The world is a thoroughly horrible place at the moment. Every day it seems to get worse and worse. I don’t know about you, but I’m spending a lot of time looking at pictures of cute animals in an attempt to bleach my brain of the terrible things that appear on the news daily. It works – for a while, anyway. So here’s a newsreel snippet of some very trendy 1950s doggos in their designer outfits for you. I hope it makes you smile!
I’m surprisingly saddened to hear that Malcolm McLaren died this morning in New York at the age of only 64. I’d had no idea that he’d been fighting cancer for some time – it seems he took a sudden turn for the worse over the last few days. His family are naturally said to be devastated, and I send my sympathies to them.
They, and we, have lost a man who was always one of a kind, whatever you thought of him – and most people either loved him or hated him. Or both. Whatever your reaction, he was unique.
Despite the fact that he quite clearly wrote his own myth from day one and then arguably pinched much of Vivienne Westwood’s limelight for many years, as well as the basic truth that his self-importance often outweighed his actual importance to British music, I have always had a sneaking admiration for the old iconoclast and I believe that British music and culture will be lessened by his death.
As with so many people, music is central to my life and I love the energy and anger and fire and inspiration of punk – the genre with which McLaren was always most associated. However, and despite what Malcolm always used to say/think about his role in the process, that whole thing was evolving independently and would have exploded anyway – the first British punk single was, in fact, New Rose by The Damned, who had nothing to do with McLaren.
Tomorrow marks an anniversary that anyone who was ever a member of a teenage tribe should be celebrating. April 1st 2010 is the fiftieth birthday of the 1460 – the original and iconic eight-hole Doc Martens boot, so named for the date it first went into production:
Decades have come and gone, brands have exploded and then imploded, but the 1460 is still there, unique, individual, original. Anti-fashion defined in eight holes.
Of the many styles of DMs that are now available, it is these boots in particular which have become design classics, and which have also gathered a cult following among the many who have had the pleasure of owning a pair at some point in their lives (I, for one, wore out several much-loved pairs of 1460s in my teens and early twenties).
Beginning life as a practical, hard-wearing and popular footwear solution for workers, the 1460 soon became much more than that. Adopted by the burgeoning skinhead movement (which started out as non-racist – ska and rocksteady being their soundtracks of choice – and very style conscious), the 1460 style soon spread further afield.
According to the Dr Martens website, these simple, comfortable boots rapidly grew in popularity, and were to be found on the feet of any number of youth culture tribes (and, of course, the musicians they followed) over the next few decades:
“Hips. Tits. Lips. Power” – Silverfish, early 1990’s
There have been some interesting goings-on in the world of modelling this week. Now, normally I would have absolutely no interest in this whatsoever, but when it concerns the desirability (or otherwise) of so-called ‘plus-sized’ women as models, I can’t help but take notice. As a ‘plus-sized’ woman myself (5ft 10ins and a UK size 16-18/US size 14-16), I was fascinated by the decision made by the US edition of Glamour magazine to feature a nude picture of a healthy-looking and non-skinny woman (with a bit of a tummy on her) in their latest edition. In some ways, the lovely picture of model Lizzie Miller printed in Glamour is a step forward for all of us girls who don’t look like the painfully thin stick insects normally seen in fashion magazines and on the world’s catwalks. Not all of us are size 0, and not all of us want to be. But, despite being described as ‘plus-sized’, a term with clear undertones of ‘you’re fat’, Miller is not actually that big – she’s a healthy, normal size. She actually looks like a woman, with curves and a soft body. She’s not ‘plus-sized’; she’s real, like so many women out there, models and non-models alike.
In an interview in today’s Observer, the Icelandic model Inga Eiriksdottir makes this point very vividly, describing how she was told she was fat and was pressured into losing weight by her model agency, despite the fact that she was 5ft 11ins and a UK size 8. “It was awful,” she says, “I couldn’t make myself the shape they insisted on.” So she started eating properly, went up to a UK size 14 (a normal, healthy size), and became what she describes as a ‘real-sized’ model and hasn’t stopped working since. Her jobs have mainly been for well-known department stores, which, like most high street chains these days, tend to stock a relatively wide range of sizes anyway – but major designers still seem to focus on the uber-skinny, emaciated women. The likes of Karl Lagerfeld and Donna Karen don’t design for bigger, real women – in fact, I recall Lagerfeld throwing a very undignified tantrum when he discovered that the range he designed for the high street chain H&M would also be available in a size 14 and above. This is something confirmed by the stunning British model Kate Smith, who is a size 16 and looks pretty damn good on it. “What does my head in,” she points out, “is that I’m a model and I can’t buy designer clothes that fit me.”
