Monday, 23 December 2013

MY FESTIVE COLUMN THIS WEEK... all about guilty pleasures

"The season of extreme self-indulgence is fully upon us. So, what is it about guilty pleasures that cause us pleasure and guilt? Why does swigging Bailey’s in my cashmere jogging pants feel so damn good—and  how do the rest of you get your kicks?"


And here's hoping that 2014 brings peace and happiness to all humankind xx


Tuesday, 10 December 2013

“This is the island. This is where you will die.” These were the words which greeted Nelson Mandela on his first day of imprisonment on Robben Island.

I will never forget my first sight of Robben Island. It was 2012, exactly half a century after Mandela’s incarceration...

Seeing the prison (and standing in Mandela's cell) I began to appreciate the significance of what these men went through: the beatings, humiliations, and false charges; their thousands of days of imprisonment. I’m reminded of this again as we celebrate the life, and mourn the death, of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. The pre-eminent leader in the liberation struggle, Mandela showed the world how to choose forgiveness over bitterness, reconciliation over vengeance, and love over hate.

I wasn’t sorry to leave Robben Island behind; it isn’t a place for humans. It was a rough ferry ride back to Cape Town, and the guide’s final words stayed with me all the way: “Remember, freedom doesn’t fall from the sky.”


Saturday, 7 December 2013

Busy week filming Supersize up north, down south & everywhere in between! Here's a few of the lovely contributors, Ally, Lexi & Stephanie...


Monday, 25 November 2013

A few out-takes from the Mind Media Awards :-)

Latest column: Mind Media Awards, celebrities and champagne - and why life is a gift.

"Even now that anorexia is behind me, I don’t take normality for granted. I hope I never will. Recovery was such a painful process that I feel protective of my new-found health. I’ll continue to talk about it and write about it—and to hell with those who call me a narcissist— because I know what it’s like to be trapped and terrified, dropping below 6 stone, unable to eat, unable to save yourself, your mind falling apart. When you’re at rock-bottom, it helps to know that others have been there too..."

Monday, 11 November 2013

Should I Stay or Should I Go? London: Love It or Leave It? My latest column for The Daily Beast

"I stare at the November rain, the grimy London streets, and the look of sheer stress on the face of every passer-by. Is this what we mean by ‘quality of life’? I know I’d miss all this if I left it behind: I’d miss cycling along the Thames, running in Hyde Park; I’d miss seeing the Dome of St Paul’s on the cluttered skyline. But increasingly I long for space to think, air to breathe..."

Friday, 1 November 2013

Watch out, there's a Woolf in leopard-print about! A Halloween selfie, although I'm not going trick or treating, or any Halloween parties. Check out the dodgy hair though, that should scare off the ghouls and ghosties :-)


Monday, 28 October 2013

Today's column... the on-going obsession with women's appearance!

Why does any interview with a high-profile woman focus on the superficialities: how she’s ageing, what she’s wearing, what she eats, what shape she’s in. No matter what their personal achievements, musical, sporting, political or scientific, we’re given the intimate details of their domestic set-up, whether they have children—and if not, WHY not—and who they’re married to or divorced from, ‘blissfully happy’ or ‘unlucky in love’. We don’t do this with famous men. When a male writer gives an interview, it’s about the new book, not their body or what they order for breakfast.
Of course there’s nothing inherently wrong with human interest—I’m curious about the routines of well-known writers too—but with women, it eclipses their work. And it’s not just writers: in every area of modern life, women are judged by their appearance rather than their attainments.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Bangkok Days, Island Nights... my latest column from Thailand!

"Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing," he went on dreamily, "messing-about-in-boats…" So says Ratty in Kenneth Grahame’s classic story, The Wind in the Willows, a staple of any English childhood.

Everything improved when we started messing about in boats—long-boats, to be precise. My arrival in Thailand had coincided with the rainy season, and after two interminable days watching the downpour from our veranda, we were fed up. But on the third day the clouds lifted and the sun came out, as did the Factor 30 and our snorkelling gear. I began to see why my boyfriend always talked about this island as a magical place...

filming the new series of Supersize vs Superskinny! too manic to write so here's a gallery of our crazy northern road-trip so far

...with the beautiful Sarah Jones Nash in Southampton

...with a bevy of wonderful readers at Sheffield's Off The Shelf Literary Festival, signing books and causing a commotion
check it out, my readers are STRONG & SASSY :-)

...with some inspiring dancers in Manchester - yes I danced too, and yes I was rubbish, both in a wheelchair and on my own two feet!

