 5 women who will experience a sexual offence in her lifetime, a significant portion of these offences will take place in public. The British Transport Police estimate that 15% of Londoners have experienced unwanted, intimidating, and threatening sexual behaviour on the city’s transport network, and I’m willing to bet that this problem is even worse than these stats suggest. I do not know a single female friend who has not at some point in her life been subject to sexual harassment or assault ranging, in the  collective experiences of my friendship group, from cat-calling, jeering, and verbal abuse right through to inappropriate touching (and I am using this term euphemistically), being masturbated over, and being pissed on.

I am sure that you, as much as I, want this kind of behaviour to stop, and we can make a start by taking that bloody poster down.

The Joy in my Feet: Inspired by Maya Angelou’s poem, my blog The Joy in My Feet is about celebrating the work of women activists and artists around the world campaigning to end gender oppression. I am an intern with Equality Now working on a campaign to end FGM in the UK, so most of the posts you’ll find are covering current issues of sexual or gender based violence against women, interspersed with poetry and art.

On high heels and stupid choices by @glosswitch

Why do women wear high heels? It’s a question men can ask but feminists can’t. When men ask it they’re being light-hearted and humorous, expressing jovial bafflement at the strange ways of womankind. When feminists ask it they’re being judgemental bullies, dismissing the choice and agency of their Louboutin-loving sisters. So it is that Ally Fogg can get away with writing a piece for the Guardian on why he, Fogg, does not like women wearing heels (I defy any woman to do this without being considered a raging femmephobe – just ask Charlotte Raven).

In said piece, Fogg tells the story of a female friend – a kind of Everywoman in stilettoes – “grumbling about the blisters and bruises being caused by her latest proud purchase”:

I muttered something about taking more care when trying things on in the shop and she looked at me as if I had started speaking fluent Martian. “I’d never not buy a nice pair of shoes just because they didn’t fit!” she exclaimed, then we sat gawping at each other while silent mutual incomprehension calcified the air.

It’s a real Mars and Venus moment, suggesting that when it comes to shoes women are a bit, well, irrational (bless ‘em). Fogg later comments that he is “more attracted to a woman who looks like she can drink me under the table then carry me home, making a sturdy pair of DMs just the ticket”

I live in hope that one day the human race will view high heels with the same horror with which we view foot-binding. Women would be spared innumerable podiatric agonies and men would, I think, just about cope. Until then I shall content myself with the knowledge that I’m right and the rest of the human race is a bit daft.

I can see the good intent here. No one wants women to have ruined feet (unless it’s feminists who are making that point, in which case ruined feet become empowering). But “a bit daft”? Really? Femininity, and the way in which it shapes women’s supposed free choices, is a little more complex than that.

The truth is, I’m really, really sick of women’s “daft” fashion preferences being mocked. Sick, too, of the way in which things which cause women pain – high heels, cosmetic surgery, excessive dieting – are treated as choices which feminists cannot analyse but which men are free to ridicule once the damage is done. For a feminist to say “you can do this but I wish you didn’t have to” is considered a terrible denial of agency. For a man to make light of what femininity does to women is, on the other hand, totally fine. We’d rather be viewed as stupid and irrational (“girly”) than not in control of our own lives. Yet the truth is we’re not in control. We live under patriarchy and we shouldn’t be ashamed of what it makes us do. We don’t make choices in a vacuum. What we should be seeking is not the illusion of agency, but freedom from the hierarchy which dehumanises us to begin with.

Every day women have to make decisions in a world that hates women. Moreover, since the maintenance of such a world requires that everyone pretends the hatred does not exist, it’s no wonder that the rational choices women make can end up seeming foolish. “Silly” women don’t ask for pay rises because they know that they are far more likely than male colleagues to suffer negative consequences.  “Unambitious” women don’t seek promotions because they know that the cost of being seen as a powerful woman can outweigh the benefits. “Vain” women starve themselves or binge and vomit, fully aware of fully aware of the social and financial costs of having “excess” flesh. “Stupid” women stay with men who abuse them, knowing that trying to leave would put them at greater risk of violence. “Daft” women wear shoes that damage their feet because they know that wearing their vulnerability on their sleeve might attract less male hostility. These are all sensible decisions in the circumstances, but they’re also decisions which allow anyone ignorant of misogyny (and plenty of people are) to portray women as their own worst enemies.

