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Wait… do I love myself?

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By Gemma Garner

Content note: Mental health, references to anxiety and body shaming

If you were to ask me if I loved myself, I would immediately say yes. My yes would be firm, honest and from deep in my heart. I love each and every part of myself, I’d say. Every lump and bump, every scar and freckle. I’ve learned to love my squeaky voice and the chips on my front teeth where I’ve been hit by a beer bottle or a karaoke microphone (I go pretty hard). On most nights, I take a moment to pat my belly and say thank you. Thank you for keeping me alive. When I see my naked face, my spotty chin and my dark circles in the mirror, I feel immense gratitude, and my heart fills up. What a beautiful face, I say.

This immense love, however, seems to retreat into darkness on my bad days. On the days where I wake up with intense nausea resulting in panic attacks, I hate myself. I hate the fact that I can’t deal with nausea like a ‘sane’ person. I hate my stomach. I hate my inability to eat well. I look in the mirror with a scowl and curse my existence. On the days I can’t stop crying and seeking validation, I cannot find the beauty I usually see. I don’t even try to. I look in the mirror and curse every lump and bump, every scar and freckle. I detest my squeaky voice and the chips on my front teeth, a constant reminder of my reliance on alcohol after a breakup years ago. I hate my mental instability. How can anyone love me? How can anybody find me beautiful?

With this in mind, can I really say I love myself? Sure, we all have bad days, but when you can only love yourself on a good day, is that love real, and honest?

It’s important to note that many years ago, my bad days were not bad days. They were every day. Like many people still, my existence was painful. I didn’t believe there was such a thing as true self love. ‘How can I possibly be OK with this?’ I’d ask, looking in the mirror. ‘Who in their right mind could love this?’

Perhaps the reason I love myself with such intensity, is because I want the love to bleed into the cracks that become craters on my bad days. When I love my flawed, naked face with such a burning passion, perhaps I think that I’m looking at a different self. A self that is still debilitated by self-hatred and misery. I’m protecting her, cradling her.

I’d like to believe that these cracks, a reminder of my teenage self-hatred, are still waiting to be filled. They aren’t a permanent fixture in my journey, nor are they a recent instalment. However, I don’t believe this is the case.

Despite having come so far on my journey to self-love and acceptance, my techniques haven’t aged along with my growing body and mind. My idea of self-love that I’ve carried with me for many years; could it have become self-destructive?

Years ago, the idea of eating whatever I wanted was revolutionary. Although my relationship with food has never been too toxic to the point of an eating disorder, at one point in my life, when I was responsible for my own food preparation, I would starve myself at school, only taking 4 crackers with me for lunch. Then, I’d come home, and eat 6 Kit Kat’s before anyone could see. When starting my self-love journey, I adopted the idea that I could eat what I wanted, when I wanted, meaning I didn’t have to binge, and I certainly didn’t have to feel bad about my often strange cravings. This was wonderful, and changed my life. Gone were the diets that made me miserable.

Today, this self-love technique has become toxic. As I’ve developed an incredibly sensitive stomach, meaning I feel sick constantly, the act of eating whatever I fancy has become deadly. Not for vanity, but for my physical health. My diet has taken a toll on my stomach, bringing on incredible mental struggles that I would not wish upon any other person.

Years ago, the idea of doing whatever I wanted, despite the social implications, was revolutionary. I learned to make decisions regardless of how I would be perceived. I was debilitated by a fear of being disliked or unloved, meaning the decisions I made did not reflect how I truly felt, only how I wanted to be seen. I vowed to pretend I didn’t care, and do what I wanted. This became one of the most incredible things I’ve ever done. My lack of care became real. Now I can honestly say that I do not care about the implications of what I do on how I am perceived. I will stand in the middle of the street and sing at the top of my lungs (badly), without any fear. I speak to anyone and everyone that I feel like speaking to. It feels incredible. I became free.

