Sadiq Khan: how censorious can you get?


I wish people would get a sense of proportion about advertising, but all they do is worry about proportions. Case en pointe: last year, a famous poster featuring a slender model, with the slogan “Are you beach body ready?”, sparked immense outrage among young women. Protesters called its subject too thin, and petitioned to have the poster removed – on the grounds that it would promote unrealistic body standards.

I thought the matter had been laid to rest, until today – when I heard that Sadiq Khan had launched a new and rather censorious crusade. Distressed by the saga of 2015, the Mayor plans to police adverts on the tube that could cause confidence issues, particularly among young women. Speaking about his campaign, he said: “As the father of two teenage girls, I am extremely concerned about this kind of advertising which can demean people, particularly women, and make them ashamed of their bodies”, adding that: “Nobody should feel pressurised, while they travel on the Tube or bus.”

It’s difficult to know where to begin with Khan’s latest effort, which seems stupid at best, dangerous at worst. Perhaps the biggest issue with it is that it diminishes the role of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) – which has, for years, been a largely accepted and appreciated authority on what can stay and go on our billboards. Last year, despite receiving 200 complaints, the organisation resisted when asked to remove the “Beach body ready” campaign. I was glad to see that its representatives did not cave to a humourless, oversensitive mob.

But thanks to Sadiq, the mob will have its way. TFL now has to block any advert that could be accused of body shaming. This is ridiculous, as what might constitute body shaming is such a nuanced and subjective thing. Given the upset over the “Beach body ready” posters – that featured a real person – I wonder who on earth will now be allowed to grace our tube lines? Who will be deemed as not offensive?

The fact of the matter is that adverts are aspirational. When I buy a shampoo from L’Oreal, I do not suddenly believe that I am going to look like Cheryl Cole. Posters and their stars are not designed to reflect reality – but to promote an idealistic image, which we can buy into. What kind of wet society are we living in, where people have to be protected from things that look nice. Instead of dividing adverts into the good and bad, we should get a dose of reality – and accept that we can’t all look “Beach body ready” (but we can try).

If this is one of Sadiq Khan’s best ideas as Mayor, I’m seriously concerned. It shows a desperate lack of humour, and someone who will simply censor things he does not like. Perhaps worst of all, it demonstrates a man who will abandon all logic to be Mr Popular.

He should take some lessons from the ASA; an institution that firmly understands the importance of policy before populism.

It’s the Euros tomorrow. Great


My God I hate football. It’s the one thing that makes me think humans and dogs aren’t so far apart; both transfixed by the site of a ball going up and down a field. When will they tire? Nobody knows.

I find everything about it aversive: the sound of a crowd chanting and cheering, the monotony of watching the (aforementioned) ball going up and down the field, and the fact that no one ever seems to score. Don’t even get me started on the players. For all of their collective intelligence, they may as well be Beano characters.

I rationalise the emergence of football through evolutionary theory; as the sport seems to have filled a primitive need. Where men would once unleash testosterone, killing enemies at war, they now get a kick out of shouting at Vardy, Rooney and (who’s that other one I read about inThe Daily Mail): our modern day gladiators. However, this theory only offers some consolation – for I am still baffled by the attention this game of balls and boneheads receives.

With my football allergy, the last few weeks have been utterly miserable – as it’s coming up to the Euros, which I’m starting to think people care about than the EU Referendum! To give you an example of how obsessed everyone is with this event, note the recent activity of a Southampton school – which has decided to let pupils finish in time for the England v Wales game next Thursday. At two o’clock.

I remember my school letting me finish early when I was a whippersnapper, to watch 2003’s Rugby World Cup. It was the most boring thing on earth, and not at all beneficial to my education.

I thought about the sexism of it all, having to live in a society that places such value on male sport – almost as if events were religious ceremonies. And the assumption that everyone, everywhere, cares.

Such expectations are unfair – because there are other events that people are more interested in, which don’t get the same coverage, or consideration. The Eurovision Song Contest is the highlight of my year, but no one’s going to let me have some time off to celebrate Jedward – let alone talk about the festivities.

Football, that’s fine though. Talk all you like about that and you’ve scored.

I’m happy to get a red card, anyway, if that means I can sit out of the proceedings. The Euros are the latest example of something football-sceptics are dreading; weeks of conversation, adverts and marketing about a game we don’t find particularly ‘beautiful’. It’s annoying at best, oppressive at worst. Not everyone likes football; spare a thought for us this year.

Mamma Mia, I’m glad ABBA’s back


Who cares about Spice Girl reunions, what about ABBA?

Last Sunday night, the four members of the – legendary – group slyly got together, to perform for the first time in 30 years.

30 years! That’s too long if you ask me. And my goodness I am glad that they’ve come out from hiding. The band was performing at Stockholm’s Berns Hotel to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the day when Bjorn and Benny met.

How I wish I’d been there to sing along. How I hope there will be more ABBA reunions. For sometimes I worry that their legacy is dying out – and that they need some sort of modern day Homer to tell others of their legend; of their odyssey of love and interesting 70s outfits.

