Well, it worked so well last time… So instead of just having a moan over at Erika’s place, I wrote a letter to the BBC:

Dear Over To You team

I have been increasingly upset by some of the comments that presenters have made over a number of recent stories in the news on the subject of steps being taken to address the serious problems that women face as a result of the fashion industry’s dangerous “size zero” culture.

The particular stories I am thinking of include: restrictions introduced in Brazil regarding the age and health of fashion models; regulations introduced in Italy regarding the size of shop mannequins; and an interview with an Australian “plus size” model whose name I unfortunately cannot remember.

In various programmes your presenters made remarks trivialising and demonstrating total ignorance about the deep problems women face – both the models themselves and we “normals” who are expected to try and emulate them.

For example, in relation to the Italian story, more than one presenter made comments that showed how silly he thought the whole idea. On World Have Your Say, Ros Atkins said “I’ve never heard of sizeism” – to a caller who pointed out that the real issue was a much wider culture of making judgements about people, especially women, based on their size. Frankly, this just shows how much Mr Atkins knows and cares about it – not very much. Had it really never occurred to him that people, especially women, suffer discrimination based on their size? If not, why not?

In an unrelated programme, there was a short interview with an Australian “plus size” model. I believe she said she was a size 12 to 14: hardly enormous! I was thoroughly pleased by this piece, until the end when (after the interviewee had been cut off and could not answer back) the presenter made a throwaway comment along the lines of: “that was [the woman’s name], who is what we politely call a plus size model”. The jokey contempt in his voice was audible. To me, it was just so clear that – whatever the woman said, which was incidentally intelligent and robust – the presenter’s real view was that she was just some fat woman and that we were only being polite when we pretended to listen to her point of view or to think that she could really be desirable as a catwalk model. “Sizeism” in action.

It was an outrageous remark for him to make, in the context of what was otherwise a nice positive piece about non-skinny women.

For the Brazilian story, the emphasis was very much on the health of the models (which as far as it goes was laudable), but it was striking that no voice at all protested the idea that fashion models and fashion icons should be thin. It was accepted that the industry would always want women to be thin, that thinness is inherently desirable, and that the appetite for thin women was inevitable. The question whether any of this was true or acceptable was not even asked, never mind given proper consideration.

The BBC should be leading the way when it comes to rooting out sexist, sizeist attitudes like these. Indeed, the sensitivity with which other debates have been held shows how well you can normally handle issues of discrimination. It is unimaginable that your presenters would have acted this way if the story had been about measures taken to combat, say, racism, homophobia or ableism. Yet when the problem relates to (women’s) body size/image, your presenters seem unable to take the issue seriously, handle it sensitively, do proper research or even refrain from jokey trivialising remarks.

So – does the BBC take sexism seriously? Does the BBC care if its presenters display sexist attitudes? And, if so, what are you going to do about it?

These recent examples, by the way, are only examples. They exemplify what seems to me to be a wider problem. It seems to me that the kinds of sexism that Westerm “privileged” women live with are not taken seriously by the BBC. Gender issues that are perceived as non-threatening, such as the “no-brainer” of whether women should be allowed the vote or whether we should be free from FGM, are usually taken seriously and treated appropriately. But gender issues which are a bit closer to home, which if taken seriously would threaten and challenge Western sexism, are trivialised and marginalised.

I look forward to hearing from you

Yours faithfully

[Maia]
Size 10

I am not apparently guaranteed an individual reply, but nevertheless “my comments are important and will be read”. We’ll see.