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Fatphobia and food: A review of the improbability of love

Author:
improbability of love

By Anna Hill

Content note: anorexia [breifly], fatphobia, racial stereotyping, very brief mention of rape

The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild is a novel ostensibly about the transformative power of art and as such has been shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction this year. The novel follows a woman named Annie who stumbles across a masterful painting in a junk shop, and the consequences of her purchasing it. She is plunged into the art world full of salacious gossip and billionaires and a potential new lover.

I will be up front with you – I didn’t think this should have been shortlisted; it’s not that I didn’t enjoy it at all (for example, some chapters where written from the paintings perspective which was fun), I just felt like any kind of authenticity or innovation was missing. Not only was it structurally and linguistically dull, but it also employed tropes and traits that are actively harmful, repeated everywhere in media.

In some novels it doesn’t matter if the characters are two-dimensional because you are reading for the plot, but with The Improbability of Love, neither the characters nor the plot where interesting enough to really propel the story. Even the main character Annie is fairly simplistic and more disturbingly there are racialized caricatures throughout the novel. For example “Filipino servants”, who are only ever mentioned in connection to their race (and never say a word) and the wealthy Arabs; The Emir of Alwabbi and his domineering wife Sheika Midora who supposedly have links with Al-Qaeda. Add to the racist stereotyping an incredibly stereotypical representation of queerness, and more lazy and uninteresting writing occurs. There is one token queer person in the book – Barty is a socially mobile, white cisgender gay man who, unlike the majority of the other characters is left with no relationship and is seemingly only motivated by what he should wear to the next ridiculously extravagant art world event.

The book, as you might assume, features descriptions of art, but almost more intensely describes food – Annie works as a chef so we often hear about her love of food and her work in creating banquets for rich art dealers, collectors and historians. As a self-confessed food lover (I will consume as much chocolate as humanely possible in my life time!!) I tend to enjoy great descriptions of food that revel in the sensuality and vibrancy and fun of food and eating, like how Ruby Tandoh waxes lyrical about fast food in her vice column Dirty Eating, or how much I enjoy anyone talking to me about the pleasures of butter. Unfortunately though I have some major issues with Rothschild’s descriptions. Firstly a lot of the descriptions are incredibly contrived with clichéd phrases such as “each variety of vegetable suggested a story” or moments when Annie asks herself: “how could anyone think of an aubergine in such a disparaging way?”. And secondly, they are harmful in the simultaneous elevating of slim people who enjoy food and denigrating of fat people who do the same.

The fatphobia of the Improbability of love first comes to light with the overweight and lonely art historian Delores. Described in unfavourable terms and often supposed to provide comic relief, because, for example, she has leftover food on her face or clothing, Rothschild plays into the hegemonic idea that fat people and especially fat women are jokes and are not deserving of respect. Delores’ size is remarked on multiple times and in a lot of ways her fat body is seen as something to consume, something to watch, to point at. At her birthday banquet Annie describes her as “a vast animated sea anemone shimmying across the floor”, whilst all the other (slim) guests’ outfits are described in detail and without immediate judgement or animalisation. The representation of Annie’s love and obsession with food is palatable and serious only because she is slim; if a fat woman were to describe food at the length Annie does it would be comedic. When Annie gets a bit of food on her face Jesse (the love interest) finds it charming, but on a fat body it is repugnant, unattractive, gross. Annie herself is described in incredibly anorexic terms, for Jesse, the main love interest, “she had an ethereal dreamy quality, as if she wasn’t quite grounded but floating above earthly matters”. In other words it looks like she was light, thin, not heavy and full, the opposite of fat.

The other, even more worrying representation of fatness, comes in the form of Delia – a textbook example of fatphobic assumptions; Delia knows the TV schedule off by heart, is uncaring, eats too much food (according to her husband, “you…eat enough for nine”), is unintelligent (when she asks what a word means she is met with silence) and is jealous of the conventionally attractive slim women she sees on TV. In a really disgusting moment Delia says “he might have been a rapist” of Jesse when she refuses to let him in the house and her husband replies, disgustingly; “in your dreams woman, in your dreams.”.

When we consume media about food, particularly those that celebrate the creation and consumption of it, we need to keep questioning who is palatable and who isn’t. Fat characters and fat people are mistreated and affected negatively in most texts that focus on the pleasures of eating (and even those that don’t, such as the Harry Potter series). And this affects fat people’s quality of life. Fat people are more likely to struggle with employment and bullying/death threats or being told that the one way to solve any kind of illness or disability is to lose weight. Next time Hannah Rothschild writes a novel I hope she radically deconstructs her views on fatness and desirability instead of regurgitating tired, boring and harmful views.