Last month the press reported on how Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama have “pared down” wardrobes so they can concentrate on “the important things”. Good for them, but would a woman ever be able to do the same? As we also found out, a male newscaster can wear the same outfit every day for a year and no one even notices. The world does not work like this for women. As Cordelia Fine writes, “the same career entails greater sacrifices for her than for him”, but these are sacrifices we don’t acknowledge. Would a woman going to work dressed like Mark Zuckerberg be seen as ambitious, focussed and unfussy? Or would people be more inclined to see her as at best lazy, at worst unnatural?

Most of the time it’s just easier to play the femininity game so why fight it? Even within feminism a failure to be sufficiently feminine is treated with suspicion, particularly given the trend for replacing the identification of structural oppression with a far woollier, non-challenging accusation of “femmephobia”. From the way some women defend their right to be “a girly girl” and wear #feministheels you’d think that second-wave feminism had forced all women to walk around barefoot in hessian sacks. Websites such as Transadvocate delight in portraying “TERFs” as ageing, short-haired, drab, flat-shoed “ugly” women (basically no different to the “masculine women” of anti-suffragette propaganda a century ago). I’ve seen women complain about “the Birkenstock tendency” of older feminists, a neat way of combining antipathy towards lesbians with a dig about the “wrong” shoes. Basically, if you are a feminist it is far, far easier not to be vilified by the mainstream if you aren’t too butch. This is treated as a form of bravery – look at me! I wear lipstick and dresses and you can’t say I’m not fighting the patriarchy! – but it’s really a piece of piss (I do it all the time and have never once felt the cold, hard grip of femmephobia upon me). Being a “feminine feminist” isn’t a contradiction in terms; it’s not even hypocrisy. It’s just a sensible thing to do given that you’ve got serious battles to fight. Who has time to be mocked for their sandals and accused of bigotry just because she thinks footwear that causes actual physical harm might, you know, be a bad idea?

That said, I don’t think appearing “femme” is always that much of a sacrifice. High heels are a total pain (which is why I rarely wear them) but dresses – particularly stretchy, non-tailored ones – can be pretty convenient. It’s only one item of clothing to worry about and there’s no pesky waistband if you happen to stuff yourself over lunch. Putting on a simple dress is no more effort than putting on a t-shirt and yet no one ever asks “why does Mark Zuckerberg bother with trousers? If he’s so bloody efficient, why doesn’t he just make his top longer, say, down to his knees?” It’s taken as read that men have to dress in whatever a particular culture deems to be a “masculine” way. Unlike women, men are not believed to make “irrational” clothing choices at all. They might occasionally indulge in a little self-pity over the fact that their choices are more restricted but they never actually doanything about it. Whereas women are pressured to be feminine and then mocked for it, men’s complicity in the maintenance of masculinity is rarely questioned. We know that men who present in a feminine way do so at a high cost yet this doesn’t lead us to see “masculine” men as the dress-up dolls that they, too, are being.  We don’t see “masculine” men as foolish because we accept that under patriarchy, it’s safer for a man to present that way. But this is also true for women and femininity.

Men aren’t more practical or less vain than women. They’re just more respected and valued, and their decisions are not subject to constant scrutiny and mockery. They play the gender game just as much as we do only because they’re the winners, no one cares (unless they actively reject masculinity – then they, too, get to fail, and we notice). Women, meanwhile, always are forced to play a game they’re destined to lose and then ridiculed for having taken part at all. Wear heels or don’t wear heels. Ask for equal pay or don’t. Stay with him or leave. Be femme, butch or anything in between. Declare yourself cis, non-binary, agender. Whatever you do, you won’t win and you won’t be permitted to sit it out, and it’s not your footwear – or your choices – that are causing the problem.