Today, however, this no longer benefits me. Considering my lack of self-discipline, the idea of doing whatever I want is actually incredibly destructive to my motivation. On my days off, if I fancy getting an ice cream on my own instead of doing incredibly important work, I’ll choose the ice cream. For self-love. In the moment, the ice cream is great. Then I come home, and slowly start to resent myself for being incapable of making appropriate decisions. Or, say, if I want to seek validation in the middle of an important conversation, I will. Yeah, sure I care about your dead dog, but do you think I’d suit a bob haircut?

All of the self-love techniques that I have adopted through the years have once been crucial and essential to my growth. Now that I’ve grown, however, they restrict me from going any further. They widen the cracks in my perception of myself, causing me to regress back into an aggressive state of self-hatred.

I’m learning that self-love isn’t something simple, nor is the same thing for each and every person. To another person, getting an ice cream alone instead of doing work could be a step in the right direction. Self-love also isn’t the same thing every day. That’s why I think it’s time for me to change my self-love routine. It’s time to look in the mirror and say, ‘Thank you for everything you’ve done so far, Gemma. It’s changed my life. Now, it’s time to do some new things.’ Also, ‘Why are you talking to yourself as if your reflection in the mirror was another person?’

* * *

MY NEW SELF LOVE TECHNIQUES:

-Do the work you need to do every week, even if you don’t feel like it. Find a day that suits you. Sure, you want to catch Pokémon, but surely it can wait until after you’ve sorted your Student Finance out?

-Give yourself the space to have bad days. Just because you think you’re fat today, doesn’t mean you’re incapable of being loved forever. See things as they are, rather than catastrophizing it, even if you just pretend to at first.

-Remember that almost everybody suffers with some kind of mental health problem, and that doesn’t make them bad, merely human. That panic attack was just a panic attack, not a reflection of your instability. Give yourself a pat on the back for getting through it, instead of panic about the next one.

-Try and give your stomach a break, and eat a little better. Eating better does not constitute as dieting for vanity, so don’t beat yourself up for going against your beliefs. You can still eat what you want, as long as you look after yourself.

-Remember that self love is different every time. Sometimes, it’s right to cancel those plans and spend the evening with a hot water bottle and shitty Hillary Duff movies. At other times, for example, if you’re invited to the pub, but you’re scared to drink; just go. You’ll be OK, and your brain will learn new, wonderful things about drinking.

Research Blog: Is sexual harassment worse than bullying?

Research Blog: Is sexual harassment worse than bullying?

-by Kim Belmonte

In my high school, boys would sneak up behind girls they found cute and unhook their bras. When this happened to me, I—like all the other girls—shrieked and ran off to re-adjust my bra. I was annoyed, embarrassed and also, a little confused. Even though it made me uncomfortable it was generally seen as “harmless flirting” and I wondered if I was supposed to laugh at it or like it? [What’s that you said? Was it a “hell no?!”] Okay, okay, adult me is also saying, “Of course not!” Maybe it seems pretty obvious that it’s wrong to remove another person’s clothing without their permission. But while I was warned to watch out for bullying as a teenager, since no one was being called names or getting shoved into lockers, this didn’t quite seem like it qualified as an issue.

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Now I realize flirting that makes one person uncomfortable is actually harassment. But the phrase sexual harassment isn’t something we often associate with kids in hallways, locker rooms and classrooms. Even now, for many, the phrase “sexual harassment” conjures up images of adults, like high powered execs at Fox News. A quick Google image search of ”bullying” reveals mostly images of kids and “sexual harassment” reveals mostly pictures of adults! And while there’s a ton of research on how bullying in can lead to mental health issues like depression and anxiety and low academic achievement,[1] no one seems to be talking about the problem of sexual harassment in schools. Since sexual harassment isn’t given the same attention as bullying, does that mean it’s not really an issue for kids in schools?

Researchers James Gruben and Susan Fineran[2] had a similar question: they wanted to compare how students’ experiences of bullying and sexual harassment related to their feelings about school.

