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Big Question: Is Beth Ditto really a good role model for women?

bethditto.jpgAmber McNaught asks if bigger really is better...

Ever since The Gossip singer Beth Ditto mooted the idea of designing a fashion line for Topshop, magazine editors across the land have been falling over themselves to write about how fabulous it would be to see a "real" woman (because thin women aren't "real", obviously, didn't you know?) like Beth become a female role model, putting all those skinny-malinkies firmly in their place.

They're not just talking about Beth's quirky fashion sense, either. No, the real reason the media loves Beth Ditto at the moment is because of her 15 stone body. At a time when the Size 0 backlash is at its height, women like Ditto are big news - literally. The problem with this, though? Well, at 15st, and standing just five feet and one inch tall, Beth's not just "curvy", and she's not just pleasantly plump either, is she? No, let's make no bones about it: Beth Ditto is overweight, and would almost certainly be classed as obese. So my big question for today is this: is she really such a great role model, in terms of size at least? And do we really want to encourage women to believe that being overweight is somehow "cool" or desirable?

First magazine certainly thinks so, anyway. In an editorial this week, editorial director Jane Johnson writes: "At 15st, 25-year-old Beth admits that food is very important in her life... And now, it seems, she is passing her body image views onto super-skinny Kate Moss. So let's hope that the world's most famous waif takes her advice, puts on a few pounds - and becomes a role model for curvy women. Then we will known the size 0 backlash is well and truly in full swing."

Oh, I think the "size 0 backlash" is well and truly swinging, Jane - no worries there. What does worry me, though, is the way that "super-skinny" models seems to be being replaced by overweight women as the nation's role models. Don't get me wrong: it's certainly refreshing to see a woman like Beth Ditto, who's clearly happy with her body shape, and I'm all for things that help women feel more comfortable in their own skins - just not when it's at the expense of their health. And while I'm as happy as anyone else to see the media finally clock onto the idea that anorexia is not a good look, I worry that by replacing skinny role models with overweight ones we're just exchanging one unhealthy "ideal" for another.

Yes, big can be beautiful, and there's no doubt in my mind that someone of Beth Ditto-proportions can be just as beautiful and stylish as someone smaller. But actually, the "size 0 backlash" as it's been dubbed has nothing to do with beauty or fashion - or it shouldn't. No, it's all about health - which makes it all the more puzzling that while size 0 models are (rightly) being called unhealthy, their overweight counterparts are currently being applauded for their "body image views". Surely the best role model would be someone whose weight was in proportion to her height - and surely being too fat is just as unhealthy as being too thin?

Which brings me back to the big question: do you think women like Beth Ditto are healthy role models for women, or have we just gone from extreme to the other?

Amber McNaught is a freelance journalist and Shiny Media contributor. She is very much a "real" woman, thanks very much.

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Posted by on April 26, 2007


It's very possible to be overweight *and* healthy if you are eating the right things, more or less, and getting exercise. Someone like this woman has a healthy attitude to her body image. Discrimination against big people is the last acceptable form of prejudice.

Posted by: tvor | April 26, 2007 6:11 PM

While I agree with Diane's post above and have no problems with the size and shape of Beth Ditto, I don't agree that she should have been given an agony aunt page in a national newspaper just because she's famous and fat. Does she have counselling skills? Is she even writing the column herself? Probably not. I'm disappointed in The Guardian for allowing this to run.

Posted by: Glenda | April 27, 2007 11:18 AM

She is a GREAT role model in terms of body acceptance and self-esteem - but not necessarily in terms of her weight.

can't we and the mainstream media stop talking about women's weight and looks? I know I obsess, much more than I care to admit... it'd be nice if it were less important to us all.

Posted by: DIANE SHIPLEY | April 27, 2007 2:53 PM

Of course she's not a good role model, I'm a bit taller and a bit lighter and am unfit, I'm crap at losing weight and hate the way people think I'm stupid for "letting" myself get overweight, but does that mean I think someone who is obese should be held up as some ideal for women to aspire to? Er no. I want to be slimmer, dammit, watch me go!

Posted by: Linda | April 28, 2007 12:16 AM

I absolutely agree with most of these comments - i was horrified when certain magazines and newspapers started to hail Beth Ditto as some kind of role model for women: it is patently clear that she is NOT a healthy weight - you cannot have that much excess weight and still be healthy. this is not about prejudice or discrimination, it's about medical fact, and it is every bit as irresponsible to promote an overweight image as desirable as it is to promote an underweight one. it seems to be a knee jerk reaction to the size zero media-led frenzy.

Posted by: Flick | May 17, 2007 2:03 PM

I think Beth Ditto is absolutely fantastic. As a large lady myself, I get very down about my looks in this 'Thinner is better' culture. I watched Beth on the Friday Night Project this week and she was an absolute inspiration. Go Beth!

Posted by: Meeeeee | July 15, 2007 9:04 PM

Aren't there enough obese people in this world? Do we need to encourage this unhealthy behavior?

Obesity is NOT cool and it is NOT ok to glorify obese women as 'real' women.

Obesity is directly linked to the development of diabetes and subsequent end organ damage including coronary artery disease, renal failure and peripheral vascular disease. There are some indicators that obesity may be linked to cancer. Please spare us the "I'm overweight, but healthy" garbage.

People need to have weight proportionate to height.


Posted by: rk-d | August 17, 2007 12:57 PM

Ironic that it's the "size 0 backlash" when thanks to changes in clothing sizes what used to be a size 0 is now the equivalent to what used to be a 2 or 4. I feel so sorry for the women who are healthily thin but can't buy clothes because of sizing or the fact clothes are made for a completely different shape to them.
We really are swapping one extreme for another.

Posted by: lisa | September 10, 2007 7:22 AM

all in all, beth ditto is stunning. for someone to take the time and write something like this, is in my opinion just a waste of time, of course its not her weight that makes her a role model, its her personality and her acceptance of her own body, overweight or not.

Posted by: kaylee | September 22, 2007 8:31 PM

Beth ditto is NOT a role model, if youre getting rid of skinny girls from our catwalks then get rid of beth ditto from covers of nme.

It shouldn't be allowed. Slightly curvy then fairplay.
But britain is only four years behind america in obesity statistics and having a 15 stone role model isn't going to help matters.

Im not saying everyone should be size zero, but she is not an admirable women.

Posted by: lauren | September 27, 2007 8:00 PM

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