Victoria Smith  Humourless Mummy, Cuddly Feminist [@glosswitch]


#QuarterLifeCrisis, by @JumpMag

How To Make A Woman Buy Your Cosmetic Product:

  1. Invent a flaw that she didn’t know existed
  2. Make her aware of that flaw
  3. Present a miracle product, that obliterates the flaw!

If this sounds familiar, it is because it happens all the time. Last week, the Daily Mail asked ‘should women shave their faces’… because obviously on a Barbie-like hairless woman is attractive. Every time we come close to achieving peak womanly beauty, they move the goalposts and say, ‘Oh, but wait! You’ve still got X to sort out’.

Today, I came across this article, on an advertising blog, discussing a new advertising campaign for the Estee Lauder brand Origins. It begins with surprising honesty.

Acne is the scourge of teen years. It doesn’t get any better later on: In midlife, skin is beset with lines and wrinkles. The beauty industry has long known exactly how to play into those specific epidural insecurities. But what about the quarter-life crisis and its attendant skinsecurity? You know, when your skin does something … weird … in between?

Estée Lauder’s Origins skincare line has heeded the call that no one has really issued with its new Skin Renewal Serum for millennials, accompanied by an all-out digital campaign.

“Millennials” is used to refer to those born around late 1980s to mid-2000s. The target age of this campaign is revealed by the hashtag used #QuarterLifeCrisis – women in their mid-twenties. They are actually praising Origins for coming up with a new target range to make insecure. Way to go!

 “We’ve never really had a product targeting millennials before, so we’re playing in all the places we need to be — entering conversations that are already authentic,” Mark Ferdman, Origins’ vp of global consumer engagement, told Digiday. “There’s a moment for a woman in her twenties where she looks in the mirror and realizes that something’s just not right. That’s where we want to be.”

So this dude is telling women in their mid-twenties that they should be spotting flaws? When I think back to my mid-twenties, I looked and felt fabulous. I certainly wasn’t worried about wrinkles, which going by these Origins tweets, I should have been.

What is this obsession with looking haggard? And really – other than mothers of twin babies, how many 25 year olds look haggard? Even when I had young children, I wouldn’t have used that word to describe myself.

I am now 42 years old and of course my skin isn’t as smooth and unlined as it was, but I still wouldn’t describe myself as haggard or bloated, or any of the other negative descriptions on the Origins twitter feed. 25 year olds don’t need plastic surgery, and to insinuate this, via a humour tweet about a fictional intern, is simply ridiculous.

Women are encouraged to download an app that informs women of the changes in their skin at this age… erm, you mean the completely normal process of the skin losing a little bit of its elasticity? Which by the way, any 20somethings reading this, won’t even be noticeable for at least another 10 years!

We cannot hold back time, but we can learn to be comfortable in our skin, and to accept the way we look. That won’t happen when unscrupulous marketing campaigns undermine our attempts, in an effort to sell their products. Origins is encouraging women to look at their bodies and find fault. While there was some criticism of the Dove advertising campaign, at least they were being body positive!

When I look back at photos from the past 20 years, I can see how my body and my face has changed. That is just a normal part of life, and nothing to declare war against. The lines I have are laughter lines, and the few that I’ve gained through frowning are also part of me. They show that I’ve gone through good times, and bad, and come out the other side. Like many of my peers, I am finding my 40s to be a wonderful time of my life.

If I could give advice to my 25 year old self, it would be, “Enjoy your twenties because they will be fabulous, but the best is yet to come!”.


