Saturday 1 October 2016

Tanya Sweeney on Bodyshaming: 'How we look is nobody's business'

Tanya Sweeney

Published 24/03/2016 | 08:26

Tanya Sweeney
Tanya Sweeney

I've long been in to the dark art of 'bodyshaming'. If you're as yet unfamiliar, you may consider yourself extremely lucky.

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Just last week, I made the grave error of sitting next to a particularly lonely-looking octogenarian on a train bound for Kilkenny. I smiled benignly, feigning interest politely as he made conversation about everything and nothing for two hours straight. I was brought up to be polite so, even with deadlines and phonecalls snapping at my heels, that's what I did.

Well, the niceties didn't last long. As we prepared to disembark, he threw his shot across the bow in the guise of 'helpful' advice.

"Now you know you're a beautiful girl from here up," he said, tapping his throat with a wizened hand. "But even you must know that you need to do something about the rest. So when are you going to tackle that weight of yours?"

I wish I could say that my response was unprintable for a family newspaper, and in a way it was. Because I just gawped at him. I'd have been less shocked if he told me he was my secret dad.

Now. You may put this down to a number of things. The bluntness and lack of politesse of a generation bred before the rise of political correctness. The ramblings of an old codger who comes from a place where all the girls are Lovely, Father Ted-styley. But the truth is, this is fast becoming a wholly modern phenomenon.

Some people just can't help themselves; they feel this overbearing, white-hot entitlement to live in a world where everyone - well, women mainly - are utterly pleasing to their eyes.

Ergo; the women in their orbit need to be just the right size, the correct level of sluttishness, appropriately made-up, the entire package palpable to their specific tastes. No wonder, in our infinite combinations, women are ruffling a few feathers.

Even I was surprised to find Daniella Moyles speak up over the weekend about bodyshaming. She is close enough, after all, to the feminine cultural ideal as it's possible to get. What does she know about people slagging her off for having the wrong body? Well, quite a lot, it seems.

A few sanctimonious types on Twitter (and by God, they're getting worse by the day) couldn't resist getting a dig in when Moyles wore a jumpsuit on TV3, to promote a recent charity trip to the Lebanon that she took with Concern.

Never mind that she was talking about gender inequality, the plight of refugees and searing, unrelenting violence.

Her neckline was too low for some viewers' tastes and that was the real stickler; that her outfit was 'inappropriate'.

"TV3 received several complaints and I spent the following few days experiencing the joys of online abuse for the first time," Moyles wrote recently.

"Everyone has the right to argue that it wasn't my finest fashion choice, but no one has the right to label me a 'prostitute', call me 'disgusting' or accuse me of premeditated 'attention-seeking'."

My hunch is that Moyles can't do right for wrong; even if she appeared on The Seven O'Clock Show in a cossack, someone somewhere would have had reason to gripe.

She's been called frivolous and a bimbo, with no business talking about world issues if she looks as though she's about to head out clubbing.

Well, the fact remains; Concern have received pleasing acres of publicity for their recent trip to the Lebanon, and it's now likely that you're able to distinguish Moyles from the lineup of otherwise identikit Irish models. Whether it was all premeditated is anyone's guess, but trust me, she's no fool.

There are those who argue that, if Moyles is orchestrating a career where her body is her fortune, people having opinions on said body should be put down to a mere occupational hazard.

That if you climb the greasy pole of Irish celebrity by doing photo-calls and lingerie modelling, that you will be consumed as a commodity, as disposable and interchangeable as a Starbucks latte.

But no matter your physical appearance and what you do or don't do with it, it really should be no one else's business. You. Don't. Get. To Have. A. Say.

But it is so very much people's business right now. With women often reduced to their ornamental worth, physical insults have become a weapon of choice.

Being called fat, ugly or a slut cut to the quick, mainly because looks have, for better or worse, become a woman's foremost currency. Never before have 'you're fat' and 'you're worthless' been so intertwined.

Culture, too, has turned physical imperfection into a running joke.

Think how often Rebel Wilson's weight has become a cruel punchline in a comedy. The media messages are unyielding; you should want to be thinner or dress better. You really should want to care.

Though it's a near-universal affliction, I suspect that Daniella Moyles and I experience body-shaming in very disparate ways. She can throw on a cardigan to shut folks up.

I probably have a longer, more arduous task ahead of me if I fancy doing the same.

It's not likely that culture will manage a U-turn on bodyshaming anytime soon… it would be a bit like making Niagara Falls flow upwards at this rate.

But it may just be worth bearing in mind a simple truism worded by author Wendy Mass: be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.

Herald

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