Boybands are the best

Author:
Zeyn

By Sophia Simon-Bashall

(DISCLAIMER: I use the term ‘boyband’ loosely. I do not think of 5 Seconds of Summer as a boyband in the same way that I see One Direction as one. However, I believe that many of the objections to this labelling of them stem from a problematic place. I do not use it derogatorily – to me, there is nothing derogatory about the term ‘boyband’.)

I used to think of myself as too cool for school – or rather, too punk rock for ‘meaningless, mind-numbing’ chart music. I had special disdain for fangirls, for people who loved particular pop artists with any degree of intensity. I believed that my devotion to my favourite bands was different – superior even – because the bands that I loved wrote their own songs, and their songs MEANT something. I laugh at the irony of that now, considering my favourite band has written songs with the titles Poppin’ Champagne and Stella – the latter of which is indeed a song about beer. OH THE DEPTH. Alas, when I saw groups of girls wearing their JLS hoodies, I scoffed and rolled my eyes. I told anyone who would listen that those girls were zombies with no opinions of their own, that they were completely brainwashed. I said that these artists were not in fact artists, that their music was not ‘real’ music. Oh yes, I was one of those people.

Fast forward a few years, and you’d have a hard time believing that was ever me.

I am someone who sobbed for hours on the day that Zayn left One Direction, someone who was highly sensitive to the terrible ‘Two Directions’ joke that seemingly everyone came out with in the weeks following. I am someone who has read a considerable amount of Larry Stylinson fan fiction. I have even written a little. I am someone who goes to see 5 Seconds of Summer concerts and takes 100 blurry pictures, and later captions every single one with HEARTACHE ON THE BIG SCREEN. I am someone who’s lock screen is of Michael Clifford, someone who stares lovingly at said image periodically throughout the day. I am someone who thinks about Michael Clifford constantly, someone who frets over his sleeping patterns and stress levels, as if I am his mother. Oh yes, I am one of THOSE people.

Once upon a time, I despised boyband fangirls. Now, not only am I one myself, but I love the others immensely. I actually think one of my favourite things about being a fan of these artists is the other fans. I recently went to see 5SOS on the UK leg of their Sounds Live, Feels Live tour, and it was amazing. The boys themselves were, of course, fantastic, but it was the way that they connected me to the thousands of people – predominantly teenage girls – in the room that made the night so special. The New Broken Scene is no empty sentiment; it’s real – in our screams and joy and boundless passion, we were united. I had never met the girls next to me before, but we danced to Hey Everybody together, and delightedly screamed “OH MY GOD” in each other’s faces whenever our faves did something OMG worthy. (FYI, OMG worthy actions include breathing. Have you even lived if you haven’t witnessed Michael Clifford breathing IRL though???)

Band

 

It’s funny to me that having a fanbase of predominantly young girls is deemed a kind of condemnation – surely, by now, the history of pop music has taught us that teenage girls are the most powerful people on the planet. It is teenage girls who launch musicians into success, even into icon status. If you’re a middle-aged man dismissing 5SOS because they attract excitable and emotional teenage girls, you might want to remember who made the Beatles’ career.

With the rest of the world’s disdain for teenage girls, the boys of boybands are a relief – they understand how incredible we are, they appreciate us, and they remind us constantly of how awesome we are. Their affirmation of our existence and worth is significant to us – it’s nice to have someone who doesn’t treat you with scorn. It’s also nice to have somebody with power advocating for you – another rarity. The action/1D campaign was arguably the best thing of all time, because the values and opinions of teenage girls were respected and listened to on a big scale, rather than undermined or dismissed.

More recently, Ashton Irwin of 5 Seconds of Summer proved that he was, quite frankly, better than everybody else. The band were asked in an interview about fan fiction. People in the spotlight are always either uncomfortable with this topic, or ridiculing of it. 5SOS, refreshingly, made jokes entirely at their own expense, complaining only that the romantic standards typically present in these fan creations made them look bad. They didn’t mock the creators, they mocked themselves. This in itself was astonishing to me, but when Ashton continued to discuss it, I was seriously amazed. He said that he thinks it’s cool that young people are creating things, and he loves that fan fiction is a window into our minds – it is a way of understanding what we think about, and the way we think. This was the first time that I’ve ever heard a famous person acknowledge the value of this form, the first time it has been understood. As someone deeply invested in fan fiction, this mattered a lot to me – so much that I may have even shed a tear or two. It was through fan fiction that I finally discovered last year that there is a name for the way I experience sexuality; that I am not defective; that there are other people like me; that I am whole. It was in fan fiction that I found my voice again after losing it, that I was able to let loose creatively, and it is fan fiction that I turn to again and again when I am struggling to write fiction but feel a desperate need to. Fan fiction is a huge part of fandom for me, a huge part of life in general. I am deeply touched that Ashton appreciates this thing that matters to me so immensely.