Salt and Caramel : is a blog about the sweet and the bitter side of life. Freelance writer Lynn Schreiber shares tips on Social Media, blogging and parenting, reviews products and events, and highlights issues surrounding the rights of women and girls. [@LynnCSchreiber]

Woman Shaming: the scourge of the public eater

(Cross-posted from Slave of the Passions)

In the days following my first ever lecture to an audience of several hundred students, I was struck by an unsettling realisation. Suddenly, there were people living and walking in my city that knew who I was and would recognise me, while I would not be able to do the same. This was entirely new to me. Up until that point, I had always taught small seminar groups, so if I bumped into one of my students at the pub, I would know who they were, and could modify my behaviour accordingly (or, more likely, go to another pub). But then after one of my lectures, a student I didn’t recognise said hello to me in the street, and it occurred to me that now that I was lecturing to such a large group, things had changed. I felt a bit exposed, and unpleasantly visible. I couldn’t possibly know who they all were; but they would all know me. It felt like a tiny, microcosmic glimpse into what it must be like to be famous. For a few days, I walked around town slightly warily, wondering if the people who made eye contact when I passed by them had been in my lecture.

Almost the first thing I felt self-conscious about, and decided I would now need to be more vigilant about, was public eating. My main concern about being recognised by my students was not that they might witness me being drunk and rowdy, or that I might inadvertently push them out of the way to get served at the bar. The thing that made me really uncomfortable was the idea that they might spot me walking down the High Street stuffing a packet of pickled onion Monster Munch into my mouth. I got over it, of course. Despite this initial flurry of unwarranted vanity and self-importance, I quickly realised that the likelihood of any of them caring enough about my snack choices to take to Facebook to discuss them was very slim indeed. But that my first concern was with being observed – no, caught – eating in public reflects something I have long suspected and have now had confirmed: women are not supposed to be seen eating. Because really, they are not supposed to eat.

I’ve just read this interesting piece by Sophie Wilkinson about the relatively new trend of ‘stranger shaming’ – taking photos of people in public spaces, in order to mock, embarrass or humiliate them. Sophie herself has been the victim of this, having undertaken the provocative and threatening gesture of eating a pasta salad on the tube, and subsequently finding a photo of her taken without her consent on Facebook. Naturally, the picture was accompanied by a range of derisory and vicious comments, many of them suggesting that Sophie’s public eating displayed a lack of etiquette or decorum: “I would like the name of her finishing school”, said one particularly droll commenter.

Of course women aren’t the only victims of stranger shaming, and I find the practice extremely disturbing whoever is the target. It’s nasty, bullying behaviour to mock strangers who are innocently and obliviously going about their lives, and a huge violation of someone’s privacy to take a photo of someone without their consent and publish it online. I think this is a pernicious trend that needs to stop, whoever the target, and whatever their alleged misdemeanour. But we can learn a lot about the kinds of behaviour our society considers unacceptable, and therefore deserving of public ridicule and humiliation, by observing the types of behaviour that will leave you vulnerable to stranger shaming. One of the most noteworthy stranger shaming sites is Men Taking Up Too Much Space on Trains, the content of which is self-explanatory. In the interests of full disclosure, I should confess that I was once sat next to one of these men, whose legs were so far apart that I was basically pressed up against the window to avoid our thighs touching; and in my annoyance, I did take a photo of him with my phone, which yes, I then tweeted. In my defence, the photo was only of the man’s legs, so that he was not in any way identifiable from the picture. And I hadn’t given this issue as much thought back then. I probably wouldn’t do the same now. But the reason I felt this behaviour was so outrageous as to be worth sharing with my friends was because he was, objectively, taking up more than his fair share of the space. I was squashed into the wall, while his legs were splayed at a ninety degree angle, as are those of many of the men who feature on the website. While I don’t condone these men’s pictures being published without their consent, especially those whose faces are clearly visible and who are therefore identifiable, it’s interesting to note that the kind of bad behaviour that gets men publicly shamed is, arguably, objectively objectionable behaviour. The men in question are taking up more space than they are entitled to, and in so doing, causing inconvenience and discomfort to others.

