Translation: In praise of the black woman

The following is the (unauthorised) translation of “Elogio de la mujer negra”, a text by Jaime Jaramillo Escobar published in Colombian magazine SoHo for Edition 143 (March, 2012). This edition was marketed by SoHo as an ‘ironic’ ‘anti-racist’ response to the central photograph accompanying an article about the Zarzur women (a powerful family in Cali, Colombia), published in December 2011 by the Latin edition of Spanish magazine ¡Hola!. The original photograph caused outrage in Colombia and launched a debate about race, racism, and classism in diverse media. The original text in Spanish (easily found through Google) is badly structured, poorly written, and confusing. I will translate whenever possible, and interpret when necessary. The translation corresponds to the online text available in the SoHo website.

I am providing this translation as reference for my research work, which is entirely in English, and mostly destined to an English speaking audience.

In praise of the black woman

by Jaime Jaramillo Escobar

[N.T. This first paragraph appears in the online version, and not in the paper one]

In ¡Hola!’s edition, the doña posed all in white with her daughter, Sonia Zarzur de Daccach, her grand-daughter Royi, and her great-grand-daughter Rosa, in her ‘Hollywoodian mansion’ in Cali while a couple of black maids carried — in perfect symmetric decoration — exquisite silver trays. SoHo decided to rise to the challenge of continuing Hola!’s legacy and with this aim in mind invited Belky Arizala, Yésica [sic] Paola Montoya, Diana Mina and Vanessa Parra — four spectacular Colombian models — to pose all in black in a powerful Hollywoodian mansion.

Returning of attentions with some photographs taken in the formidable Cundiboyacense Beverly Hills.

[N.T. Here begins the text by Jaramillo Escobar as published in the print version]

The colour of humankind is the one called black. We are all black and African. Humankind was not born in the fertile valley between the Tigris and the Euphrates, it was not created by a blond and haughty god, as the religious tale goes. Humankind was born in today’s disreputed Horn of Africa (Unesco. History of Humankind).

As nomad groups moved nothernwards, finding less warm lands, people started losing melaline, which protects against the damaging effects of the sun. So we are discoloured and pretentious blacks. [N.T. The shift in grammatical subject here is of course problematic. The reader is also left to guess who that ‘we’ stands for.] The white man looks down on the black man, and the black man looks down on the white man, yet [N.T. There is a conjuntion here in the original text] both are the same animal that disavows and despises himself. Long before the end of the Stone Age — Sir Leonard Wooley signals — the main branches of human race were already differentiated physically and also, to a certain extent, mentally.

The first men of the black race — states Jacketta Hawkes — appeared in the north of Ecuador — in Asselar, around 300 kilometres to the north of Timbuctú — at the end of the Pleistocene, or sometime later. In Blaise Cendrars’s Anthologie nègre, Nzamé created everything and called Mebere and Nkwa to show them his work. [N.T. there is no way of knowing from the text whether Nzamé is male or female, but it’s highly probable it is male.]  A work completed with groups of enemies that, up to today, keep pleasing themselves in destroying each other. As a means to moderate his own excess, he gave them laws as these: you won’t steal within your own tribe. You won’t kill those who have not hurt you. You won’t eat others at night.

Centuries later [N.T. it is impossible to know what is the point of reference for this ‘later’], black populations begin arriving to this continent [N.T. Again, it is impossible to know what continent he is referring to by ‘this’. From the reference to Borges one can infer it is South America, yet, this contradicts the statement supposedly taken from Hawkes in the paragraph just above], in the well known manner registered by Borges in his Historia universal de la infamia: in 1571, Bartolomé de las Casas felt sorry for the Indians who were extenuating themselves in the working hell that were Antillean gold mines and suggested to the Emperor Charles V he replace them with blacks who will extenuate themselves in the working hell that were Antillean gold mines.

Genetic crossings and geographic and cultural reasons make physiognomy and skin colour change so that a notable variety of [racial types] called yellow and morenos have been created. Yet, these manage to ignore each other. [N.T. This sentence here is particularly problematic because the grammatical subject changes in the middle of the sentence. There are also semantical issues. How what’s said here connects with what is to come is also unclear]. Thus we have the splendid and lustful presence of the models who are embellishing this edition with the grace and finesse with which photography outpowers words.