In summary: boybands are the best thing in the whole world. Other than teenage girls. But boybands definitely come in a very close second. There is no shame in loving them – in fact, I believe that it is something to be proud of. Your passion is beautiful, and it is a part of something big, something extremely powerful. Embrace it.

Why We Need The Istanbul Convention

Author:
istanbul-petition

By Anna Hill

Trigger Warning: sexual violence

The Istanbul Convention is a document that sets out a legal framework to tackling violence against women and girls. It sets minimum standards for the government to meet when tackling this issue and will ensure that governments prevent violence, protect those that experience or could experience that violence and prosecute perpetrators. Many countries have ratified [i.e. accepted into law] the convention already such as: Denmark, France, Italy, Serbia, Spain, Turkey and Albania. To read more check out this page.

I asked fellow PBG writers why we need the Istanbul Convention so badly:

We need the Istanbul Convention because we are simply not doing enough to protect victims of sexual violence, educate the general public on this issue, and punish the perpetrators of such acts. I support the ratification of the Istanbul Convention because as a survivor of child molestation I need support and security I need the assurance that there will be less people like me – less people who suffer from flashbacks and panic attacks due to those events and whose lives are affected by the violence they have faced. – Anon

I could list off a lot of statistics about gender based violence. The fact that 1 in 5 women in the UK will experience sexual assault in her lifetime; that over 20,000 girls under 15 are at risk of female genital mutilation each year; that one incident of domestic violence is reported to the police every minute. I could tell you that 1 in 3 school girls experience unwanted sexual touching; that 85,000 women are raped each year; and that 2 women a week in the UK alone are killed by a current or former partner. The numbers are shocking, and they’re a big part of the reason why we need the Istanbul Convention. But these are not just numbers- behind every number is a person. That Some of these people are people I love, people you love. One of those people is me and it might be you. The fact is that I don’t know a single woman who doesn’t know someone who has suffered from gender-based violence, or is a survivor of it themselves. We need to do something about this. This is why we need the Istanbul Convention. – Yas

The Istanbul Convention was signed by the UK government on 8 June 2012. Since then, the government has supposedly taken steps to facilitate the ratification of the Convention – such as creating legislation on forced marriage and FGM – yet continues to stall fully ratifying the Convention into UK law. Why is the government hesitating in creating a safer country for women across the UK? Every 30 seconds, the police receive a call related to domestic violence. Each year, up to 3 million women experience violence in the UK. In ratifying the Istanbul Convention, the government would be committing to implementing measures to ensure that the UK is a safe place for women. The measures within the Istanbul Convention form a structure under which violence against women would be prevented and women and girls would be protected, with prosecution of violence. It would implement safe spaces and refuges for survivors, allowing women to thrive rather than live in fear. Ratifying the Istanbul Convention in the UK is long overdue – countries such as Italy, Spain and France have already ratified the Convention. We all have the right to a life free of violence and fear. The Istanbul Convention facilitates the measures necessary for this, and its time the UK government responded to its commitment to ratify this. – Amy
Check out the petition, website and twitter for more info and ways to get involved!

2015: The Highlights

Author:
halsey

By Sophia Simon-Bashall

I have a tendency to see the negative in anything and everything. I could tell you so many things that have been bad about this year, on a personal and political level – the latter of which, I don’t need to list for people to know exactly what I mean, on the whole.

Viewing the world through grey-tinted glasses is draining. Always pre-empting that things will be bad, ignoring what has been good in the past – it impinges on everything. It makes you anxious and pessimistic and it stops you from trying to make anything better.

This isn’t a healthy way to be, nor is it productive. So I’m trying to reflect on the positives more. This isn’t me looking at the world through rose-tinted glasses; I’m still more than aware of the problems, of everything else going on. I’m not ignoring that. I’m just choosing not to focus all my energy on it, all the time. So yes, this year has been painful, but there’s been brilliance too, and it’s not fair to disregard that – let’s celebrate 2015…

MUSIC

halsey

The rise (and rise…and rise) of Halsey: Halsey exists and Badlands exists and the world is far better than before as a result. Halsey is everything that pop music has needed for a long time, everything that the world has been in need of. We can connect with her, we see ourselves reflected in her and her music – our pain, confusion, anger, our love. But Halsey is also about power, and in listening to her music, we can find our own power.