Thursday, 10 October 2013

"I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love." - Mother Teresa

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Is 30 the new 40? My article on female ageing, the cult of youth & FEELING INVISIBLE!
Sunday Telegraph, 6th October 2013

Maybe it first hits you in the changing-room when you don’t recognise the tired-looking woman in the mirror, and then realise it’s you; or the first time you walk past a construction site and can’t raise a friendly leer from the builders, let alone a wolf-whistle. Recently I ran past some builders in my shorts and vest; they didn’t bat an eyelid. I felt invisible. Not that I want to be heckled, but it’s nice to be seen, to feel that people are enjoying the view. You notice when it stops. As a woman, this is what ageing means...

Friday, 4 October 2013

Book-launch for The Ministry of Thin, October 3rd 2013

It was a great honour to launch my latest book, The Ministry of Thin, at Senate House Library last night. Introduced by the wonderful librarian Dr Richard Espley (a fellow member of the Leonard Woolf Society) I gave a hopefully not-too-long talk, looking at the cultural obsession with weight and its frequently poisonous consequences, the symbolic value of the female body, growing pressures on men, and how we might make positive changes...

Lively audience discussion ensued (helped by some delicious red wine) ranging from self-image to consumerism to body-hair-bullshit to cosmetic surgery to the joys of baked Camembert and new potatoes and much more...

Huge thanks to Richard Espley and Senate House Library for the evening.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Latest column, musing on New York, love & chocolate chip cookies, en route to the other side of the world...

It’s the middle of the night, the cabin lights are out and everyone is sleeping around me. I’m somewhere in the clouds over Russia, on my way to join my boyfriend in Thailand. He’s been rhapsodising about his ‘secret’ island of Koh Tao ever since I met him. Now I finally get to see it. Heathrow airport was surprisingly stress-free on a Monday evening; I celebrated with some new perfume, a pair of jewelled flip-flops, and a glass of champagne. Ah, the joys of travelling alone.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

“While I can’t have you, I long for you. I am the kind of person who would miss a train or a plane to meet you for coffee. I’d take a taxi across town to see you for ten minutes. I’d wait outside all night if I thought you would open the door in the morning. If you call me and say ‘Will you…’ my answer is ‘Yes’, before your sentence is out. I spin worlds where we could be together. I dream you. For me, imagination and desire are very close.”

“What should I do about the wild and the tame? The wild heart that wants to be free, and the tame heart that wants to come home. I want to be held. I don't want you to come too close. I want you to scoop me up and bring me home at nights. I don't want to tell you where I am. I want to keep a place among the rocks where no one can find me. I want to be with you.”

“I am good at walking away. Rejection teaches you how to reject.”  
Jeanette Winterson

Monday, 16 September 2013

Info on my upcoming talks:

Cheltenham Literature Festival: Sunday 6th October 2013

Sheffield Off The Shelf Books Festival: Monday 21st October 2013
I loved you when you opened like a lily to the heat, you see I’m just another snowman standing in the rain and sleet, who loved you with his frozen love, his second hand physique, with all he is, and all he was, a thousand kisses deep.

I know you had to lie to me, I know you had to cheat, to pose all hot and high behind the veils of shear deceit, our perfect porn aristocrat so elegant and cheap, I’m old but I’m still into that, a thousand kisses deep.

I’m good at love, I’m good at hate, it' s in between I freeze. Been working out, but its too late, it’s been to late for years. But you look good, you really do, they love you on the street. If you were here I’d kneel for you, a thousand kisses deep...

So, the deed is done. After years of wanting to get myself inked I’ve finally gone and done it. Yes, I have my first tattoo...

Body art is everywhere these days, but it wasn’t always. When I was a teenager I didn’t know anyone with a tattoo. My parents forbade me even to get my ears pierced until the age of 16, and I can still remember the furore when my younger sister came home with a small silver ring through her belly-button. In my twenties I considered a tattoo, but wasn’t sure what to get. When I think back over the unsuitable boyfriends’ initials which I might have chosen, the profound song lyrics, or smiley faces, I’m glad I didn’t have the courage. Until now...

T-day arrived. I woke up and told my boyfriend I’d changed my mind. At breakfast I changed it back again. Arriving at the studio I had to sign a sinister form, consenting to ‘permanent alteration of my appearance’. After that things are a bit vague. I remember lying down while the tattooist set to work, and then came appalling agony, as if someone was carving into my hip with a scalpel. I knew it must be a needle, not an actual blade, but I couldn’t bring myself to look. For nearly an hour I gritted my teeth, sweat on my forehead, praying for it to be over...