How the people euphemistically called of colour have survived to adverse circumstances [N.T. rather than ‘people of colour’ the euphemism here is ‘adverse circumstances’], so that they [N.T. again, grammatical subject issues. He starts with ‘black people’ which suddenly becomes ‘the four black models of this edition’] arrive to the exclusive pages of SoHo is an interesting story. Such beautiful women are the product of amazing transformations. They are proof of the existence of God, says the poet Verano Brisas.

Such beauty is this way [N.T. Not clear what ‘this way’ exactly means] because it is backed up by the strength which allowed the race to resist. It was because slaves had so much own life [N.T. ‘tanta vida propia’, I don’t know what this means] –writes Ramón Gómez de la Serna– that they managed being slaves. Slavery would have absorbed and diminished the white man. The black man dances as if possessed by the great original beast, sings Luis Palés Matos.

Time passes and results are astonishing [N.T. I don’t know what this means]. The influence of Africa on Europe and America renews the arts with unsuspected force.

In 2010, the [Colombian] Ministry of Culture published the collection Biblioteca de literatura afrocolombiana ‘Library of afrocolombian literature’, in 19 volumes, with 74 representative authors: 16 men and 58 women. Which means that not only beauty and festive sensuality are displayed. [N.T. again, it is not clear who is displaying what or where. Nor the previous neither the following sentence implies it is the displaying of the models in SoHo’s edition what he’s referring to.] The admired woman [N.T. we don’t know which woman in the singular he is referring to] is also backed up by a solid artistic tradition, a tradition solidified in sternness, which makes it significant and of everlasting importance for national memory.

Literature and arts have dwelled on praises of the morena woman since the famous verses of “Cantar de los cantares” [“Song of Songs”]: Black I am, but gracious./ don’t pay attention to my blackness: it is because the sun burnt my skin [N.T. ‘No os fijéis que soy morena’. He uses ‘morena’ as an euphemism for black].

Or what Luis Palés Matos evokes: the black woman is the one who sings / and her sensual singing extends / as a clear air of happiness / below the coconut tree.

And not only voluptuous memories. Let’s be sensible: also the wet nurse, lady of milk, the most important of all, the one no artist forgot, the one everybody cried when she died, remembering the beloved days of childhood. And this way sings Ciro Mendía: ¡Ay, Rosa, brave Rosa, / Ay, how much I liked how she beat me / if I didn’t run to the well / to bring poems of water.

The scandal aroused recently in [Colombian] written media because of a photograph of some women from Cali, with their maidservants carrying some tableware, is an excellent example of social hypocrisy and of how easy it is for a magazine like ¡Hola! to manipulate it for marketing ends [N.T. No idea what he means by ‘hypocrisy’ or how ¡Hola! is manipulating it]. It should be noted that [we live in a place and time] where you get the stick whatever you do [N.T. now he is siding with the Zarzur]. If you offer work to the morenos it’s exploitation, if you don’t it’s injustice. But those very same people who defend them call them pejoratively negros. Negros who with their work, their music, their songs, their admirable art, are the complement of a culture [N.T. not clear which culture blacks are complementing and influencing] which they infuse with vigour, joy, and generosity, ignoring their own history of being mistreated and marginalised. This is why [N.T. not really sure what’s the ‘why’] we are doing this parody in SoHo, as a sort of negative of the original photograph. A tongue-in-cheek but friendly critique, not of the Spanish magazine [¡Hola!], but of the social hypocrisy that makes an out of proportion fuzz from such an insignificant, wrongly or rightly calculated, event given that there are so many really important issues demanding serious and informed public attention.

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Framing terror

Europe is in turmoil since Tuesday when a Germanwings plane crashed in the French Alps killing the 150 people on board.  Two days after the accident the turmoil is far from abating because French investigators reported the recordings from the cockpit provide evidence that the plane was deliberately crashed by the co-pilot. Such a piece of news is more surprising and scary than any other because human actions are more difficult to control than technical failures. It actually made me think that every time you take a plane you are placing your life in the hands of those piloting it, not a thought that will calm the anxiety about flying I have been recently developing.

This piece of news –and how it is reported around the world– is quickly becoming an excellent corpus for exploring the politics of race at work in the Western world.  Andreas Lubitz, the co-pilot, was a white male German citizen and this fact has entirely shaped the terms and frame of the news. After a few hours of investigation the French prosecutor had already ruled out that this was a terror attack. Newspapers were quick at speaking of ‘suicide’, The Guardian spoke of ‘killing’, while The Independent of ‘suicide and mass murder’. How to refer to what happened has been one of the main issues. Had the guy been a German citizen of Turkish descent journalists, aeronautics personnel, government officials, and plain citizens would be speaking of ‘terror’ even before the beginning of the investigation. Things would have actually been easier to handle in terms of how to frame the debate because this is indeed the point: race in its specific connexion to Islam is what allows for ‘terror’ to take place.