The emergence of PVRIS as rock’s (and radio’s!) next big thing: If you’ve been to any big rock music event this year, chances are that either Pvris were playing, or half the crowd were complaining that they weren’t and should’ve been. The Boston band, fronted by the magnificent Lynn Gunn, will soon be unavoidable everywhere – not that anyone would want to avoid them – because there is something about this frontwoman which is truly magnetic. The band call their fanbase the ‘cvlt’, a fitting name, as they certainly attract something cult-like – songs like My House call for a cathartic, collective scream from crowds; plus, the aesthetic and atmosphere created by the band provides a place for the kids with darker minds to have fun, to live. Bands like Pvris prove that rock is not meant to be a boy’s club – girls have noise to make too, and it’s your loss if you don’t listen.

Florence + The Machine. In general: First of all, there’s that phenomenal new album. How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful is stunning, a masterpiece with wonderful witchy vibes. It gives us all shivers.
Also…THAT Glastonbury headline set. A historical moment. When original headliners of the festival, Foo Fighters, were cancelled and replaced by Florence, there was outrage – mostly, white boys’ outrage. It was questioned whether THIS WOMAN and her band could fill the stage, could gather and maintain a crowd. THIS WOMAN couldn’t possibly match Foo Fighters, why is she the replacement? ANYONE other than THIS WOMAN could take the slot, PLEASE, not THIS WOMAN. Well. Florence + The Machine’s enchanting and glorious set blew all doubts out of the water, and most likely left all the mopey white boys gaping. Watching that set (via my laptop…sigh), I was alight. The magic was so intense and powerful that it transferred through to me. I’m pretty sure a little bit of it got into everyone that night, too.

The return of Tonight Alive: I feel like I’ve been waiting to hear from Tonight Alive for years. In reality, it’s been two years since the last album, and just over a year since the Live On The Other Side shows finished, but the year without their presence has felt odd. Thankfully, they finally returned, and it is a triumphant return. The lead song, Human Interaction (I am aware that Jenna’s hair in this video is an issue…she no longer has her hair this way), from their upcoming album Limitless feels like a personal message, sent directly to me. It came out at a time when I was isolating myself at university, at a time when everything was bad. Hearing this song was like having someone take me by the shoulders and try to shake me into clarity, except this song actually helped lift the fog somewhat – enough to reach out, begin making changes, to take control of what I could. It is the band’s specialty, to haunt yet to simultaneously uplift – a combination of Jenna McDougall’s unique vocals and the band’s positive ethos makes for life-affirming songs like this one. I know that it’s going to be incredible live, to be able to scream “I WILL BE BETTER” with the people that helped me to be better, and other people who feel what I feel.

Demi Lovato is cool for the queer grrrls: This year, Demi Lovato brought out the album that I’ve wanted from her for years. This album, Confident, feels true to who Demi is, and it’s always nice to notice that in the music of an artist you care about, particularly when you are aware of how said artist has struggled with themselves. Demi is empowered, and to hear that feels empowering. The lead single, Cool For The Summer, is especially important as a queer grrrl (particularly one who is TOTALLY HEART EYES for Demi) – the Sapphic vibes are real. “I’m a little curious” is the classic ‘I think I like girls’ line, but if you need something more obvious…”Got a taste for the cherry / I just need to take a bite” is about as clear as you can get. It’s also one of very few pop songs around these days which does not use specific pronouns…it’s the openness to interpretation that’s really refreshing – in a world of compulsory heterosexuality, most artists are sure to make genders clear, afraid of the mere possibility of having their straightness questioned. Thank you Demi, for proving that you really, really don’t care.

FILM, TV & POPULAR CULTURE

Amandla Sternberg being Amandla Sternberg (by Anna): It has been the year of Amandla; her wisdom and her acting ability were already apparent, but now we know that she is a talented musician – check out her great band Honeywater. Most of all, her astuteness amazes us – her video, Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows, covers the important issue of cultural appropriation and how often black culture is loved by white people but black people aren’t.