Tell me again
When I’ve been to the river
And I’ve taken the edge off my thirst
Tell me again
We’re alone and I’m listening
I’m listening so hard that it hurts
Tell me again
When I’m clean and I’m sober
Tell me again
When I’ve seen through the horror
Tell me again
Tell me over and over
Tell me that you want me then

Leonard Cohen at the O2 Arena last night... truly sensational. I've seen him play quite a few times, in quite a few countries, and he just gets better & better. A true poet.


Friday, 30 August 2013

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

well if it's good enough for Cara D and Rihanna, it's good enough for me

MY NEW BEANIE... bring on the snow!

Channel 9 interview August 19th 2013 - for the Australian publication of The Ministry of Thin!

If you're ever asked to appear on Aussie breakfast television, be warned my friends - it's the middle of the night our time, and it's very hard to make sense when you've had no sleep and seventeen coffees and your ear-piece is falling out so you can't hear the questions #hoho


Some inspirational musical snippets I've been playing non-stop lately. For anyone who's feeling lost, lonely, sad or stressed-out - or if you just need a boost - I promise these beauties will do the trick.

First is Enya's version of How Can I keep From Singing, which I'd never heard. I'm not religious, but this is spiritually uplifting & joyful... makes you want to weep, but in a good way.

Pour some wine, turn it up loud and close your eyes.

Second is this amazing mash-up of Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold (c.1850) with drum & bass & electronic jiggery-pokery, with thanks to Nick Breakell and his soundcloud. (Why don't I have a soundcloud?!)



Monday, 19 August 2013

Latest column for the fabulous Daily Beast, Women in the World, Newsweek! I'll be interested to see if/how the reaction to this version differs from the hysterical Guardianistas...

‘How dare you call me lazy, slobby or undisciplined?’ read the stranger’s tweet. I have never written, spoken or thought those words, but that’s beside the point. These days, simply being slim can be enough to cause offence.

Discussing drug addiction on Stephen Nolan's BBC show...

Had about five minutes to formulate my entire world-view on drug policy, decriminalisation and economic deprivation for this interview, which explains my slightly scrambled line of argument :-)

Also I had no idea until I just listened to it that the other feller was a LORD, like a peer of the realm... I thought he was some random angry-caller #hoho

Sunday, 18 August 2013

In a manic insomnia-fuelled reading phase at the moment. And in the interests of doing something on my blog other than drivelling about myself, I thought I'd recommend a few of the very best books I've read recently...

  • Beware of Pity - Stefan Zweig. And if you love this, read another Zweig, below
  • The Casual Vacancy - J.K.Rowling. No I've never read the Harry Potter series, I don't want to, and always thought JK was pants. Then I read this and realised I was wrong: she's a good novelist, and this is a page turner...
  • Flight Behaviour - Barbara Kingsolver. If you love The Poisonwood Bible - and let's face it, who doesn't - then you'll enjoy this. 600 pages is excessive, but I assume with an author at this level, you daren't tell them to cut :-)
  • The Post-Office Girl - Stefan Zweig. As always with Zweig, utterly bleak. But beautiful.
  • Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn. Again, another one I've been resisting because of the hype. But resist no more.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

“Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for means that you do not treat your body as a commodity with which to purchase superficial intimacy or economic security; for our bodies to be treated as objects, our minds are in mortal danger. It means insisting that those to whom you give your friendship and love are able to respect your mind.

It means being able to say, with Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre: "I have an inward treasure born with me, which can keep me alive if all the extraneous delights should be withheld or offered only at a price I cannot afford to give.

Responsibility to yourself means that you don't fall for shallow and easy solutions - pre-digested books and ideas...marrying early as an escape from real decisions, getting pregnant as an evasion of already existing problems. It means that you refuse to sell your talents and aspirations short...and this, in turn, means resisting the forces in society which say that women should be nice, play safe, have low professional expectations, drown in love and forget about work, live through others, and stay in the places assigned to us.

It means that we insist on a life of meaningful work, insist that work be as meaningful as love and friendship in our lives. It means, therefore, the courage to be "different"...The difference between a life lived actively, and a life of passive drifting and dispersal of energies, is an immense difference. Once we begin to feel committed to our lives, responsible to ourselves, we can never again be satisfied with the old, passive way.”

