There are some precious moments when you’re reading the Daily Mail and it seems that the hatreds it espouses are too many and varied to be contained in one coherent feature. The prose is stretched in every direction by loathing but somehow, magically, holds on to its double voice. Around the time of the Hutton report, I gleefully anticipated the implosion of the Mailiverse as the opposing forces of ‘hating Labour’ and ‘hating the BBC’ worked against each other – but of course, if I’d paid as much attention to how the Mail says stuff as I did to what it was saying, I would have been a lot cooler. Those masterful Mail subs don’t let a tiny thing like conflict of interest undermine their copy. These negatively capable editorial geniuses can easily hold on to to contradictory ideas at the same time without any irritable reaching after fact and reason, whipping up disgust all around the reader.
Welcome, then, beaming journo Kate Faithfull with a magnificent example of this style. She’s the one in the middle, but don’t worry, she doesn’t really look like that – she’s wearing a fat suit to London Fashion Week in a mission to “challenge every received prejudice in the industry” and “show the fashionistas what real curves look like”. Actually, if the industry wanted to know what real curves look like, it turns out in the course of the article that Dawn French was right there anyway being plus-sized and fabulous, so Kate’s weird balloon tits and sack belly would be redundant even if they did have any relation to “real curves”.
The tiny chance that Kate’s mission is in good faith but misguided is rapidly crushed by the sneering prose that follows. Kate feels “soft and sexy” in her fatsuit because “there are no rolls of wobbly flesh” – because real fat would be too revolting for the Mail‘s delicate readers to tolerate. When she has to dress her new round body, she declares: “It’s a good job my breasts are made of foam and don’t require any support — it would have to be a bra to fit two space hoppers.” There’s no sense that Kate has any feeling of ownership or sympathy for this body. She finds it ridiculous, she doesn’t even look for clothes that fit (maybe an actual fat girl could have advised her on bra shopping?), and the outfit she settles on is spectacularly cheap-looking and unflattering. The default colour for both fashion shows and plus-size clothing is black, so how did Kate end up in a fuchsia and pea-green? By trying really hard to look hideous, that’s how.
So while the piece goes on to confirm what Kate claims she set out to discover – um, models are thin! fashion people judge your looks! hold the front page and THINK OF THE IMPRESSIONABLE YOUNG GIRLS! – it’s also able to gratuitously attack the overweight under cover of sympathy. Kate plays her size for laughs again and again: “I will need three [chairs] to accommodate my bottom, not to mention a miracle to prevent [them] collapsing”, she hoots, apparently forgetting that her bulk is lightweight foam and she’s in more danger of blowing away than breaking a seat. But the real magic happens at the very end:
Clearly, the front line of fashion is not the place for me. I feel like a circus freak. I truly can’t face going to the other shows I – so I run. With tears in my eyes, I bolt out into the street like a bride sprinting away from a wedding she knows will never make her happy.
For the first time today, I feel like I can breathe again. I think to myself that I hope I horrified and repulsed all those snotty skinnies at the shows.
They live in a rarefied world, and they should be forced to confront reality for once – to realise that not everyone looks like them, or even wants to be like them.
I never thought I’d say this, but forget the catwalk. Give me the fatwalk any day.
This is the climax, and it sounds pretty dramatic even if it’s mostly fiction. “Like a bride sprinting away from a wedding she knows will never make her happy”? Really? And what about (again) Dawn French, Victoria Wood and Lorraine Kelly, who apparently all manage to mingle with the “snotty skinnies” without fleeing in disgrace? Never mind that, check out the second to last paragraph. Following on from what’s gone before, “they” seems strictly to encompass the “snotty skinnies”, but sitting nakedly after a line break, “they” could easily be the “fatties” as well. And it makes just as much sense, after Kate’s pillorying of the overweight throughout, for her to be saying that they “should be forced to confront reality for once – to realise that not everyone looks like them, or even wants to be like them.” Because whether you’re alarmingly bony or disgustingly plump, the key thing in the Mailiverse is that you’re not acceptable unless you’re ‘normal’. So little Kate turns away from the catwalk, peels off her foam and goes back to being a comfortable size 10. She hasn’t learnt anything. She hasn’t taught anyone else anything. But she has confirmed that the too-thin and the too-fat are almost equal candidates for mockery – which is what the Mailiverse really wanted to know all along.