Now, you may be saying to yourself, “Jiminy cricket! Can someone first please explain the difference between bullying and sexual harassment?” Gruber and Fineran define bullying as an aggressive behavior, while sexual harassment is aggressive behavior that is sexualized or gendered in nature. This difference is really important because discriminating against someone because of their sex or gender is actually a violation of their civil rights.[3]

And more specifically, sexual harassment is based in gender/sexuality inequality and reinforces it by keeping straight boys/men in dominant social positions over queer boys and girls/women of all sexual orientations. Still not sure what sexual harassment looks like? Picture this: a boy calls a classmate gay or another homophobic slur to put him down. Someone refers to a girl as a ‘slut’ or spreads sexual rumors about her. A boy touches a girl on the butt as she walks to class. Someone repeatedly asks a classmate out on a date after they’ve said no. A boy unhooks a girl’s bra… and so on.

To answer their research question, researchers James Gruben and Susan Fineran gave out surveys to middle and high school students which asked questions about their experiences of bullying, sexual harassment and school stuff: school engagement, teacher-support, and grades. Students reported how often they experienced bullying–like having been pushed, threatened or socially excluded – and how often they experienced sexual harassment–like being touched in a sexual nature, being the subject of sexual rumors, or experiencing sexually offensive comments. Students also answered questions about their feelings about school and academic performance.

So, what did they find? They found that experiences of sexual harassment had more negative consequences than experiences of bullying (for boys and girls)! In other words, they found experiences of sexual harassment were more linked to feeling negative about school and lower grades than bullying. Although the researchers didn’t find differences in the numbers of boys or girls who were harassed, they did find that girls faced more negative consequences as a result of sexual harassment. Girls who experienced sexual harassment had lower GPAs (i.e., grades), felt less supported by their teachers, were less satisfied, less engaged (e.g., they ignored homework or daydreamed in class), and were more withdrawn from school (e.g., they thought about leaving school without graduating). Yikes! Basically, sexual harassment was related to girls not feeling connected to their schools and underperforming academically.

Since sexual harassment is essentially a way of perpetuating sexism it also totally makes sense that harassment had worse consequences for girls. Thinking back now to the “unhook-her-bra” game the boys played in my high school I see how that was a way (intentional or not) that boys asserted that flirtation happens on their terms, according to their rules. The game made it seem like boys have a right to touch girls without their permission and that girls’ comfort didn’t matter as much as boys’ fun. It’s no wonder that repeated experiences of that kind make girls feel unsafe and unconnected to their schools.

Well, what can we do about it? First, we need to make sure we recognize sexual harassment as discrimination based one’s sex or gender, rather than just calling it another type of bullying. This is important because even though the media and schools often overlook sexual harassment in favor of stories about the impact of bullying, this research shows us that sexual harassment can be even more harmful.

And then? We need to take action! Two awesome examples come from our very own SPARK bloggers! Ejin Jeong wrote about reimagining dress codes so that they don’t focus on slut-shaming girls and Brenda Guesnet wrote about raising awareness of sexual harassment by compiling women’s stories into an exhibit on her college campus. These are just two ways that girls and women can speak back to (hetero)sexist school cultures. I know, it’s still August, so school may feel lightyears away (and you should totally enjoy these last few weeks of sun and fun before back to school), but it’s never too early to think about what school safety and security should look and feel like. Write in a comment below about your thoughts and experiences—let’s brainstorm together for how to make schools a safer and more comfortable place for all students.

 

 

[1] http://www.stopbullying.gov/at-risk/effects/index.html

[2] Gruber, J. & Fineran, S. (2015). Sexual Harassment, Bullying, and School Outcomes for High School Girls and Boys, Violence Against Women, 1-22.

[3] http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/tix_dis.html

The Orlando shooting: Alternative media

Brought to you by Powered By Girl

orlando

Trigger warning – Orlando shooting

Here is a page dedicated to all those who lost their lives in the Orlando shooting at Pulse night club. 49 people were killed on Saturday – the biggest mass shooting in recent US history. They were queer people, predominantly Latinx queer people. As the media continues to blame Muslims and those with mental health difficulties, we thought we’d gather some alternative media. The articles below are by Muslim people and queer people, predominantly QTIPOC. We’ll keep adding to this list, so please send us anything you think should be included.

