Forget her singing, look at her ASS!
By putting a fat butt-naked Beth Ditto on its front cover, the NME has ensured that she is better known for her curves than her music – just like Girls Aloud.
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.
It is of course ridiculous to blame Kate Moss for anorexia, bulimia and every other personal body-image catastrophe that might be erupting in teenage bedrooms nationwide. The article goes on to say that Ditto is holding back from ‘badmouthing’ Kate. ‘Beth sounds sad. She speaks quietly, like a child who doesn’t want to share a secret.’ When Ditto says that ‘if there’s anyone to blame for size zero, it’s not women…. blame the media…. blame gay men’, the NME journalist replies smugly: ‘Bravo. You’ve sidestepped the question.’
I think the NME sidestepped the interview. What on earth is a music mag doing interrogating the freshest pop icon in years about her body shape? Shouldn’t they be asking her about drugs? Or her stage routine, her concepts, her ideas, her heroes, her aspirations, her creative partnerships? Seemingly not. For all the supposedly radical interest in Ditto, she, like any member of Girls Aloud, is now known almost totally for her body. Sure, she can hold a tune, but man, look at that ASS! This highlights something crude in today’s ‘body politics’. It seems that a culture so obsessed with size, diet and weight cannot simply ask a noticeably fat person about her music or interests but instead must hold her up as the new poster girl for other forms of body image: she’s fat over thin, hairy over shaved, beehived over groomed, and isn’t that just great?!
Celebrating Ditto’s body, in the way that the NME has done, is simply the flipside of our narrow, body-obsessed culture. It is not a positive statement to put her fat ass on the cover. The NME has bared Ditto in much the same way as the celebrity gossip weekly heat obsessively notes the waxing and waning of Nicole Richie’s skeleton or Britney Spear’s curves: to send a message to the nation about our bodies.
Seemingly disappointed that Ditto refuses to join in its simplistic Kate-bashing, the NME goes on to lecture her about the true meaning of pop music. The interviewer declares that he is off to see Watford-based band, The Gallows, perform later that night, claiming that they do what all good indie popsters should do: educate the youth about ishooos. Ditto chips in: ‘I don’t like that they’re called Gallows.’ She says the name makes her feel uncomfortable because of the legacy of the Ku Klux Klan in the American Deep South, where she’s from. ‘It seems weird that a bunch of white boys would call themselves that.’ ‘We reassure her’, rounds the NME, ‘that they’re a genuinely important band – telling her about [The Gallows’] song, Will Someone Shoot That Fucking Snake, a call to arms for vigilante action against the perpetrators of date rape. We tell her we’re so happy that a band are asking, and answering, such difficult questions, but that we’re uncomfortable with the song’s suggestion that people disregard the notion of law and order….’
If further evidence were needed that the NME is as dead as Top of the Pops, this is surely it. The magazine that once employed Julie Burchill as a ‘hip young gunslinger’ chronicling 70s punk now balks at the lyrics to a song that encourages gun-use and employs dimwits who can’t bear the thought of doing anything that is not endorsed by a New Labour think-tank. ‘Rebellion, you say? I’ll just check with mummy – and I’ll have to be home by 10.’
Ditto was put on the front cover to play a role, and the interview seems to have been little more than an excuse for the NME to stamp its outlook on her, rather than the other way round. In today’s vapid pop culture, the asylum (in this case NME) is trying to take over the lunatics (the likes of Ditto). The NME will have its lunatics where and how it wants them – and if they’re fat, it wants them butt naked on the front cover.
Emily Hill is staff writer at spiked and a blogger for Dazed and Confused.
Neil Davenport looked at British bands The Horrors and The Libertines. Shirley Dent argued that Glastonbury is only rock-and-roll while Alex Hochuli interrogated the wisdom of Noel Gallagher. Or read on at spiked-issue Music.
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