That says it all, really. The widespread attitude (amongst males and females) that to be a sexy woman you have to be unnaturally skinny is a dangerous and insulting one. When well-toned and definitely not ‘plus-sized’ women like Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez are described as having ‘fat arses’, I start wanting to throw things. Not only does that have dubious and near-racist undertones, it’s also a huge insult to those of us who are naturally curvy. Some of you may remember when The Gossip’s Beth Ditto, no small lady herself, posed nude for the front cover of a British music magazine a couple of years ago. I cheered her to the rafters for doing that – it was a brave and liberating move on so many levels – but the response from a number of quarters was that a girl as big as she is should have kept her clothes firmly on in front of the camera. Why? Because Beth Ditto is not Kate Moss, and thus, by definition (whose?), curvy/fat/real women are not sexy.
I find this sort of dangerously discriminatory attitude distinctly disturbing, particularly as there is now a whole generation of young women who have grown up not knowing anything different; who have been force-fed (unpleasant pun intended) the ‘rightness’ of the dangerous equation that skinny = sexy and curvy = ugly. I recently read an article by a female journalist in one of the daily papers (I forget which one, possibly The Guardian), which nearly made me weep for this new generation of women. The journalist had sat down with two teenage girls to watch Billy Wilder’s truly wonderful classic comedy Some Like It Hot, which stars one of the greatest curvy film goddesses of them all, Marilyn Monroe (a UK size 14 – at least). Instead of marvelling over Monroe’s undoubted talents as a comedienne, the girls were appalled by her curves, repeatedly commenting on how ‘big’ and ‘fat’ she was. For me, that’s incredibly sad – one of my formative cinematic experiences was seeing this film for the first time; the scene where Monroe, shot from behind, wiggles her way down the train station platform, followed by Jack Lemmon’s stunned gasp of “Will you look at that! Look how she moves! It’s like Jell-O on springs…” is forever seared into my memory as being synonymous with gorgeous, sassy, curvy, real female sexiness…
In my time, I have dated both men and women of all shapes and sizes. One woman, in particular, sticks in my memory. She was most definitely what the fashion world would call ‘plus-sized’, but she was also one of the sexiest women I have ever met. Why? Because she was intelligent, funny, and utterly comfortable and at home with her size and shape. Her confidence in the fact that she was a real, curvy woman made her very, very sexy, and it is such a shame that outside influences continue to characterise non-skinny women as ‘other’ and as not attractive.
I am well aware that some women are naturally skinny, and it is not them I am criticising here, of course – an individual’s height, build, genetics and metabolism play a major part in whether they (naturally) have non-stop curves or a more boyish figure. However, the fashion world and the media need to remember that skinny is not the natural, default state of womanhood per se, and that by declaring that it is they are setting dangerous precedents. Starving yourself to be skinny is dangerous to anyone’s mental and physical health, whoever you are. That old cliché of ‘childbearing hips’ is very true indeed; the genetic make-up of a woman is different from that of a man for a very good reason. Women give birth. We nurture a child inside us, and our bodies continue to feed the child once it has been born. That’s why we have curves, hips, breasts. In the dim and distant past, men would choose a woman as a mate at least partly on the strength of her curves, seeing them as an outward sign of her ability to carry and nurture healthy children, to continue his lineage (an example of Dawkins’ ‘selfish gene’?). Despite the fact that in this modern era, women now have the choice whether or not to become pregnant and have children (and many of us have chosen not to), we should not forget that our curves are an integral part of who we are as women. They give us power.
“I’ve been trying to show you over and over
Look at these my child-bearing hips
Look at these my ruby red ruby lips
Look at these my work strong arms and
You’ve got to see my bottle full of charm” – PJ Harvey, ‘Sheela-Na-Gig’