But as the Facebook group that Sophie’s picture appeared on tells us, for women, one of the biggest crimes is to be observed eating in public.  Perhaps you didn’t already know this. But I had clearly absorbed this message somewhere along the way, because I knew I didn’t want my students to witness me eating. I think I have absorbed the message particularly effectively because I went to an all girls’ school that had a rule to the effect that sixth formers in the town at lunch time must not eat as they walked, because that would present a bad impression of the school. But this is clearly a rule that many people endorse on some level, or the Facebook group would not have thirteen thousand members, and many hundreds of photographs submitted.

As a currently slightly overweight woman, I am especially aware of the social unacceptability of being seen to eat in public. Women should not be seen eating, because women are not supposed to eat. Whatever else they are, and whatever else they do, women must first and foremost be beautiful. What it means to be beautiful is to be thin; and to be thin, one must not eat. Therefore, the woman who eats in public is flouting not only a convention of etiquette. She is also brazenly, shamelessly showing her disregard and contempt for the rules governing women’s proper social conduct and appearance.

Of course, the woman who should be shamed for her public eating must still be objectified and treated as a target of sexual aggression. Because food isn’t the only thing women can put in their mouths, amirite guys? By daring to satisfy her hunger, the woman who eats in public has shown herself to possess lascivious and insatiable bodily appetites of other kinds too, and has thereby invited all the inevitable “open wide, gobble down on this, she looks like she enjoys swallowing, the greedy bitch” comments. Moreover, many of the comments on the Facebook group show their thinly-veiled disgust and contempt for women’s bodies: witness their being likened to animals, engaged in “feeding frenzies”, or, as happened to Sophie, her mouth described as a “gaping orifice”. Just by existing in a public space and daring to nourish herself, a woman apparently makes her animal nature and the material reality of her body too visible, too real to be ignored. And this, as we know only too well from our societal fear and disgust of menstruation and lactation, is immensely disturbing for many people, and must therefore be discouraged through the use of social sanction – such as the stranger shaming Facebook group or Tumblr.

This is a profoundly depressing and dispiriting conclusion to arrive at. But the upside is that by simply daring to walk down the street while feeding ourselves, it turns out we are doing something surprisingly rebellious and transgressive. I hadn’t realised radical political action could be achieved so easily. So on that note, I’m off to buy a packet of Monster Munch and walk down the High Street.


Slave of the PassionsAdding to the background noise with thoughts on academia, philosophy, politics, feminism, and other miscellaneous nonsense.

The sound of the food police (part 1) at FemmeVision

(Cross-posted from FemmeVision)

I’ve been thinking a lot about food consumption and body image recently, which is obviously not a new topic in feminist discourse and has been written about extensively, from Fat is a Feminist Issue (it still is) onwards. In this post and the next (I have split it in two; I have a lot to say on this!) I have found that the issue of food consumption as a feminist issue is intertwined with issues relating to class and race, and that the modern food industry is at the heart of a political and cultural conflict in which the human body, and specifically the female human body, is the emblem of a war on obesity that has been wholly invented and perpetuated by the patriarchy.

A woman who openly enjoys food is regarded with suspicion and disapproval. My partner and I recently overheard two teenage girls on the bus, fat-shaming an absent friend who always ordered pudding because, she just ‘really likes food’; apparently this makes her a freak. It got me thinking about the restraint I impose on myself, and have done for decades, when I am eating with a group of women. No one wants to be the one being spoken on the bus like that and I believe this comes from a fear, not so much of being seen as greedy, but of standing out, of not conforming to expected behaviours and restricting food intake, as women are expected to, in order to maintain an acceptable body size and shape. The woman who shows that this is not at the forefront of her mind when consuming a meal is seen as strange or weak. This is the reason a woman will often go for a salad or ‘healthy option’ if the other women at the table are shunning chips (which are what she would really order if she was alone).