But as Lubitz was white and German the consequences are entirely different. This is not a terror attack so his family is not under police surveillance and airports are not in a high state of alert. One easily gets the picture: when the agent of a wicked act is a brown and Muslim-related man, that man is the embodiment of ‘evil’, nothing more than the antithesis of humanity, and the attack is a terror attack; otherwise there has to be a sort of psychological explanation for somebody ‘essentially’ good carrying out an isolated evil act.

The investigation and reports are thus turning now to Lubitz’s state of mind and his apparent history of depression, and some outlets have even speculated that he was going through a romantic split. People in Twitter have pointed –rightfully– that it is not depression what kills and that there is no intrinsic link between suffering from depression and being a potential mass murderer. Although I couldn’t agree more with the points raised in this respect I have to say that being granted the possibility of having a mental health issue, of acknowledging that psychological or emotional issues could eventually affect your social behaviour can also be read as one of the manifestations of white privilege. Thus when a white man –and yes, I think this is also articulated around the gender axe– crosses a gross line, the West  –media, police, government, civil society– is willing to ask the question of ‘how an “essentially” good man can do something so atrocious’ *. Conversely, when the man is non-white, and on top of it, he is a Muslim, that question will be never asked because the answer is taken for granted: he will be the personification of evil.

* I don’t believe in ‘essences’ and actually challenge them, I am just reporting this from within a Western frame of representation. See my last post about Angelina Jolie’s ovaries and the question of ‘feminine essence’.

Angelina Jolie had her ovaries removed, so what?

One of today’s big news  –only sidelined by the plane crash in the French Alps– is that Angelina Jolie had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed. The news is reported in virtually every news-platform from around the world, in USA, Britain, France, Switzerland, Spain, Mexico, Colombia, to mention just a few places.

Why the fuss? What’s the big deal? Why is her decision presented by all these media as uncommonly brave? I didn’t have the patience to read any of the dozens of articles that were thrust upon my TL because I seriously cannot care any less. The woman is nearly forty and has already six children –three of which are biological children– so why is her decision framed as being a huge and brave step?

The only quick answer that comes to my mind is that the issue has perhaps to do with essentialist questions about ‘sex’. Jolie has been made to stand for the femme of the century, the ultimate female sex symbol, the ideal embodiment of what any ‘woman’ should aspire to be: she is beautiful, successful (reports always ignore the blatantly obvious fact that her success is highly dependant on her looks), and a ‘fulfilled mother’ of six. She has been construed as the epitome of ‘the woman’, the epitome of ‘femininity’, and we know that in Western culture, when it comes to discussing womanhood and femininity, the female body is what matters. But then she has no longer ovaries nor fallopian tubes: is that to be read as a challenge to her uncompromising femininity, the essence she is supposed to be the embodiment of?

Perhaps this is what is going on in here: an emphasis (or backlash?) on an essentialist approach to sex and femininity of which she is a major symbol. Curiously as I was writing this post one of the Twitter accounts I follow –@ThisIsFusion– sent this tweet with a picture of her, a quote of the text she published in the New York Times where she discloses what she did, and a link to the article in question. Again, being as busy as I am, I don’t feel like spending time in reading any of her ‘Diary of a surgery’. I will just point to the first words cited by @ThisIsFusion which are ‘I feel feminine’. This type of utterance exasperates me. It also makes me wonder what the person who utters it means by it. Although I am –and have always been– a self-identified woman, I truly don’t know what ‘feeling feminine’ refers to. I will perhaps end by reading her ‘Diary’ looking for an answer.

Link: “Freakish Fat,” “Wretched Black”

For those interested in Cultural Studies, Judith Butler’s theoretical work on subjection and the performativity of gender, and/or Colombia, here I am providing the link to my article “‘Freakish Fat,’ ‘Wretched Black'” that just appeared in Feminist Media Studies.

