This week's NME features Beth Ditto as naked as Avril Lavigne on the cover. For confused but well-intentioned reasons. Those of you with long memories will recall the last time a semi-naked woman was on the front of the NME, it was Lesley Rankine and Silverfish, who were in turn parodying the Polly Jean Harvey cover from a few weeks before. PJ and Beth Ditto were both on the cover as a riposte to traditional ideas of female beauty and societal nomrs - both had hairy armpits, for example.
The trouble is, it's all a bit muddled. Because NME, for all its other faults, doesn't usually have FHM-style covers, so the value of putting Ditto on the front, without pants, is a little lost. Kate Jackson, it's fairly safe to say, hasn't been lined up to slip out of her corset for the next Long Blondes piece, because that would bring a stream of letters calling them for trying to flog magazines with sexist pictures. Likewise, the Twang don't turn up with only a well-positioned tree to preserve their modesty.
So, is NME they saying it's okay for Beth to be on the front nude, because she isn't 'conventionally attractive'? And if that is the case, isn't that simply endorsing the idea of there being 'conventionally attractive' in the first place?
Or does the paper feel that a naked Beth Ditto is, from its reader's point of view, every bit as desirable as, say, a naked Amy Winehouse? In which case, isn't it a little bit Felix Dennis to be selling music magazines with female flesh?
Well meaning, but not thought through.
Which is probably more than you can say for Beth's thoughts in the interview, where she places the blame for women with eating disorders on, erm, gay men:
“Blame gay men who work in the fashion industry who want these women as dolls.
“Men don’t know what it feels like to be a woman and be expected to look a particular way. The Beckhams are part of the machine; Paris Hilton is part of the machine.
“There’s that thing Paris Hilton said about Lindsay Lohan – ‘You’re poor, ugly and fat’.
“It’s always women who are victims.”
Isn't this just a tiny bit oversimplistic? After all, a large number of the people who run the fashion industry aren't "gay men" but straight, hyper-capitalist women; the magazines which run fuelled entirely on "celebrity fat bits" and "who's eaten a doughnut" aren't aimed at gay men, but are hoovered up by women; with the fastest rising incidence of eating disorders amongst young men, the "men don't know how it feels" schtick is outmoded and plain wrong; and eating disorders are anyway about far more complex influences than Paris Hilton's clothing range.
Still, you know who isn't to blame? Kate Moss. Before Christmas, of course, Kate Moss was part of the problem, but since then, she's become chums with Beth:
“I didn’t think I was going to like her, but she said, ‘Do you know what I hate, Beth? When people tell my big girlfriends, ‘You have a beautiful face . . .’
“That’s a really radical concept.”
Kate Moss' genuine concern for people who aren't stick thin can be seen in the plus size range of clothes she hasn't designed for Top Shop. To us, it sounds like Moss managed to get away with patronising Ditto without Beth realising it - could that quote have been any more "some of my friends are black"? - but even if Beth did get it, she'd probably have assumed it was an evil, evil gay man throwing his voice.