Melissa McCarthy’s Spy breaking all the boundaries: Films of the spy/action genre are grossly misogynistic – women are objects, woman are stupid and incapable, women are not real human beings. In THIS film, McCarthy takes all the tropes and destroys them. She is a badass, she works everything out for herself, and she puts the male spies to shame. What I especially loved about the movie was that she did not simply adopt ‘masculine’ forms in order to break free of the sexist limitations she is surrounded by – she doesn’t become an indestructible, infallible, iron man on a mission. She remains funny, likeable and relatable – she is distracted and weakened at moments by love, she is indignant at disrespect, she makes it up as she goes along. She is not glamorous, she is not slick – but she still comes out on top. And she chooses her best girl friend over the guy she lusts over. McCarthy’s spy is the first spy character I have considered a true hero.

kstew

Kristen Stewart as our new queer grrrl hero (by Yas): Who would have thought a few years ago that Kristen Stewart would become a queer shero of the 21st century? She’s gone from star of the most un-feminist movie to be aimed at teenagers in recent years to gay girl icon on the front cover of DIVA magazine. In her DIVA interview, she says “I love acting more than ever now that I’m doing the kind of work I want to be doing” – well, we love her more than ever now…she’s totally got us swooning!

The Great British Bake-Off and representation: If you’re British, you love GBBO. Fact. This year was a particularly good year, I think. Specifically, two contestants made it, Tamal and Nadiya. A show that boasts Britishness – even if it is somewhat mocking – is not one on which you might expect diversity. Despite the fact that we are a diverse population, British still connotes white. In this series of GBBO, this was not the case, and blimey, was that refreshing.

Everyone’s favourite new superhero, Jessica Jones (by Anna): A female superhero? Yes please. A female superhero with ptsd and a drinking problem and a hell of a lot of strength? YES. PLEASE. Jessica Jones fights against the embodiment of gaslighting and violence against women. Jessica Jones is a badass superhero, even though she is broken – but she is also healing, fighting. The show is very violent and can be triggering for those with PTSD, and for victims of sexual violence – but as someone who is in both categories, it is also an incredibly satisfying show. It’s worth giving a watch, if it feels safe for you to do so.

BOOKS

Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places: When I was first asked about my thoughts on this book after I’d finished it, I genuinely couldn’t form words on it. I just looked at my friend, and my expression said it all. This is a truly heart-breaking novel, and potentially triggering (content warning for suicide). But it is also everything. It is uplifting and inspiring and beautiful and feels so real – the characters are so warm and alive, I truly feel that I know them. I read the book 9 months ago, but I still can’t stop thinking about it, I still can’t shake the intensity with which I connect with Violet and Finch, and with their story. It’s important because I honestly think it has the potential to change lives, even save them.

Liz Kessler’s Read Me Like a Book: Anna and I were lucky enough to attend the launch for this book earlier this year, ft. rainbow cake! It was a celebration of being a queer girl/woman, a celebration of making it through the confusion and the fear of coming out, of living and surviving as a queer woman in a world where non-straight and non-male humans are still oppressed. But it was also a celebration of how much things have come along – Kessler tried to get this story published many years ago, but it was rejected…the subject of gay women was just too taboo, nobody wanted to know. When she told us this, I started to worry – I thought it would mean that the book would feel really dated. But it didn’t. It felt honest and familiar and whilst I am somewhat tired of coming out narratives, this didn’t feel like the typical storyline that I have heard over and over again. It’s a refreshing read, and has a firm place on my shelves.

Non Pratt’s Remix: Remix is such a pleasure to read. It is an affirmation of the power and beauty and importance of girl/girl friendship. It is a celebration of being a teenage girl and all that encompasses – it does not trivialise nor dismiss teenage girls and it does not depict them as petty or hysterical. It is not a deep, ‘serious’ book, but it is nevertheless important, and it will fill your heart with joy and make you feel light and free and invincible.

Kate Scelsa’s Fans of the Impossible Life: If you liked Perks of Being a Wallflower, you’ll love this book. In my opinion, it’s better. The protagonist is a girl called Mira, and she feels close to me in a way that few characters do. I identify strongly with her, as well as admire her in the ways she differs from me. I also adore her friends – each character brings so much to the story, and they are all well developed, multidimensional characters. There is so much to love about Fans of the Impossible Life – honest, unglamorous but non-shaming presentation of depression, a person of colour as the protagonist (casually – her story is not centered around her race…representation matters!), a comfortably out lesbian, bisexual representation…it’s wonderful. It’s a hopeful book, while still realistic, and I like that, because I can take something from the hopefulness, rather than view it as naïve and idealistic.

whatweleftbehind

Robin Talley’s What We Left Behind: I was so excited for this book for so long and it did not disappoint. It follows a queer couple’s struggle with distance, and with the uncertainty of one’s gender identity. It is a touching and helpful depiction of gender dysphoria, and of the confusion that can come with shifting gender identity in relation to sexuality. It is also a sweet queer love story, a funny and painful and beautiful and relatable account of being a teenage grrrl in love, and of trying to establish your own sense of self. It’s a lovable book, certainly, and educational without being preachy – a balance which can often be hard to find with the subjects that Robin Talley touches on here. Bravo.

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