Beth Ditto is fat. Look at her big fat ass on the cover of a magazine. The immaculate red talons on her chubby little hands rest on her shelf-like behind and scaffold her mammoth bosom. Great rolls of flesh protrude from her body like sculpted road humps; wisps of black hair peak out of her armpits and, atop it all, Ditto’s groomed head stares out, a half-sneer on her bright red lips. It might sound sexy, but this front cover is not crammed on to the newsagent’s top shelf, between Asian Babes and Reader’s Wives. Instead it’s the front cover of the New Musical Express (NME), and the jaunty headline reads: ‘KISS MY ASS!’
If there’s one thing the NME is good at, it is kissing ass, so it’s an appropriate headline. And as Ditto, lead singer of punk band The Gossip, has already starred in her own porn movie with her lesbian transgender lover, and regularly takes all her clothes off on stage because she gets overheated, this nude stunt is not out of character for her, either. Ditto is happy with the way she looks and says she has no problem with her body. She suggests that everyone should eat whatever the hell they like (even squirrels, if they’re from Arkansas) and holds no truck with today’s white-trash bashing morality over fast food.
But, of course, the NME-styled ‘Queen of Cool’ is not interviewed about her new musical direction, her life story or anything interesting like that in the latest NME - instead she is invited to talk about tabloid exposure (she’s been in the tabloids a lot recently) and the ‘size zero’ debate. For all the apparent ‘daring’ it took for the NME to put a naked Ditto on its front cover, in fact the magazine is playing it safe. It is apparently ‘challenging’ today’s body-image obsession by…publishing an image of a different kind of body! If it had put one of pop’s Pamela Anderson look-a-likes on the cover – a Cheryl Tweedy or a L’il Kim – there would have been blind outrage and accusations of sexism. Ditto is given special naked privileges because she’s a porker. She’s a specimen. She’s a freak. And freaks are, like, cool, aren’t they? So kiss my ass!
Inside there are more pictures of Beth being fat: fat with oversized kiss marks on her shoulders; fat in yellow tights; fat on stage, waving to her fans. She tries to make a few remarks about feminism and queerness, but it’s her status as an ambassador for ‘fat pride’ that really gets the NME going. Beth recently refused Topshop permission to play The Gossip’s music in their stores, because they do not offer a clothes range in her size – and for the NME that fact is more interesting than the woman’s music or views on anything else.
The magazine harangues Ditto about Kate Moss (a friend of Ditto’s), claiming that people like her ‘have a responsibility’ for today’s size-zero trend. Ditto responds: ‘You can’t hate a person for dieting, and you can’t blame a person for feeling shit about themselves. You have to blame the machine that feeds it, the thing that makes people feel like that.’ Predictably, she goes on to blame American starlets Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan for today’s widespread body-consciousness rather than, say, constant government initiatives to combat the ‘obesity epidemic’ or sanctimonious liberal filmmakers who make us feel guilty for ramming Big Macs down our gullets. And yet, Ditto is on to something when she talks about a wider cultural pressure over body image. The NME fails to grasp it. ‘Surely Kate Moss is part of that machine? Do you think she’s happy with what she’s doing?’ the magazine blandly demands.