Hilary Fannin: Calling women fat will always make the news

Times may change, but ‘cosmetically unfit’ birds will never be allowed to fly

‘Nobody gave a second thought to the ethics of some girl being sent home by her employer because she wasn’t looking too hot or chirpy.’ Photograph: iStock

‘Nobody gave a second thought to the ethics of some girl being sent home by her employer because she wasn’t looking too hot or chirpy.’ Photograph: iStock

 

A particularly insidious piece of flotsam bobbing about on the boiling sea of world news that caught my eye recently was a report that the Egyptian state broadcaster had suspended eight female TV presenters and advised them to go on a diet.

The presenters were catapulted out of the make-up chairs, shooed away from the camera lens and given a month to lose weight before their superiors considered whether their appearance was appropriate enough to return to their jobs.

Staggering, eh? It reminded me of a distraught air hostess I met many years ago in a bar in Brooklyn. She had spent a day and a night weeping over a clean-shaven, two-timing, no-good co-pilot and then turned up for work, her features bloated with grief, only to be told to go home again until her eyes weren’t so puffy.

The details are hazy. I think her name was Shari or Lindy. Listen, it was so long ago that Van Halen were rocking the jukebox, Reagan was in the White House, and I was wearing a pair of stone-bleached, leopardskin, crotch-hugging denims. (I wish I was joking.)

It was 1980-something, anyhow, and the equally sartorially challenged mates I was hanging out with still had hair and waists; some even had ambition.

We were young, there was crushed ice in the whiskey sours, the whooshing, perfumed scent from the laundromat next door pierced the balmy Brooklyn night. As Van Halen plucked around, we offered the snivelling air hostess a drink and nobody gave a second thought to the ethics of some girl being sent home by her employer because she wasn’t looking too hot or chirpy.

The phrase used to validate the airline’s decision to send the young woman home has never peeled away from my nicotine-stained mind, despite the intervening decades. (While we’re on the subject, I had two fags the other night, outside a wine bar with a friend, my first in more than a year. Haven’t had one since, although I’ve recently found myself crouching behind smokers, willing their exhalations to waft in my direction.)

Unfit to fly

Where was I? Lindy (if that was her name) was told to go home and pull herself together because she was “cosmetically unfit to fly”.

Poor old Lindy or Shari. I wonder where she is now.

I thought of her when I was reading about those Egyptian newscasters, those supposedly overweight women deemed cosmetically unfit to break the bad news to the world that it’s cannibalising itself, gorging on its young and annihilating its ecosystems.

Some Egyptian TV executives must assume that we don’t want to listen to someone whose body-mass index is in the red zone, or maybe they are labouring under the illusion that unpalatable truths are easier to swallow if they come out of the mouths of girlies with a gap between their thighs.

Sitting in traffic

I found myself in suburban traffic the other evening, crawling behind not one but two stretched Hummers. I was on my way to a shopping centre to return two pairs of school trousers and purchase a mobility aid and a second-hand Xbox controller. (Neither was for my own use, pleasure or delectation.)

As the lights turned red, yet again, I noticed that a snail trail of tomato seeds, last seen at lunchtime, had dried into my old blue jumper. It’s a glamorous life, I thought, as one of the Hummers drew up outside a suburban house and the door flew open. A bevy of debutantes spilled on to the path, painted children, some ample, some not, corsages pinned to their wrists, up-styles nesting on neck-tops, flat-ironed curls cascading over anxious faces, phones gobbling up their images.

The lights went green. I drove past the little girls, cosmetically fit to climb aboard their rented Hummer, to drive to an anonymous hotel and, before the chicken and chips had even landed, to flock to the ladies and crowd in front of dimly-lit mirrors, staring at their reflections, seeing flaws where there is loveliness, whispering terrible secrets into each other’s delicate ears, before swooping on to sticky dancefloors, full of arrogance and fear and smuggled alcohol and that pain of feeling not quite good enough, not entirely fit to fly.

No, of course that’s not your daughter. It was me at that age, full of Bacardi and hope and despair.

I drove on, quietly hoping that their impossibly arduous journey might some day lead to an entirely unfit place where, at the least, they wouldn’t give a toss about a tomato stain.

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