A video from Familia: trans and queer liberation movement

“We Must Remember That The Orlando Shooting Happened At A Gay Club On Latin Night” by Marie Southard Ospina

“Latinx LGBTQ Community & Its Stories of Survival Should Be at Center of Orlando Response” – an interview with Isa Noyola

“Queer Muslims exist – and we are in mourning too” by Samra Habib

“The hate behind the Orlando massacre” by Khaled A Beydoun and Mehammed A Mack

“Today is a tragic, sad day for the world’s LGBT community” by Shon Faye

“70 Percent of Anti-LGBT Murder Victims Are People of Color” by Michael Lavers

UK Black Pride press release

Noorulann Shahid speaks on channel 4 news

“Here Is What LGBT Muslims Want You To Know After The Orlando Shooting”

In honour of our dead: Latinx, Queer, Trans, Muslim, Black – we will be free – Black Lives Matter

“Defining safety for all queer people in the wake of Orlando” by Jacqui Germain

“This is how LGBT Muslims are responding to the Orlando shooting” by Fiona Rutherford and Aisha Gani

“Dear white, hetero, cis people: please don’t co-opt this tragedy” by Mariella Mosthof

“80 percent of LGBT people killed are minorities” by Leo Duran

“In Honor of Orlando: 10 Books That Celebrate Queer Latinx Identity”

A statement from the London Latinxs –

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Safra Project

“It was shocking and saddening to hear the news of the Orlando shootings yesterday, and to see the effects upon the world and community. I cannot describe how it feels to identify as queer, and to watch such a story unfolding- particularly, to read that the worst attack in recent US history was a hate crime based on gender and sexuality. My thoughts have been entirely with the victims and their families- not just those of the 50 lives lost, but also the countless other lives so broken by the acts of one person. At the moment, the entire community is in a state of grief and shock; it has been a hellish time, and I have not yet come across any individual who identifies as LGBTQ+ and hasn’t been affected. However, I have also been bearing in mind that, whilst this is a particularly bad attack, this is not a new thing: that the LGBTQ+ community history is steeped in discrimination and hate crime- which, whilst being an incredibly awful things to consider, is also powerful. There have been attempts to tear us down time and time again, and we are still here. The LGBTQ+ community is incredible in it’s adversity and solidarity, in it’s true meaning of the word community, and it is that that I, personally, am holding on to at the moment.” – PBGer Bex Dudley

Book review: My Daughter’s Army

By Christiana Paradis, brought to you by Powered By Girl

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I just finished reading My Daughter’s Army by Greg Hogben and the moment I put it down my heart was pounding—I just wanted more! It’s honestly taken me several days to fully put all of my thoughts about this book together and write the review that it deserves. The book follows Adam Goodwin, an attorney, who finds a baby abandoned in a train station. Goodwin goes on to adopt and single parent the child, Sera. As she ages Sera becomes an international advocate for women’s equality and her dad remains her number one supporter through it all. Here’s a quick run-down of a few of the reasons why I loved it and why feisty feminists everywhere will want to snag a copy!