Adrienne Rich
“How wrong to have been so negative, how wrong to have been so gloomy, how wrong to have run away from life, how wrong to have said no, again and again, instead of yes.”
Jonathan Franzen

Friday, 16 August 2013

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” 

Haruki Murakami

Thursday, 8 August 2013

 Ridiculous diet coke picture

Oh, and here's the original article I wrote for The Guardian: 5th August 2013

It seems we can't have a rational debate about the reasons for, and the experience of, obesity – fat is still a feminist issue, and a fraught one at that. But I'm fed up with being judged for being physically disciplined, for watching what I eat, and for exercising five times a week. Other things a thin woman is not allowed to say: "it takes willpower to stay slim"; "of course it would be easier just to eat anything I wanted but I don't"; "yes, I'm often hungry mid-morning but I wait until lunchtime". Above all, a slim woman must never say: "I prefer being slim."
Radio interview on the Nolan Show: August 8th 2013

Sparks were flying on the radio this morning, with a discussion about fat and thin, body fascism, and so-called fat-shaming and skinny-shaming... It reinforces my original argument in The Guardian about the impossibility/irrationality/futility of trying to have a rational debate around weight and health.

Anyway, there's nothing like starting the day with a good-natured row - have a listen here!

Monday, 5 August 2013

So, two exciting pieces of news about Supersize vs Superskinny:

  • The first is that I'm coming back for the new series! I'll be filming this autumn - in between writing a new book and going on a Shamanic Retreat in deepest France to change my life... Series 7 will be on Channel 4 on your television screens early in the New Year, which you have to admit is SUPERcool.

  • The second is that Supersize has been nominated for a National Reality TV Award <now there's something I never thought I'd be saying> However, in order to SMASH THE COMPETITION (competitive, moi?) we need your votes. Please vote for Supersize, and I promise to invite you along to the awards ceremony haha.

At photo-shoot this morning for Sunday Telegraph article on 'Why 30 is the New 40'

I really wanted to run off with this necklace...


Friday, 19 July 2013


Excited to see my first article for Australia's Daily Life, ahead of Australian publication of The Ministry of Thin with Peribo in August 2013...

Interesting that Aussie trolls are different to UK trolls, and different again to American trolls :-)


Monday, 15 July 2013

Interesting commentary from the Huffington Post on my Newsweek column...

In her first column for Women In The World, journalist Emma Woolf wrote a dispatch this week not just from London, where she's based, but from the outskirts of an eating disorder.

Like an expat returning to the country of those who feed themselves, Woolf came home to a startling reality that the negative feelings about food and weight she thought belonged to her illness pervade "healthy" life.
The truth is, I'm not the only woman who has starved herself skinny, or tried to; many of us feel guilty, worthless, or out of control around food. I'm not the only one who has calculated each day what they will and will not eat; or wondered "if I eat whenever I'm hungry, will I ever be able to stop?" No matter how feisty or feminist you think you are, I bet there's a part of you that would like to be slimmer... As Western levels of obesity soar, profoundly disordered eating and body dysmorphia also proliferate.
What Woolf hits on in her piece is that we tend to see the three phenomena -- eating disorders, a general cultural anxiety about food and weight and skyrocketing obesity rates-- as separate problems with separate solutions. Instead, we need to recognize that they all stem from the same root. Obesity isn't the opposite of anorexia (or bulimia or disordered eating or just distorted thinking about food). It's its twin.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Now I’m putting the sad stuff behind me—and after a decade in the wilderness I reckon I've got a lot of catching up to do! In this new column I'll be covering current affairs, culture, gossip and events in the UK from plays to concerts to marches to poetry readings, feminist salons and literary death matches, new bar and restaurant openings; I’ll be ranting about things which get my goat—from the Nigella furore to the royal bump, to the British obsession with the weather, to why skyscrapers are taking over London; I'll be out and about, drinking cocktails at the top of the Shard, and taking the temperature of the capital. Join me every fortnight, right here, for the view from London...


Thursday, 4 July 2013

Newsweek and The Daily Beast

Some exciting news to share - I've just signed a contract with Newsweek/The Daily Beast to start writing a new column! It will cover a wide range of topics, from culture, media, current affairs, to feminism, random musings and what's happening in London and the wider world...

Newsweek and The Daily Beast are fantastic websites (with free online access) so I hope you'll follow my column, tweet me with ideas, comments, suggestions and feedback :-)

First instalment out in a few days - Monday 8th July!