Abstract

This paper explores the construction of female abject beings in Colombian contemporary media and culture comparing a character in the 2010 telenovela Chepe Fortuna named Venezuela, and the cultural representation of Piedad Córdoba. I argue that the construction of these two characters as abject beings is coherent with the dominant discourse of Alvaro Uribe’s national project, which relied on a strong nationalist rhetoric based on binary oppositions of the type “we/other.” In this context both Chepe Fortuna’s Venezuela and Piedad Córdoba are constructed as “other.” While Venezuela’s abjection is partly effected on the basis of her being fat and black, Córdoba’s is on the basis of her being a left-wing politician, and mediated through her being a black female. These two instances evidence an approach to femaleness that goes hand-in-hand with particular understandings of female subjectivity within current post-feminist paradigms.

http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/3PsGhzmKhp9TB3wt83X7/full

 

 

Je suis FEMEN (2014)

Last Wednesday I went to see the avant-première of Alain Margot’s documentary Je suis FEMEN at Capitol, which was screened the previous day at the Visions du Réel Nyon Festival and is participating in the category Helvétiques. The documentary follows the group FEMEN for a period of time in 2012, and shows how they prepare their ‘political actions’. It –almost obsessively– focuses on Oksana Shachko, one of the co-founders of the movement, a bright young girl with clear artistic talents, while the other FEMEN are brought in almost as background and/or prompts.

As the event was an avant-première, the director, producer, and three of the core FEMEN members where present, and a short round of questions followed the screening. There they were, these three young women, wearing white T-Shirts that read ‘Fuck the System’, ‘Fuck you Putin’, and ‘Fuck Religion’ and answering to the friendly and flat questions some members of the audience asked. I had myself a few questions I would have loved to throw at them, but after watching the film and seeing the audience’s warm reaction to it, I decided against it and kept them to myself.

My interest in FEMEN dates from a couple of years back. On the one hand, I am interested in politics and culture and in how both are intrinsically connected; on the other, my work concerns feminism, representation, postcolonialism, and the question of the body. The FEMEN are an obvious case study where all these aspects intersect. This is what pushed me to go to the screening of Margot’s film. Although I received detailed information about the film, I was too lazy to read it and I was surprised to find the FEMEN at the Capitol. It was just after I was on my seat that I realised the film was meant as a highly sympathetic –therefore utterly uncritical– coverage of these young women’s movement.

It is not my intention in this blog entry to be bitchy about these women and jump at their throats. One good thing about the film is that I now can recognise three faces and associate those faces with names. I am also now somehow –and to some extent– sympathetic towards them because I learned that these young women, at least Oksana, and also Anna Houtsol, want to do something, and actively engage in finding the means to do it without hesitation. Additionally, they have a lot of courage: they know that through their actions they risk prison –in certain countries at least– and have indeed been arrested by no other than Ukrainian, Bielorussian and Russian police. It would be unfair not to recognise this. However, it is also true that they seem too naive, uninformed, and childish, and consequently, both their tactics and discourse are, firstly, ineffective, and secondly, very problematic. Moreover, they actively contribute to the reification of the ‘We/Other’ binary opposition upon which the justification for western military interventions in the Muslim world rests, particularly after the 9/11 events.

Much has been written and said about the FEMEN, and I do not pretend here to be the first to voice these concerns. I just want to frame the issues in question within the context of this brand new documentary, which I believe will relaunch the debate. Hence, Margot’s Je suis FEMEN will be the only source I will refer to.

I will organise my argument around two points. Firstly, what FEMEN stand for, or rather against; secondly, the female body.

From their words and actions one gets that FEMEN are against the Ukrainian Government, the Ukrainian Opposition, Yulia Tymoshenko, the Bielorussian Government, Putin, the Kiev’s zoo managers, prostitution, patriarchy, and religion (particularly Islam). At some point during the questions round a man asked what is exactly they reclaim (revendiquent), a question coldly welcomed by the woman playing the role of debate moderator, and they said –in Russian and translated by the interpreter– they opposed ‘patriarchy, the sexual exploitation of women, and religion’. (Any eventual vagueness diffused. Thank you) .

What do they do specifically to contest such a colossal and incontestably powerful assemblage of people, practices, and institutions? They bare theirs breasts and shout ‘Fuck’. The word ‘fuck’ is central to FEMEN’s struggle. It is in fact so pervasive in its written and spoken form that one wonders if they believe it to be a performative –in Austin’s sense– rather than an overused expression of anger.

Apart from shouting ‘fuck’ and grapple with police when they are removed from their picketing, the documentary shows them carrying out a few other actions, three of which are worth mentioning.