  • Hooray for representations of healthy masculinity! This book is told from the perspective of Adam Goodwin, who is a father raising a sweet, caring, and loving daughter who will stop at nothing to improve the lives of women around the world. In presenting the book like this, it highlights the topic of single fatherhood, which is often overlooked. Adam finds Sera abandoned at a train station and takes on the responsibility of raising her along with his brother and three female neighbors. Additionally, Adam’s character never hesitates to express the true love that a father possesses for his daughter. We hear so much about the problems of toxic hypermasculinity and the ways in which it works to stifle male emotion. This book does the opposite. It presents the true beauty of healthy masculinity and particularly this father’s never-ending duty to support his daughter in any way that he can to help her achieve her mission.
  • Not another gay tragedy! Adam Goodwin is a gay single father. The way in which his sexuality is referred to is monumental for two reasons. First, Adam’s sexuality is not the main focus of the book, in fact it is only mentioned in reference to the loss of his partner. Thus, his character’s sexuality is presented just as normally as any other heterosexual character. Often when LGBTQ+ characters are included their sexual identity becomes their only. To the contrary,My Daughter’s Army presents sexuality as any other qualifying distinction and moves on. It was a breath of fresh air to see the normalization of an LGTBQ+ sexuality. Secondly, despite several upsets the character endures throughout the book, his sexuality is never a point of tragedy. Often LGBTQ+ characters endure tragic fates or are continually presented in stereotypical depictions. In this work, Adam’s sexuality is not a cause for depression or sadness, but rather just a piece of the character that is presented in a positive and empowering light, which is a drastic change from most novels.
  • Feminism and Faith. Towards the middle to the end of the book religious connotations begin to make an appearance. (I hate spoilers so I will not tell you how or why.) At first, I was a little reluctant to this addition; however, it is integrated into the text in a way that the reader doesn’t feel forced into understanding or accepting the character’s religion in order to enjoy the work. The religion is presented mostly as non-denominational with Christian undertones. Additionally, once I had finished the book and reflected on it I actually realized that this integration helps reconcile some ever persisting ideas that feminism and LGBTQ+ issues automatically clash with ideas of religion. It was wonderful (even if you don’t have any particular religious affiliation) to see the integration of these two spheres of thought, coming together in a mainstream title.
  • The US isn’t the center of the universe—International Feminist Representation and Inclusion! One of my favorite things about this book is that it integrates international feminist and women’s issues. It tackles everything from human trafficking to honor killings and it presents them in a way that is raw and real; yet takes into account cultural implications for the communities in which they are taking place. Often feminist works tend to stick to one particular issue or present third wave feminist issues only on a national level, this book goes above and beyond to include women’s issues on an international scale. THANK YOU!
  • Powered By Girl! But finally–my absolute favorite thing about this book is that it highlights the amazing accomplishments that internet activism can have and it is entirely powered by girl! This book is a homage to all social justice activists working in the field and behind computer screens to make a difference in the lives of women around the world. It presents how internet activism can make a difference, but also encourage real action offline. The accomplishments and implications of Sera’s work throughout the text are a true testament to the work of feminist organizations like PBG and others around the globe. Sometimes work in this movement can be exhausting—this book put into perspective that we are making a difference and each day at a time, little-by-little, the world is becoming a better and safer place for women.

Please consider purchasing and reading My Daughter’s Army. You will not be disappointed!

Fractured families: A review of the Green Road

By Anna Hill, brought to you by Powered By Girl

Content note – brief mention of: death, bi erasure, aids, white saviourism, physical abuse and childhood neglect and abuse

If The Green Road by Anne Enright had not been shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction I wouldn’t have picked it up. The novel is set in the west of Ireland and follows Rosaleen Madigan and her grown and growing up children. The four children: Emmett, Dan, Hanna and Constance start the narrative in various places and states of growing up (Hanna is 8 in the first chapter) – from Dan in New York during the aids crisis to Constance in a hospital in Limerick in 1997.

The Green Road is also about the way families work; the way that we misunderstand and create images of our relatives in our heads. It’s about the gaps between people, between recognition, the space between cliffs and words and darkness of waiting – for say a play to start, or for people to die or be cured. There is so much expecting that everyone is disappointed. The novel is also about what being a mother means; what having children does to you and your life and how that might negatively and positively affect your perspective. Enright offers us some different versions of motherhood, from Rosaleen who is dramatic and difficult to Constance who finds her children comforting and safe, to Hanna who is erratic and messy.