This kind of self-restraint can become endemic throughout a woman’s life, as explored by Lily Myers in her poem Shrinking Women, in which she compares her mother’s shrinking form (who, she says, drinks wine from a measuring glass) with her father’s (whose ‘stomach has grown round with wine, late nights, oysters, poetry, a new girlfriend…’). It’s not just food the that the mother is denying herself, the implication is that she is missing out on life experiences, the enjoyment of rich food, of staying up late drinking with a lover. Her shrinking body is a symbol of her fading existence without a man to make her ‘real’, while her father’s corpulent form is evidence of his rootedness in existence, his lack of fear to carry on after the decline of his marriage.

The image of a woman enjoying food is sometimes seen as evidence of urban decay. The Facebook group, Women Who Eat on Tubes (WWEOT), which came to the media’s attention a few months back, drew a lot of attention and accusations of misogyny. I would argue that the fact the project was carried out on public transport and seems to focus particularly on women eating fast food, that there is a class issue here as well. Considering the type of food being consumed, where it is being consumed and who by (women, who in the patriarchal view should act as keepers and ambassadors of a society’s moral values to draw a veil over the behaviour of its men), the author seems to be suggesting that these images encapsulate societal decline.

If we consider food and consumption to be a site of intersection between class and gender equality issues, it is appropriate to mention the subject of the obesogenic view of society (the idea that a person’s environment is to blame for making them obese). Berlant said: ‘Obesogenic accounts open the door for interventionist, paternalistic policies targeted at curbing consumption, always with an eye toward poor communities and communities of color, and often yoked to nationalist discourses of security and progress.’1 We can see this kind of attitude at play in WWEOT. By attempting to shame women who eat in public, the author is playing a paternalistic role, attempting to put a halt to the constant consumption that is the sign of a society that is never satisfied.

‘Fat represents modernity gone awry’, Yancey wrote.2 Modernity has gone awry, this means, insofar as we have moved away from having our diets shaped by nature, from living off the land and eating seasonally. We no longer fear starving to death in the West. Instead we are at risk of eating ourselves to death. We now have cheap ways of producing a constant supply of processed food full of sugar and synthetic ingredients, with no nutritional value. It seems we have opened a Pandora’s box of exponential cheap food production, with our self-destruction through overeating being the consequence. But the individual risk is not equal across society. While a proportion of us live in so-called ‘obesogenic environments’, and are actually exposed to, and seduced by, cheap food to attain temporary fulfillment, others actively fight against this environment (i.e. the middle-classes, who eat and shop healthily to distinguish themselves from poorer consumers). At the top are those (the state, the media) who see it as their responsibility to police the obesogenic environment, issuing health advice while allowing the food industry as much leeway to maintain the fine balance between ensuring that profit is made, and ameliorating the consequences of consumption to ensure they do not put a burden on the public purse by overwhelming the health service. (To digress slightly – I speak only in the context of an as-yet not completely privatised health service as it is in the UK. Once it is fully privatised I can only assume that the rhetoric of the ‘food police’ will disappear and consumers be left to fund their own treatment for obesity-related disease, or die if they cannot afford it. Look to the USA as an example of what is likely to happen. High obesity; privatised healthcare. Coincidence?)

In my next post, I argue that it is specifically the issue of women being fat that ‘seems to magnetize fears around living and dying, life and death, liveliness and … deathliness’.2


  1. Lauren Berlant, “Slow Death (Sovereignty, Obesity, Lateral Agency),” Critical Inquiry 33 (2007): 754.
  2. Yancey et al, “Obesity at the Crossroads: Feminist and Public Health Perspectives,” Signs 31.2 (2006): 426.





FemmeVision:   My blog is intended to be a place to talk about gender equality and what that means today, engaging in the debate with a reasoned, evidence-based approach. I post somewhat erratically, as and when I am inspired to; I never post just for the sake of it. I am interested in women’s health, academia, anti-capitalism and poverty, colonialism and post-colonialism. I often post pieces on events or talks I have attended and feel inspired to write about and share. (@lisaaglass.)