  • A protest staged at the Kiev Zoo against what they claim is the systematic killing of animals in a bid to get rid of them and sell the zoo park (not that I doubt the veracity of the claim). They think those animal’s lives need to be respected. Their strategy is to make animal masks –skilfully crafted by Oksana– climb on top of the Zoo’s entrance and throw meat –I suppose animal meat– onto the street. So they defend animals rights by throwing out animal meat.
  • A photo shoot at Chernobyl for which they were wearing ten inch high heels, heavy make-up, had their hear brushed, and of course were bare breasted. The goal of this action is never explained, so one cannot really comment on its effectiveness. Since there is no explicit political goal, one cannot but link the action with a photo shoot for a call-girls catalogue. Which leads me to the third example.
  • A series of actions held during the Euro 2012 –jointly held in Poland and Ukraine– where they protested against the, according to them, pervasive perception of Ukrainian women as prostitutes, and the Western assumption of Ukraine as being Europe’s whorehouse. Yet, when you see the Chernobyl action as depicted in Je suis FEMEN, it is difficult to not read it as precisely a sort of publicity about the beauty, slimness, and sexiness of Ukrainian women –which I personally don’t believe will reduce the amount of men interested in paying for sex with Ukrainian sex-workers.

This last example leads me to the second part of my argument: the centrality of a particular type of female body in FEMEN’s struggle. At some point in the documentary, Anna, who is one of the co-founders of the movement and the only core FEMEN member not to be remarkably beautiful and sexy, argues that FEMEN’s essence resides on a paradox: FEMEN activists look like porn actresses, like ‘sexual objects’, but these are ‘sexual objects’ that speak up. And the originality of this strategy, she claims, is that people are not used to see sexual objects speaking up. Although, the hypersexualised ’empowered’ female subject is far from being a new phenomenon –anybody acquainted with postfeminism knows that– she believes this is what makes FEMEN so unique and radical. So, although Anna dismisses ‘intellectual and older’ feminists because, according to her, they refuse to accept ‘simple’ women in their movement –by simple women she means uneducated or non-intellectual women– it seems pretty obvious that looking like a bimbo is crucial for being a FEMEN –which hinders not-bimbo like women from being taken seriously by the movement. It is true that in Je suis FEMEN we see a woman who stands at the opposite end of the postfeminist ideal of femininity –undoubtedly embodied in both Inna and Oskana– staging a protest in Bielorussia. This woman, however, is never given a name, is never introduced to the viewer, does not belong to the core members, and is clearly in none of the photographs or posters promoting FEMEN.

What is more striking is the fact that Anna herself –who in the film implies she is not sufficiently attractive and claims she rather looks like a traditional feminist– does never seem to actively participate in any of FEMEN’s actions. There is clearly no one single picture of her naked upper-body. Yet nudity is the basis of their staged protest. Nudity of the ‘perfect’ female body.

Thus, FEMEN want to invest nudity with the same performative power they assume the expression ‘fuck’ has. Again, one cannot but exult about the force of naked breasts in making Putin’s rule not only wane but outright crumble.

In France, where the movement has been widely embraced and welcomed, FEMEN staged a few protests under what they called at the time the ‘naked jihad’. One of these protests, the film shows, took place at a mosque somewhere in France. The slogan coined by the French participants was ‘nudité liberté’, a slogan quite weighty in the cultural and political context of post-banning-of-the-veil France. Equating ‘nudity’ with ‘liberty’ works towards the consolidation of the Orientalist project that has maintained colonial power well beyond the colonial era. It depicts the ‘other’ –their practices, customs, ways of living– as backwards, in contrast with a supposedly modern and Enlightened ‘we’. Hence, rather than being original and radical in their fight, FEMEN are simply repeating the same old mantra all over, and actively helping to stir up the already charged disputes at the heart of current international conflicts. Moreover, I believe that this makes of FEMEN a useful instrument for far right populism in Europe. This is perhaps the reason why they were warmly welcomed in France, where Islamophobia is indeed an issue.

Thus, while Je suis FEMEN showed to me the human side behind what I had perceived until now as a bunch of silly young women looking for attention, it also confirmed my apprehensions, namely, that they engage in –in the best of cases– useless protest; and –in the worst of cases– counterproductive actions. In both cases they reinforce, on the one hand, postfeminist premises that make female power to be entirely dependant on youth and female beauty –in a very narrow sense of the concept; and on the other, the opposition ‘we’ (the civilised, modern, Enlightened West)/’other’ (the backwards, primitive, irrational Muslim) upon which the thesis of the ‘Clash of civilisations’ rests.