As an opening Hanna’s chapter is beautifully crafted and unlike the messy whirlwind that she epitomizes, or the “dirty protest” of her behavior and life – it is intricate and detailed. The observations Hanna makes as an eight year old girl learning about death and growth are captivating. The rest of the family tease Hanna sometimes cruelly, saying that her “bladder is very close to [her] eyes” and, as every crybaby will have heard (me included) “here come the waterworks”! Hanna’s connection with fluids is interesting because she is associated with them throughout the novel – not just tears, but also blood and alcohol which lends her to a very traditionally emotional feminine body vocabulary and voice.

the green road

Dan’s introductory chapter was the most heartbreaking – it follows the melancholic sweetness of queer men loving each other and dying. Unfortunately though Dan experiences biphobia from both the characters and Enright’s vision for him – Dan expresses how he loves his partner, isabelle and also says “I’m not actually gay you know”. I’m sure to some extent that Dan’s reluctance could be pegged to internalized homophobia, but it might also be because he’s not gay – because he really does love Isabelle, but he also loves and is sexually attracted to men. Bisexual men will have lost their partners to aids, they will have had aids too and simply because they are not gay doesn’t make them straight, doesn’t mean they aren’t intrinsically linked to the pain in the 1990s. I think you can read Dan’s love for Isabelle as proof of his bisexuality and this chapter contributes to the rampant Bi erasure in queer history.

Other than the lack of awareness of polysexual identities, I think the way the chapter approaches queer issues was sensitive and appropriate. One of the moments that has stayed with me the most is when a character’s mother finally comes to visit him in his last days; after staring into the eyes of her lovely son, Enright writes “he became human again. He became pure.”.

Out of all four siblings, I enjoyed Constance’s perspective best. Never prioritizing herself, Constance devotedly looks after her children and her well meaning but inept husband Dessie who “goes peculiar” when she is sick. Constance and her body are one and the same so when her body has stopped working in the way it should it’s a blip in her life – she thinks she can’t get sick because she has too much to do! Whilst waiting for the test results though there are some delicious sensory descriptions; the beauty of the mammogram with “the map of light that was her left breast” and this wonderful visceral passage on giving birth: “she remembered the undoing of her own bones as the children were born. Her pelvis opening – there was a pleasure in it, like the top of a yawn – as the baby twisted out of her. It was all so simply done. And the baby was such a force, each time.”

Even after she has given birth Constance still sees her body as a “fabulous object” for the enjoyment “for all the family”. And Dessie, clueless, once asks “How is all that?” mystified by women’s bodies.

The one character I really couldn’t stand was Emmett – I found his voice violent and misogynistic and his positioning racist and insensitive. He is living as an aid worker in Segou, Mali, but the whole chapter positions him as the white savior to Africa, which he often refers to as a monolithic, singular entity rather than the nuanced varied continent it is. His misogyny comes out in his approach to his girlfriend Alice, who he undermines and sometimes thinks about hurting physically. He treats her pain in a way that dehumanizes her seeing it as something that makes her “sweet and wild” even suggesting that her abusive and neglectful childhood was worth it because she “turned it all to good”!

The representation of childhood and the long standing affects our pasts have on us is a key thread. And that all comes to head in the childhood home the Madigan’s shared, which, unlike their family relations, is never complicated or harmful, but rather exists soaking up their lives. Here is one of my favourite passages about the house: “It was a question of texture, Dan thought, a whiff of your former self in a twist of fabric, a loose board. It was the reassuring madness of patterned wallpaper under the daily shift of light…. The house made sense in a way that nothing else did.”

Overall I think The Green Road is a delicate and dynamic novel but its structure is where it falls down. The sections can be jarring and in some cases leave too many gaps – for example we meet Hanna as a child and only again at age 37, so her life is not explored in the same way as the other siblings. Family focused novels can offer engaging ideas about growing up and relationships and I definitely think Enright succeeded here – I wouldn’t say I was blown away, but I enjoyed the fragility of the words and the subtlety of the settings.

Fatphobia and food: A review of the improbability of love

Brought to you by Powered By Girl

By Anna Hill

Content note: anorexia [breifly], fatphobia, racial stereotyping, very brief mention of rape

The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild is a novel ostensibly about the transformative power of art and as such has been shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction this year. The novel follows a woman named Annie who stumbles across a masterful painting in a junk shop, and the consequences of her purchasing it. She is plunged into the art world full of salacious gossip and billionaires and a potential new lover.

I will be up front with you – I didn’t think this should have been shortlisted; it’s not that I didn’t enjoy it at all (for example, some chapters where written from the paintings perspective which was fun), I just felt like any kind of authenticity or innovation was missing. Not only was it structurally and linguistically dull, but it also employed tropes and traits that are actively harmful, repeated everywhere in media.

