When Beth Ditto meets Giles Hattersley from the Times of London, the singer whips off her shirt:
"In case you were wondering, these are real," she says, cupping her boobs. "But this," she continues, grabbing a shelf of tummy flab, "is implants." She honks with laughter and pulls her top back on.
Hattersley is clearly impressed by Ditto, calling her "fabulous" and writing of when she hugs him: "The chalky white arms squeezing my back are as delicious and comforting as slabs of freshly baked ciabatta." When Hattersley sees Ditto with her top off, he writes:
Rolls and folds topped with an adorable heart-shaped face. Having never had the least desire to paint, I'm suddenly overcome with an urge to take up oils and have a bash at capturing the play of light across her love handles. No wonder she's a muse to just about every designer going.
Ditto has designed a plus-size collection for UK chain store Evans, but she doesn't feel it's impossible to find anything to wear if you're over a size 16.
"I don't understand all these women who say they feel betrayed by fashion. A piece of clothing can't talk - it can't tell you that you can't have it - so really, you're just telling yourself that. You make yourself the victim, because if you want clothes that bad, then make them yourself. You have to get creative if you're fat. I'm really good at turning a belt into a necklace, and I can always find a nice pair of earrings."
And when it comes to the fashion industry insiders, Ditto knows they're fickle: "One year Karl Lagerfeld was refusing to make clothes for women of a certain size, and the next year he was asking me to play the Fendi party," she says.
But Ditto also knows that being fat means certain things: "Fat people shouldn't do drugs," she says. "Fat people should certainly not do cocaine. It's not that they're all unhealthy, but it can be hard on your body, on your heart, so you have to accept you can't do certain things. I don't want to die when I'm 38. It's not worth it. Plus, can you imagine if I was on coke? I mean, how much faster can one girl talk?"
While Ditto seems fully self-aware — and aware of her novelty in the fashion world (of visiting the runway collections in Paris, she says: "I'm the only one there who looks like me. Everyone else just looks the same, so think about the joy of that.") — there are those who just won't let her be.
Over the weekend, we got an email from a reader who accused us of "promoting" obesity. Actually, she wrote:
I am stumped and confused as to why you continually promote morbid obesity as a healthy way to live, or a responsible role model… While I support your position on body-snarking, the issue of Ms. Ditto's obesity is relevant and deserves attention.
Ugh. The woman is a creative, fashionable lesbian and singer with lots of things to say — but all anyone ever talks about is her weight. Is it, in fact, "relevant"? Doesn't it get enough attention already?
And let's be honest: Isn't there some inherent sexism in focusing on the weight of a woman who is making a living because of her singing and songwriting skills? Does every Jack Black interview have to include "relevant" information about his weight? Seth Rogen became a star without a svelte physique. No one cared if we posted about those guys without mentioning their weight, but women must be small and tiny and delicate and therefore feminine, right? And let's not pretend this is a health issue: We see images of stars smoking and drinking and frighteningly thin, and never get emails about how we're "promoting" those unhealthy lifestyles. But when it comes to Beth Ditto's weight, this reader seem to think it's her business, her prerogative, to make sure we know that Ditto is "unhealthy" and not fit to be a role model. May we remind you that it's impossible to look at someone and determine how healthy — or unhealthy — he or she is ? You can't see genetic material (fat mom/fat dad), lungs, cardio-pulmonary system, decaying liver or gingivitis in a photograph. Even Steven N. Blair, one of the nation's leading experts on the health benefits of exercise, is short and fat; he runs every day. Unlike a decaying liver or tar-filled lungs, you can see Beth Ditto's fat — which makes it easy for this reader — and others like her — to suggest that she feel ashamed. In any case, there's "promotion," and there's a feeling of relief that a talented, outspoken woman with an under-represented, often overlooked body type is in the media. Can you spot the difference?