 

Irony in today’s world

Anyone trained in literary criticism is familiar with the concept of irony. Irony is one of those figures of speech that has not remained confined to academia but that has moved into the arena of daily life. In the contemporary western world irony is to be found anywhere and everywhere from poems, to novels; from adverts, to films; from casual conversation, to public debates. These are ‘witty times’ and both producers and consumers of culture are sophisticated individuals that produce and consume witty texts. Despite all this sometimes irony does not work at all, or simply misfires. The reason for this has to do with a fundamental premise of irony as figure of speech: in order for irony to work, the addressee  –consumer– of the message needs to know what is the real thinking and intentions of the speaker –producer. If that is not the case, it will never work.

Irony is also double-edged for one precise reason: it can be used as a means to say otherwise unspeakable things; by the same token, one can say anything under the pretence that it was said ‘tongue-in-cheek’, and that if somebody feels insulted it is their problem for being utterly unsophisticated or uptight and not getting the joke.

I am writing about all this because today I was involved in a Twitter discussion triggered by an article, ”Paléo de merde”, published in l’Auditoire, the newspaper of students of both the University of Lausanne and the EPFL. This newspaper –which I never read, therefore don’t know– published an ‘anonymous letter’ in their section Le chien méchant. A colleague of mine –who does not know or read the newspaper either– was enraged and showed it to myself and others in the department. We were all appalled. Of course it was too big to be taken literally, and yet if you are not familiar with the newspaper there is no way of knowing it is meant to be ‘tongue-in-cheek’. The text is a long sexist, misogynist, racist, homophobic, and classist diatribe accompanied by this photo-collage:

AuditoireCollage

I got –still are– very angry and vented my fury through Twitter. Firstly, since I do not know the newspaper, I didn’t know that their Chien méchant section was not to be taken literally therefore I complained about the fact they published the supposed reader’s letter anonymously. A twitter user and l’Auditoire replied to one of my Tweets saying that of course the article was meant to be read au second degréHeu stupid me! But such an explanation does not make things any better.

Apparently the newspaper’s editorial board thought it was funny to refer to Belgian singer Stromae as ‘le Jacques Brel négro-belge qui s’habille comme un vioque‘ and to Elton John as ‘le vieux pédé obèse qui joue du piano’.  To add insult to injury in the short acknowledgements segment in the newspaper’s cover page they thank somebody for lending them the software that helped them ‘negrify’ Stromae (see photo above).  I am sorry but tongue-in-cheek or not this is not funny at all and is utterly insulting. What if I decided to send this to Stromae? He does not know the context of the Chien méchant article, but as a mestizo man born and raised in Europe I am sure he well knows what racism is. Will he find this pathetic article funny and ‘tongue-in-cheek’? Chances are he won’t!

This is a shocking example of how in today’s postmodern world people can say the most denigrating things about anybody and justify themselves through hyperbole and irony, and then dismiss criticism by means of diminishing the critics as unsophisticated dupes.

I would like to end this by making a clear statement: a text is not less homophobic, sexist, racist and/or classist because it is meant as a joke or as an ironic/witty form of criticism. I think that l’Auditoire‘s writing and publication of “Paléo de merde” and its subsequent justifications are both well beyond the pale.

 

 

Translation: Seven advantages of being fat

I am currently writing an article on abjection and the fat black female body in Colombian media/culture. Since I work in English and for an Anglo-American academic audience, I am usually in need of providing some cultural contextualisations when in the process of advancing certain arguments. I decided then to translate into English an outrageous opinion column by Colombian socialite, presenter, and model Alejandra Azcárate, published in Revista Aló in July 2012, where she demolishes fat women. This text offers the context for certain claims I make in my article. Although the column stirred a huge controversy at the time of publication, and was badly received by many, it shows the extent of contempt fat women evoke in a society obsessed with very narrow understandings of female beauty and desirability. Defending herself from the reactions to her column she claimed –perhaps not untruly– that she just ‘spelled out what everyone says in corridors’ (see).  The original article in Spanish can be found here. (The original text is not very well written, so certain parts required interpretation rather than translation).