In some novels it doesn’t matter if the characters are two-dimensional because you are reading for the plot, but with The Improbability of Love, neither the characters nor the plot where interesting enough to really propel the story. Even the main character Annie is fairly simplistic and more disturbingly there are racialized caricatures throughout the novel. For example “Filipino servants”, who are only ever mentioned in connection to their race (and never say a word) and the wealthy Arabs; The Emir of Alwabbi and his domineering wife Sheika Midora who supposedly have links with Al-Qaeda. Add to the racist stereotyping an incredibly stereotypical representation of queerness, and more lazy and uninteresting writing occurs. There is one token queer person in the book – Barty is a socially mobile, white cisgender gay man who, unlike the majority of the other characters is left with no relationship and is seemingly only motivated by what he should wear to the next ridiculously extravagant art world event.

improbability of love

The book, as you might assume, features descriptions of art, but almost more intensely describes food – Annie works as a chef so we often hear about her love of food and her work in creating banquets for rich art dealers, collectors and historians. As a self-confessed food lover (I will consume as much chocolate as humanely possible in my life time!!) I tend to enjoy great descriptions of food that revel in the sensuality and vibrancy and fun of food and eating, like how Ruby Tandoh waxes lyrical about fast food in her vice column Dirty Eating, or how much I enjoy anyone talking to me about the pleasures of butter. Unfortunately though I have some major issues with Rothschild’s descriptions. Firstly a lot of the descriptions are incredibly contrived with clichéd phrases such as “each variety of vegetable suggested a story” or moments when Annie asks herself: “how could anyone think of an aubergine in such a disparaging way?”. And secondly, they are harmful in the simultaneous elevating of slim people who enjoy food and denigrating of fat people who do the same.

The fatphobia of the Improbability of love first comes to light with the overweight and lonely art historian Delores. Described in unfavourable terms and often supposed to provide comic relief, because, for example, she has leftover food on her face or clothing, Rothschild plays into the hegemonic idea that fat people and especially fat women are jokes and are not deserving of respect. Delores’ size is remarked on multiple times and in a lot of ways her fat body is seen as something to consume, something to watch, to point at. At her birthday banquet Annie describes her as “a vast animated sea anemone shimmying across the floor”, whilst all the other (slim) guests’ outfits are described in detail and without immediate judgement or animalisation. The representation of Annie’s love and obsession with food is palatable and serious only because she is slim; if a fat woman were to describe food at the length Annie does it would be comedic. When Annie gets a bit of food on her face Jesse (the love interest) finds it charming, but on a fat body it is repugnant, unattractive, gross. Annie herself is described in incredibly anorexic terms, for Jesse, the main love interest, “she had an ethereal dreamy quality, as if she wasn’t quite grounded but floating above earthly matters”. In other words it looks like she was light, thin, not heavy and full, the opposite of fat.

The other, even more worrying representation of fatness, comes in the form of Delia – a textbook example of fatphobic assumptions; Delia knows the TV schedule off by heart, is uncaring, eats too much food (according to her husband, “you…eat enough for nine”), is unintelligent (when she asks what a word means she is met with silence) and is jealous of the conventionally attractive slim women she sees on TV. In a really disgusting moment Delia says “he might have been a rapist” of Jesse when she refuses to let him in the house and her husband replies, disgustingly; “in your dreams woman, in your dreams.”.

When we consume media about food, particularly those that celebrate the creation and consumption of it, we need to keep questioning who is palatable and who isn’t. Fat characters and fat people are mistreated and affected negatively in most texts that focus on the pleasures of eating (and even those that don’t, such as the Harry Potter series). And this affects fat people’s quality of life. Fat people are more likely to struggle with employment and bullying/death threats or being told that the one way to solve any kind of illness or disability is to lose weight. Next time Hannah Rothschild writes a novel I hope she radically deconstructs her views on fatness and desirability instead of regurgitating tired, boring and harmful views.