Over the decades, ABBA’s music has increasingly fallen on deaf ears. To my generation, they’ve never been particularly cool. I know, because sometimes I say to my friends: “Weren’t ABBA amazing?” and they look at me like I’ve invited them to a Nigel Farage coffee morning.

In the (current) dark days of pop and rap, and ambient jazz – which someone recently told me was a thing – the lightness of ABBA has been lost. People forget that these Swedish swayers essentially created the genre of “Scandipop” – a movement that gave rise to the likes of Tove Lo, Alphabeat, Robyn, Erlend Øye and Lykke Li (the list goes on). From the high vocals, to the bouncy beats, ABBA gave Scandipop its DNA.

Anyway, what kind of miserable person do you need to be to not appreciate Waterloo, Dancing Queen and Super Trouper. If only we’d listen to these classics more often, perhaps we wouldn’t be 23rd in the world happiness ratings. Further up, perhaps, maybe even 10th – where Sweden sits. A coincidence you say? Or could it be listening to ABBA?

Like I say, ABBA isn’t the trendiest band to like in 2016 – and Benny and the gang have always been criticised for making ‘trivial’ songs. But even the up-tempo Take A Chance On Me has its vulnerable lyrics. Then there’s The Winner Takes It All – one of the saddest songs in music history (with an even more depressing video, in which Agnetha looks in desperate need of a handkerchief).

I even think ABBA had feminist credentials (oh no she didn’t). With Agnetha and Anni-Frid centre stage, and Bjorn and Benny happy to provide the background music (literally and metaphorically), the songs were designed to show off the women’s voices. You don’t get many bands geared up towards highlighting female talent.

Anyway, in case you haven’t realised, I really, really like ABBA. And my gosh am I glad they’re back again. I just want them to be less embarrassing to like; less ‘raiding Mum and Dad’s CD collection’, and more ‘The CD collection’. If you get me… With their reunion, I hope they can reignite – and ignite – some spark for the power of ABBA.

Call me old-fashioned, but dress codes should stay


Never has society been so united in its hatred of dress codes.

Everywhere you look, conventions over what we wear are being pulled apart and intellectualised. A shoe no longer a shoe, but a sign of submission; make-up, the warpaint of the oppressed.

This nonsense started a few weeks ago when a secretary from PwC was told to wear high heels to work. Affronted by the instruction – a little old-fashioned at best – she took her story to the newspapers, and became something of a star.

PwC has since been attacked by just about everyone, and charged with allegations of sexism for forcing female staff to wear the items.

It’s not the only company to fall victim to the fashion police. This week was the turn of airline JetBlue – which turned away a passenger for wearing a revealing outfit. Her name was Maggie McMuffin – well, that’s her burlesque stage name, but I thought I’d use it to amuse myself – and she was on her way to Seattle. Arriving for the flight in a pair of very short shorts, and a tiger jumper, McMuffin did not impress JetBlue. Attendants told her: change outfit or get off the plane.

If you’d seen the photos of her, you’d agree that you’d have to be utterly butt-erly bonkers to go about in such an attire. The ‘shorts’ of which she speaks look more like a 10-year-old boy’s underpants (bad underpants at that), and that tiger jumper deserves to be chucked into a pit of tigers. But that’s not the point: the bottom half of her outfit showed too much bottom.

Being the theatrical sort, instead of letting the matter rest, McMuffin accused the airline of “body-shaming and slut-shaming” her. Such sayings are now so overused that it’s almost the case of “the boy who cried slut”. Especially when used in trivial contexts like this, that have very little to do with gender (think of a man in a mankini trying to board a plane – which wouldn’t happen either).

I can see what’s going to happen next. There will be awkward PR statements from the airline, apologising for any misunderstanding – maybe it’ll even lose a few bob. Society will engage in constant dialogue about flight fashion, and whether it interferes with self-expression. You only have to look at PwC to see what happens to firms that ‘oppress’ the identities of their employees – and all the backpedaling it’s done to mitigate the damage inflicted by its stiletto-shunning secretary. The firm’s Australian’s offices have completely removed the dress code; now staff can decide on outfits for themselves.

Clearly people can’t be trusted, anyway. And I don’t think we should be pushing for the removal of fashion boundaries. They may seem at times archaic and restrictive, but they serve an important function in society. On a flight, wearing longer clothing – not even longer, just normal – is a way of being respectful to other members on board. Even young children, who – quite simply – don’t want to see someone’s arse. McMuffin has accused the JetBlue crew of discriminating against her, but they were simply mindful of general etiquette. There has to be a boundary somewhere to how far people – men and women – can ‘express’ themselves, before becoming nudists.

The irony of all these protestations about fashion is that we are actually becoming quite lax about dress codes on the whole. Offices now attract swarms of people in trainers and casual clothing – which seems to me a great shame. Dressing up is not only a look, but a state of mind.

Besides, we have many options – in the West, at least – to wear what we want, when we choose to. So I wish we wouldn’t get our knickers in a twist over companies with clothing policies. Dress code serves all sorts of important functions – whether that’s letting others know your role, organising people together, or allowing firms to project an identity. And, most importantly, they are up to companies to dictate – whether you buy into them, or work for them, you choose to take on their values. And, yes, high heels may be one.