Seven Advantages of Being Fat

by Alejandra Azcárate (unauthorised translation by Virago)

I like the body to be light, agile and flexible. I identify myself –because of my own genetic imprint and metabolism– with a body aesthetics that lacks protuberances, prominences, disproportions. However, today I decided to distance myself from my primary understanding of beauty in order to open my mind and analyse the advantages of being fat. A woman that is born fat or that becomes fat must have certain assets that deserve being highlighted rather than criticised by skynny women like myself.

  1. Fat women don’t think when it comes to eating, which translates into an invaluable feeling of being free. They do not bother themselves about the adequate time for ingesting food, and even less about choosing food. A bandeja paisa for breakfast does not appear to them as an absurd possibility. Indeed, it could be a weekly reality.
  2. When fat women go shopping they don’t spend hours trying clothes because it is rather infrequent they find their size. Their shopping is done quickly because it follows the logic `This fits me?’ I take it. Period.
  3. They feel like real princesses because they are the ones to know true gentlemanliness from own experience. Men offer them their seats because they fear these women will sit on top of them; they look at them with tenderness in order to avoid aggressions; they smile at them; greet them with a tap on their shoulder; move their chairs because otherwise they won’t fit;  open the car’s door for them just to be sure they can get into the car; and don’t lust after them because it would be plain abomination.
  4. Fat women enjoy friendship to the fullest. They don’t arouse envy, which means that besides being great friends they inspire trustworthiness, which is then rewarded with loyalty. They never suffer the pain of betrayal nor the poison of deception. [I guess she means that if there is no room for love, there is none for betrayal or deception either. She contradicts herself later on this point though. N.T.]
  5. When having sex fat women are free from inhibitions. Rather than having complexes about their bodies, they are so self-assured that they can even make for great lovers. They always give themselves as if it were the last one time, because indeed they know it could quite be. They know no limits, they don’t care about the lights being on or off, no sexual position unsettles them, they know for certain that their strength resides in giving pleasure in order to make their sexual partner forget the feeling of being kneading a bulging sofa.
  6. Going to the beach or to the swimming pool does not inhibit them either. One can spot them shamelessly parading around without a sarong. They put themselves under the sun like beached whales [sapos desparramados N.T.] without any sense of modesty. As the sun cannot get into their body creases, their body ends up covered in tanned and untanned lines as if a lion had attacked them. But they don’t care. They go outside wearing tank tops, ombligueras [very short tops that show the navel N.T.], or shorts without a hint of worry.
  7. Fat women don’t waste time looking for treatments, tricks or systems to get the ideal figure because they know their own reality and accept it without putting up useless fights. They love themselves as they are and are loved in the same way.

Summarising, fatness leads to freedom, which is something very few people can have access to through their entire lives. Clearly sometimes fatness can generate dissatisfaction and make people want to struggle to modify the state of things. On the other hand, fat women move easily away from pressures and make of their body they biggest asset in building self-esteem.

Despite all this, let’s don’t lie to ourselves, it is better to be slim. Therefore do not trick yourselves any more. Stop thinking that your bones are big, that you suffer from water retention, and that black will make you look thinner. You are fat! Live with it. Although it sounds cruel it is the truth. Don’t pay attention to the thyroids but to the “toothoids”, and beware of never forgetting that the only fat beings that are pretty are babies.

What’s in a title

Today, the 29th of January 2013, The Independent published a piece of news which title called my attention. It reads “Tandem couple killed in Bristol ‘hit-and-run’ crash ‘were trying for children’”. The article reports the death of a couple in their early thirties who were hit by a car while riding their tandem. This is, no doubt, a sad story for those involved: the deceased, their families, and for the person who –apparently unintentionally– hit them. What called my attention, however, was not that I found the news particularly sad; neither was I moved by morbid fascination, nor appalled by the fact that this was yet another ‘hit-and-run crash’. What I found peculiar was the `were trying for children’ bit of the news’ title. It made me wonder what such information had to do with the accident, or with the liability of the person who provoked it.

The choice might seem banal, but I reckon it isn’t. The reason behind it is that because this couple were young, recently married, and prospective parents, their death is sadder, the crime even more despicable, and the social loss is greater. Such a line of argumentation follows the kind of discourse that has for long permeated media and culture in Britain and everywhere else. This discourse constructs individuals around certain criteria on the basis of which their social worth is measured. Crimes are sadder when victims socially valuable, and social worth seems dependent on beauty, youth, and willingness to become parents. It is a particular way of recentring conservative ideas –such as the nuclear family– that fit very well with Tories’ policies but that look awkward in a newspaper such as The Independent.