I have a message for men who call women like Tilly Ramsay ‘chubby’

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‘It may seem particularly cruel to insult a teenager about her physique, but fat shaming at any age is nasty, bullying, and damaging’  (BBC)
‘It may seem particularly cruel to insult a teenager about her physique, but fat shaming at any age is nasty, bullying, and damaging’ (BBC)

LBC early morning host Steve Allen is at it again. In 2018, when Allen got a rap on the knuckles (again!) for potentially offensive material – this time for making pejorative comments about blind people – his bosses described his show as “centred around Allen’s “unique and acerbic take on the news of the day”.

Well, here we are in 2021, and it seems that Allen’s signature style also runs to fat shaming teenage girls. How original. Not that we should be surprised: he’s already had a pop at Gemma Collins for her weight. Nothing like a side of misogyny with our morning coffee, that’s what I always say.

Allen took aim at Tilly Ramsay in response to a listener’s comment saying that Ramsay was taking part in Celebrity MasterChef Australia as well as Strictly Come Dancing. Allen responded: “Is she? Well, she can’t blimming well dance, I’m bored with her already. She’s a chubby little thing, isn’t she? Have you noticed? Probably her dad’s cooking, I should imagine.”

Oooh, he’s a rum ‘un, that Steve! Ahhhh…great radio, Steve; incisive and insightful content. There’s nothing bigger and cleverer than having a laugh at the bodies of young women.

Not that Allen’s the first to fat shame women. Despite the fact that Tilly Ramsay’s been “inundated with support” following Allen’s comments, body policing is practically a national sport. We love following the weight transformations of celebrities, especially women celebrities whose anatomies are dissected in the media to be pored over and commented on by readers.

The tabloids revel in offering close-ups of bodies, surgery scars, cellulite, acne … anything that doesn’t match the smooth toffee-hued gleam of post-filter Insta models. Unflattering photos are used as evidence of aging faces, the results of surgical botch jobs, or weight gain. We crow if a celebrity gains weight and tut tut our disapproval if they lose it. Part of Allen’s appeal is that he speaks aloud what many are thinking, but that’s no testament to “telling it like it is” free speech – it owes far more to ingrained cultural misogyny.

A lot has been made of the age disparity between Allen and Ramsay, who referenced it in her own response to the comments on Instagram: “I try not to read and listen to comments and negativity, however recently being called out on a national radio station by a 67-year-old man is a step too far. Please remember that words can hurt and at the end of the day I am only 19.”

Does it really matter? In my opinion, yes – a great deal, actually. It may seem particularly cruel to insult a teenager about her physique, but fat shaming at any age is nasty, bullying, and damaging. Fat shaming publicly isn’t just injurious and upsetting to the person (usually a woman) on the receiving end, it’s also damaging to those listening. Fat shaming does what it says: it makes women ashamed of their bodies, which is precisely the point.

It’s not about sense of humour. It’s not just a “bit of a joke” that’s been taken too seriously. It’s not about over-sensitive “snowflakes” and the “woke” brigade finding offence in everything. It’s certainly not evidence of Allen’s refreshing “saying it as you see it” approach.

Body policing is about controlling women. It’s about making women who don’t fit the accepted model of ideal femininity feel inferior. It’s about conflating a woman’s appearance with her professional aptitude and personal morality.

Allen may well become more popular because of his comments. Some listeners may feel that it’s yet another example of his usual straight talking manner and caustic humour. If we’re really going to name it for what it is, then, here: it’s a low shot at a cheap laugh, and it’s out-and-out misogyny. How’s that for acerbic?

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