Photo: The Guardian
Before January the twenty third, I'd never once heard of Tanya Gold. Little did I know how much I'd been missing. I was flicking through my blog reader that day when I found this tantalisingly titled post by BryanBoy: Hater Extraordinaire Tanya Gold Wants You To Know Why She Hates Fashion. He was responding to an article she'd written named Why I hate fashion. So I read his post. Then I read her article.
In it, she spouts off a whole bunch of reasons that she doesn't like fashion - it's ridiculous; people die because of it (a young girl in high heels who fell in front of a train); it sells you a dream that invariably evaporates into an ugly reality; models are unhappy; it hates fat people.
His response - her article is exploitative and self-serving; incorrect (because fashion makes plenty of people happy); negative for the sake of negativity.
But then I read more of her work. Lots and lots more. Gold's form of writing is known as 'Confessional Journalism'. In short, she tells the truth about herself. The ugly truth, no matter how cold, hard or embarrassing it might be.
For example (from the fashion article): "The oddest thing rescued me from fashion. It was that I got fat. Never mind why; that is a story for another page. But I got so fat that even fashion wouldn't pretend it could fix me. You can get so fat they don't actually want you in their clothes."
or (from an article about sharing a bed):
"Sleeping with another person destroys the way I see myself. Am I a sensitive intellectual, lying with my spectacles perched on my nose? Am I Dianne Wiest in mid-period Woody Allen, with some Heine on the bedside table? No. I am a snoring, farting walrus/wildebeest-type creature, lying on melted chocolate buttons with a copy of Hello! scrunched between my thighs. I am a slob."
She writes about her weight, her sex life, her alcoholism, her depression, her relationship with her Jewish mother. The article that really got me hooked, was titled, Remembrance of flings past: What happened when Tanya Gold tried to track down her ex-boyfriends?
It was the stuff of movies. Gold compiled a list of the 10 ex-boyfriends whose names she could remember and set out to find them, interview them, and write about the experience. No holds barred.
"Adam...was 19 and tall and gaunt and looked as if he had escaped from a hospice. I thought he was cool because he smoked pot and lived in Muswell Hill, so I mooned around after him. I was from Norbiton - a satellite of Kingston upon Thames, a satellite of a satellite - and I was an outcast at school because I was afflicted by the Four Social Horsemen of the Apocalypse: fat, needy, Jewish and top of the class...I used to give him blow jobs while thinking about the plot riffs in Jilly Cooper novels. He appeared to dislike me, yet he was always prepared to stick his hand up the ra-ra skirt I'd stolen from Miss Selfridge."
"Memories come to me in patches of fog. My drinking became alcoholic the week I met Jon, and the story of our relationship is the story of the growing sickness... He says it ended because he 'finally realised that every time I slept with you, it unleashed a torrent of emotion that couldn't really be stopped by anyone, least of all me.' He turns to me, and says, blinking through his glasses, 'I am trying to make this sound nonjudgmental, but I think it is tragic that you would quite like to be married but you spend an awful lot of your time going in the other direction. But' - is this a shrug of guilt? - 'we had fun, didn't we?'"
"Nat...says he won't see me, but he starts ringing two or three times a day, and very late at night, as if the past 10 years never happened. This annoys me - I work now! Why don't you? He whispers into the phone in a way that feels very pornographic. He whispers, 'I still masturbate over you. Do you remember the sex?' I try to whisper filth back but my fanny isn't in it. I stop taking his calls."
Imagine for a moment how humiliated you'd feel if your peers found out your nasty little embarrassing secrets. Now imagine broadcasting those same secrets - with no sugar coating - to an audience of some 350,000 people, plus another few million online.
It's possibly the toughest thing I've ever seen. Tough and ridiculous, masochistic, degrading, but titillating in all its voyeuristic glory. Tanya Gold must have balls of steel.
She addresses the reasons for her style of writing, in an article named, Why I confess all.
"Good journalism... [is] not the publishable niceties - but the vomiting, the tears, the self-hatred, the monstrous things you will do for a drink. When I see it on the page it doesn't always feel as if I wrote it. But whenever I write about alcoholism, I get letters and emails from other alcoholics or their families, either recognising themselves or talking about the experience of living with, or trying to love, an alcoholic. It's a kind of vanity, I suppose - all hacks know the best writing comes from the best material, and if that is all I've got, then why shouldn't I write about it?"
"And the eating disorder? I mock myself in print, but that isn't why I write the pieces - it is just how I write them. Millions of women in Britain live with an eating disorder. They tumble into bulimia or anorexia, and often they don't talk about it, because mental illness isn't feminine. I like to counter this with vulgarity and details. Talk about taking diet pills and shitting yourself! Talk about bingeing and vomiting! It happens. Too many of the women who get page space in newspapers are glossy and airbrushed and famous or "important". Liz Hurley's dresses? Madonna's latest child? Who cares? I don't. What about the ordinary fat woman in an ordinary town with ordinary self-loathing? Why shouldn't she pick up a newspaper and find herself there? And if it makes her laugh, isn't that even better? Confessional journalism can make people realise that they are not alone - and that their newspaper sees them."
Three cheers for Tanya Gold. I'm a devotee.
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