My Daughter’s Too-Round Tummy at Learner Mother

(Cross-posted from Learner Mother)

I knew it would happen, one day. Perhaps naively, I wasn’t expecting it for another few years. I remember it sweeping through my peer group at secondary school, when we were 14 or so, and I remember how ill one of my fellow pupils became as a result, unable to pull away as the rest of us did. I know that as a girl, my daughter runs a higher risk than her brothers of this becoming an issue. But I also knew – or thought I did – that as she has only just turned seven, I had a little while before I needed to worry.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

‘Mum, if I do lots of ex-tra-cise, will my tummy get smaller?’

‘What? Your tummy is fine as it is! Why on earth would you want it to be smaller?’

‘Well, it’s just that it looks a bit too round. You know. I’d like it not to stick out so much. So, should I do lots of ex-tra-cise? Or maybe just eat less?’

What the WHAT? Did I hear that right? It seems that I did. In fact she has actually broached this subject before, but in such a roundabout and convoluted way that I had managed to convince myself that I had misunderstood her meaning, and the conversation had turned to other things.

I’m gobsmacked. Though I am certainly guilty of passing on some of my own issues to my kids, weight loss and body shape has never featured highly on my worry list. I never, ever turn down food, or buy diet options. I am a member of a gym, and I run semi-regularly, but exercise for me is about keeping my mental health on track more than anything else. We don’t have a pair of scales in the house, not even because I think we shouldn’t, but because it wouldn’t occur to me to buy them!

I’m not unaware of the external influences surrounding her. The Weight Watchers ad that she saw in the cinema – before a screening of Moshi Monsters FFS. The fact that every time we go into a newsagent she can’t help but see magazine covers screaming out that some celeb or other has *shock* cellulite, or the latest way to a happy, healthy, THIN, you, is just inside these pages. The women she sees on TV – even on the kids’ channels – are all on the skinny side of healthy. She hears adults in her wider family talking about weight loss, she probably hears kids in the playground use the word ‘fat’ as an insult.

But I’d made the mistake of assuming that without any validation of all this tripe from us, she would disregard it. Big mistake. BIG mistake. I had completely underestimated just how pervasive the messages are. I mean, on an intellectual level, I know it. I’m aware of the cynicism which drives the ‘health’ food industry. I’m aware that women and their bodies are seen as public property, to be picked over and criticised in the drive to sell ever more magazines.  I’m aware of the media mis-representation of women and their shape. I know that the chance of me switching on the TV and seeing a woman larger than size 10 is pretty small. Even smaller if I’m hoping to see a woman larger than size 10 in a positive, aspirational role, as opposed to a downtrodden character in some soap or other.

I know all this, and yet I have ignored it. And worse, I have assumed that my daughter will be able to ignore it too, even though her childhood is surrounded by exponentially more of this shit than mine was, back in the in the days of only 3 TV channels, black and white newspapers and no internet.

It makes me absolutely furious that, short of locking her in a room for ever, I cannot protect her from any of this. I can hope that she follows my example of ignoring it all, I can say all the right things, I can give off the right messages, but it’s a tiny drop of sanity in seven seas of madness. And more to the point, I’m furious that I should have to protect her in the first place! Maternal instinct is supposed to kick in to save our young from real threats – presumably back in the day it came in useful when faced with a marauding woolly mammoth – imagine the reaction explaining this to our ancestral mothers now…

‘Right. So let me get this straight. WE gave birth in caves, foraged for food, killed animals with our bare hands, fought off predators, to rear our kids. YOU get to rear yours in a nice warm house, with no man-eating wild animals hanging around, and you don’t even need to catch your own food. WE worried about starvation. YOU are worrying about your daughter worrying about whether she is thin enough. PROGRESS, huh?’

How they would laugh. Because put like that, it sounds laughable. And you know what, it SHOULD be laughable. But the truth is, it’s not. It’s really not funny at all. It’s not funny when a seven year old pokes herself in the tummy because she thinks it is too round.

Not. Funny. At. All.

Learner Mother:  I blog about parenthood and a few other things (@learnermother) (Facebook) (Google +)