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Vagenda, June 2013
I have been called ‘too thin’ and ‘too fat’, a fraud and a bore… I actually, wonderfully, liberatingly, no longer care! The truth is, I’m not the only woman who has starved herself skinny, or tried to. I’m one of many who has felt guilty or... greedy or worthless, who has calculated what they will and will not eat; who has struggled with control and self-control, and wondered ‘if I eat whenever I’m hungry, will I ever be able to stop?’ The Ministry of Thin is not about me, it’s about us. I remember what Doris Lessing wrote in The Golden Notebook, that ‘writing about oneself, one is writing about others’. And that has proved to be true...

Monday, 10 June 2013

Changing Our Body Language: Psychologies Magazine June 2013

As well as our negative inner monologue, we’re surrounded by linguistic reminders that we are at war with our ‘excess’ flesh. If we aren’t engaged in the ‘battle of the bulge’ we’re being urged to ‘conceal’ and ‘correct’ flaws; to ‘attack problem areas’ and ‘fight the flab’. The language of male bodies focuses on building strength, sculpting muscles and boosting endurance, whereas women must reduce, slim down, disappear…

So... are we going to spend our whole lives like this, feeling the wrong shape and the wrong weight in the wrong skin?


Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Grazia magazine lists 'The Ministry of Thin' as one of their 10 Hot Things To Do This Week...

Monday, 3 June 2013

The Observer review of The Ministry of Thin, June 2013

Writer and TV presenter Emma Woolf's The Ministry of Thin is about "how the modern obsession with weight loss, youth, beauty and perfection got out of control". Woolf sets her stall out with brio.

"Welcome to the Ministry of Thin. All members are welcome and there's no charge – in fact you're signed up automatically at birth." While Woolf is not advocating obesity, she points out that "thin rules" are no longer the sole preserve of people with food disorders (Woolf detailed her own 10-year battle with anorexia in her previous book, An Apple a Day, and also in a newspaper column). Women routinely place weight loss above all other goals – in one study, one in six women would rather be blind than obese. Woolf describes the Ministry of Thin as an "internal policeman", observing: "There is still a consensus what women should look like; a near-universal acknowledgement that a thinner body is a superior body. How can we be so strong and yet so idiotic?"

From there, Woolf (great-niece of Virginia, whom she quotes a couple of times) makes her way through the other "ministries": food, fat, diet, fashion and beauty, gym, sex, surgery and more. The picture she paints verges on Orwellian – with everyone (but mainly women) governed and dominated by internal and external pressures to conform. Woolf studies the morality we attach to food choices, the influence of affluence, what I'd term the fiction of perfection that permeates the average female life.

Occasionally it's as if nothing is allowed to be good news. Even the female athletes from the Olympics are fretted about as "impossibly perfect in their own way". (Let us remind ourselves that Jessica Ennis got fit to win, not to make other women want her glutes.) Elsewhere Woolf is uncharacteristically catty about Alexa Chung: "That high fashion Alexa body – all ribs and hips, without an ounce of flab – probably works better dressed than undressed." (Miaow!) No sign here of the Woolf wistfully imploring women in the concluding chapter: "It's a cliche, but we are stronger when we are together." Erm, quite.

However, such snipes are random occurrences. Woolf is robust on a range of issues, not least normal women ageing into "invisibility", juxtaposed against the relentless "surveillance" of famous females.

Elsewhere, she rails against modern plastic surgery ("violence disguised as choice") and the disturbing new trend for "vaginal tightening" and "labia correcting" inspired by porn. After a young male acquaintance turns out never to have had a sexual partner with pubic hair, Woolf recoils at the relentless "pornification" of the female form. "An actual woman's body is more exciting – more challenging and erotic – than the airbrushed pornified version ever could be."

Throughout the book, Woolf's anorexia looms large, a veritable "dark passenger", filtering through many issues, ranging from ageing and self-image to sex and fertility. Woolf readily admits to being full of contradictions, frequently unconfident and unsure, which (digs at Alexa aside) steers her safely away from hectoring, superior and priggish towards a more appealing, human questioning tone, that only occasionally falls down the rabbit hole of woolly and meandering. Is there much that is genuinely new in The Ministry of Thin? Perhaps not. However, Woolf's skill in is in adding intellectual and emotional ballast to the debates that interest her. In its best moments, this book emerges as a hypnotist's finger-click signalling women to wake up. As Woolf asks: "If being thin is the answer – what is the question?"