“Muffin-tops turn it on for Oprah”: mocking her female fan base
Why say this: “Thousands of women, aged between 30 to 70, gathered in Federation Square to welcome Oprah Winfrey to Australia”.
When you can say this: “…30-to 70-something women…crammed their muffin-tops into Federation Square”.
And turn it into a heading that says this: “Muffin-tops turn it on for Oprah”.
This heading and muffin-top cramming sentence appeared in a piece on page 4 of The Weekend Australia. It was also online here .
I tweeted about it on the weekend. I said it presented Oprah fans as being all the same, a particular ‘type; that it emphasised and drew attention to their bodies. The only other descriptors were a general age range and that they were “delirious daytime TV fans”. The heading didn’t even depict them as women, just ‘Muffin-tops’.
The Macquarie Dictionary defines muffin-top as “the colloquial for the fold of fat around the midriff which, on an overweight woman, spills out over the top of tight-fitting pants or skirts.”
But it’s more than the fold of fat. It also implies a woman who doesn’t know how to dress appropriately – who deludes herself into thinking that if she squeezes into a size 10 when she is really a sixe 12, this is somehow attractive.
Popularised by ‘Kath & Kim’, the term pokes fun at lower middle class females. The muffin-top stereotype is a feminized term and is is also a class term.
Responses came in rapid fire succession over a couple of hours. Many agreed. The coverage was cheap, snide and sneering. ‘Oprah viewers=fat ergo we can insult them?’, ‘Disdain for women and readers’.
But others thought this response over the top. They described their own muffin tops; Oprah wouldn’t mind – she’d turn it into advice on how to pick the right jeans; I’d had a humour bypass; ‘female body empowerment doesn’t mandate mentally airbrushing muffin tops out of life’. Perhaps I had a ‘fat phobia’ and needed to take a muffin break.
I then started getting weight loss advice (“Hope this helps!).
My reaction isn’t about fat, or individuals being fat, or about the fact that there may well have been some women there who weren’t skinny, or about Oprah and what she was wearing or whether she would mind.
It’s about treating thousands of fans as one homogenous block, all so overweight they had to ‘cram’ their large girths into Federation Square. All that female fandom not knowing how to dress appropriately to greet the “Queen of US daytime television” (Oprah’s show screens in the evening over there, but never mind).
It’s not just the muffin-top depiction on its own. It’s that in combination with the sense of a delirious hysterical mob – a feminised hysterial incapable of critical reasoning.
There are other ways to inject colour into a piece that don’t sound like you are mocking women who don’t fit the thin ideal and who like Oprah.
Michael Bodey, who wrote the piece, responded on twitter:
@michaelbodey: a stupid line written in 20 min I had before deadline. Wish I came up with something better but didn’t. Sorry
@michaelbodey: it’s not hard news but soft colour piece requiring description. & as a fat white male, didn’t think the term derogatory
I appreciated that Bodey appears to recognise he should have done it differently.
But he doesn’t put the paper together. There is a detailed editing process, sub-editors go over every story forensically. One obviously saw fit to highlight ‘Muffin-top’ in the header. In this process was there not one person who thought to say: women shouldn’t be reduced to a description like this? That headlines and commentary like this could be seen as mocking Oprah’s constituency, audience and her power?
Opening up the public square
When Oprah hit the scene 25 years ago, she did something considered rather radical: she prioritised the voices of lay individuals, recognising that personal experience is a form of expertise in its own right. This drastically rearranged who had access to public space and the sort of voices that could be heard and valued within that space.
Stories of domestic violence, sexual assault, addiction and mental illness that had previously been discussed in the public sphere only by recognised authorities were now being discussed openly by afflicted individuals who had once been consigned to the private sphere. Read full story here .