Journal, 21st September 2014
I am not going to talk about the Scottish Referendum. I’m not I’m not I’m not. Well, not much.
To my surprise, the No vote actually made me sadder than I expected. On the day of the election I had an ill-formed, hopelessly optimistic belief that, regardless of the vote, good things might be coming: a “No” might precipitate a proper democratic rethink of how the UK works, an appetite for federalism and an end to the English dominance. Instead we’re hearing transparent talk from David Cameron of “English people must get their voice heard” – because they’re so muzzled at the moment, the news is full of all the Welsh affairs and George Osborne never shuts up about Inverness – and serious suggestions that Westminster be given over to England-only MPs for two days a week.
To anyone of even moderate intelligence, this is a naked power-grab that screams its nature at every point. The symbolism of insisting that Westminster is the proper forum for England-only affairs is a clear statement that England and the UK are effectively the same thing, the botch-job of “do it by parliamentary protocol” means that the implications of four devolved countries can be ducked. During the referendum we were told, repeatedly, that the Union was “a partnership of equals” in a spectacular display of strategically-acquired ignorance. The devolved parliaments in the non-English countries are really a fig-leaf for English dominance; they effectively make the countries’ limited autonomy look like a benevolently-extended privilege. There is just no forum, none, where Scotland or Wales or Northern Ireland can look at the U.K. and say “our voice is as important as yours” and that’s what you’d expect from a civilised, equitable union. Instead of addressing that, we’re being presented with the Tories bolstering their power in Westminster – and if you think the calls will stop at two-days-in-Westminster then you might as well go back to sleep. I couldn’t be bothered reading The Shock Doctrine, but I’ll lay good odds that this is what Naomi Klein was going on about.
This week, for the second week in a row, I heard this song in which the female singer is all about the bass. I’m expect it’s called “All About The Bass,” although this is guesswork. I’m not quite sure what this means, but the singer repeatedly emphasised “no treble” so I can only assume it’s is a concept of great importance to her; also, since pop music is now something so alien to me that it’s probably not called pop music any more, the fact I’ve heard this twice indicates that it’s probably a huge hit single. It’s mostly about the singer being chunky ‘n’ proud, dissing all dem skinny bitches and stating that she’s here to tell me that I’m perfect from the bottom to the top. I think I can be confident that she’s never met me.
This whole “you’re perfect” fad, the idea that you should love your body just the way it is – is that… sort of new? I’ve certainly never come close to loving mine. Actually let’s be clear: I pretty much despise it. Not in a serious way, I hasten to add, but in the way that I hate ironing-boards – it’s just badly-designed, not good at what it’s meant to do. When I was younger, I’m pretty sure we were told that anyone who judged you based on your looks was shallow, that appearances didn’t tell you anything about a person – in short, that it didn’t really matter how you looked. The morphing of this into love-the-skin-you’re-in (sick-bucket please) is… well, it troubles me, let’s say. It’s telling that the catchphase I gave above and most other prominent examples, like Dove’s sickly Campaign For Real Beauty, are commercially-conceived: they’re driven by the need to be touchy-feely and consumer-cuddly, while at the same time continuing to sell us shit. “Love the skin you’re in” enables Olay to flog you overpriced moisturiser; “don’t get hung up about the skin you’re in, it’s not even one of the ten most important things about you” doesn’t.
That’s what companies do, of course, but this now seems to have permeated down to well-intentioned people who actually want to help those with poor self-image (rather than just pretending to). When I was a kid, well intentioned adults told me that people would love me the way I was, but I don’t remember being told that I was perfect. Bluntly, this was a good thing – you try telling a skinny, short, clumsy asthmatic with a curiously large head that he’s perfect, and all you’ll really tell him is that you’re a liar. I’ve since replaced “skinny” and “short” with “obese” but, even if I had more abs and fewer chins, I think I’d still be dissatisfied with a pile of slowly-rotting flesh that’s weak, stiff-backed, slow and clumsy if you compare it to – say – a stray cat. I think that’s why I’ve never really been interested in the Olympics, because it’s hard to take a race between the pinnacles of human physique seriously once you remember they’d all lose to a whippet.
But here’s the thing; none of the above really bothers me, because I long ago decided not to worry about my body (or at least, not any more than I worry about cleaning the bathroom. I do try and maintain basic hygiene and the ability to walk). It seems a contemporary obsession to tell young people that they’re perfect, but this is like telling them that maths is fun or that drinking isn’t – it’s obviously bullshit, because otherwise you wouldn’t have to explain it. All it does is add pressure, make someone feel defective for failing to love their body, and convince them that the people who compliment them are just telling piss-weak lies. As inspirational speeches go, “Yeah, we all hate our pathetic piles of gristle and we learn to live with it, anyone who tells you differently is lying” might not be quite as soaring, but at least it takes the pressure off.