Director Kevin Smith on heart attack, happiness, extreme weight loss- and Weinstein

The director and actor talks about his near-death experience, becoming vegan and the star-studded reboot of the movie that first constructed him famous 25 years ago

In February last year, Kevin Smith performed 90 minutes of standup for a TV special, padded back to the green room and started to worry that the joint he had smoked before the prove was too strong. He was sweaty and nauseous, which was not entirely out of the ordinary. But after he lay down on the tile floor and vomited, he was rushed to hospital, where a doctor broke the news that Smith was having a massive heart attack.

Smith stayed calm. Honestly, he tells me, as we are talking here at his Hollywood Hills home, he was still stoned. On learning that he might die, he says:” I was like:’ I’m going to make peace with this right away .’ You did way more than you ever set out to do, you got to do some cool shit, and if it’s done, it’s done .”

For 25 years, Smith, a director and actor as well as a comedian, has grappled with his own dumb luck. In 1994, his debut movie, Clerks, a raunchy comedy about the convenience store where he worked, was a hit with Sundance audiences charmed by Smith’s on-screen appearance, as a slacker known as Silent Bob, and his behind-the-scenes tales of selling cigarettes during the day and shooting the movie at night. Made for just $25,575, Clerks was funded by credit cards and favors from friends, some of whom even had components in the film: Brian O’Halloran, for instance, plays Dante Hicks and delivers the catchphrase,” I’m not even supposed to be here today !” and Smith’s middle-school chum Jason Mewes, who agreed to play Jay, the talkative half of Jay and Silent Bob( Smith ), two friendly morons with flashes of grandeur. Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax buy Clerks and, as its publicists had done with Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, turned the filthy-mouthed former altar boy, the 24 -year-old son of a New Jersey postal worker, into a star.

” I’ve been living on that one trick for a long time ,” admits Smith.” Like, come on, that movie was cute- but 25 years on the back of one black-and-white movie ?” Lighting a branded Jay& Silent Bob joint with his face on the packaging, he describes that Sundance wunderkind as if he were someone else.

” I love that guy. I don’t understand why he had the confidence. I think he was undereducated. I was never ambitious. I think that was a fluke .”

A fluke that became the cornerstone of his future, of his gorgeous three-story house decorated with memories: a table-top football game inspired by the roof hockey in Clerks, iron fireplace statues of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck in Dogma, a walrus ceramic that nods to his screwball gothic Tusk, crayon sketches, movie posters and souvenirs from the live stage monologues in which Smith extemporises on everything from phone chats with Bruce Willis to his dog’s genitalia.( He has sold out Carnegie Hall .) The upstairs living room is dominated by a collage celebrating his 20 -year marriage to Jennifer Schwalbach. Squint, and you can find his first email to his future bride:” You’d be surprised how many Schwalbachs there are in the phonebook …”

” The home is a me -seum that highlightings the accomplishments of Kevin Smith ,” he jokes. When he looks around, he is reminded of everything he did that he never expected to do.” That’s why, when I almost dropped dead, I was OK with it ,” he says.” Most days I’m like:’ Oh, I probably did die on the table and this is heaven .'”

Brian
Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson in Kevin Smith’s 1994 film Clerks. Photograph: Allstar/ Miramax

Back to that operating room. The doctor asked if the Smiths had a history of heart disease? No, replied Smith. Only that his father died of a massive heart attack- and that his mother, who is still alive, had stents inserted in her arteries after her heart stopped for a full minute, during which she claims to have ensure his deceased papa and grandmother.” She was probably pumped on fentanyl when she saw heaven ,” Smith chuckles,” so I don’t know if I want to invest in that.

” I was a fat kid ,” he continues. At 14, he joined Weight Watchers, but felt awkward being the only teenage boy and left after a month. As the third child of parents who were strapped for fund and day, the only health food he saw was tinned spinach.” That’s why I don’t like veggies .”

When he earned money to buy his own snacks, he devoured “low-fat” cookies not realising they were packed with sugar.” Oh, I fell for everything is ,” he says. The biggest impediment, however, was mental. Over the years, he had espoused his weight, turning fat jokes from a problem to a comedic intent.” The key early on was realising if I make fun of myself for this, then somebody else can’t. One day you think:’ I could be funny for a living .'”

He marketed himself as a character- the happy schlub in a hockey jersey- and literally became a cartoon, as Clerks ran from indie movie to comic book to sequels to animated series. Success, Smith notes, gave him an extra padding of protection.

” For years, people were just like:’ Hey, big guy !’ And I was like, I am the big guy, aren’t I ?” says Smith.” Nobody ever says: ‘ Hey, fat-ass !’”

At his heaviest, Smith, who is 5ft 9in, weighed 23 st 8lb( 150 kg ). About a decade ago he was escorted off a plane for being unable to squeeze into one seat. The story constructed headlines around the world, and internet trolls were merciless. For the first time, Smith felt naked.” Abruptly, I was like:’ They know I’m fat’- I thought I was hiding it !”

For a while, he swaggered through his insecurities, titling that year’s live show Too Fat for 40, then launching the podcast Fat Man on Batman and publishing a memoir called Tough Sh* t: Life Advice from a Fat, Lazy Slob Who Did Good. But he also quit sugar, an experience he likens to withdrawing from heroin.

Finally, the craving for desserts stopped and 5st melted away. An hour before his heart attack, Smith had been boasting on stage about falling five lingerie sizes from 5XL to XL.

” I would have thought I was in fairly decent shape that night ,” he says.” But now it’s weird to look at me and go:’ Jesus, did I know I was that unhealthy? Or did I only not care ?'”

Since then, he has lost almost another 6st by going vegan, at the insisting of his 20 -year-old daughter, Harley Quinn. Most days, he fasts until midday, then grabs vegan nachos from his favourite fast food joint. He has stocked a two-foot-wide snack bowl with crunchy chickpeas and vegetable whiffs in case he gets the munchies.” Treats galore !” he grins.

Now his bridal ring wobbles when Smith waves his hands .. The first time he realised he was too skinny for the Big and Tall clothing store, he nearly cried. His purple sports coat sags on his shoulders, but he worries that if he has it taken in to fit his new frame, he will jinx himself and regain the weight he has lost. Part of him still can’t help crediting luck over attempt. He did, however, give away all his signature hockey jerseys.” I started seeming weird in their own homes ,” says Smith. Although, he adds:” People were like:’ You seemed weird the whole time .'”

Jason
Jason Lee, Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith in the 2001 film Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Photograph: Allstar/ View Askew Productions

This year has been surreal. Smith posed for a photo shoot for Men’s Health magazine.” Somebody told me online:’ You’re like a Walmart Robert Downey Jr ,'” says Smith.” I’ll take that !” A website theft his painting to hawk diet pills.

Last month, he and Mewes were invited to put their handprints in the cement outside the legendary Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. Smith brought his father’s ashes to the ceremony. Forty years ago, on a family vacation, his papa had offhandedly told him he might be here some day. Now he was. Smith ground an urn publish into the wet pavement.

In his new film, Jay& Silent Bob Reboot, Jay and Silent Bob are still where he left them in 2006′ s Clerk 2, loitering outside the Quick Stop, although the video rental shop next to the Quick Stop has been supplanted by a Redbox kiosk.” The world has moved on ,” says Smith. As for Jay and Silent Bob , now visibly in their 40 s, they are out-of-touch apolitical white males.” We needed to introduce them to’ this is woke culture ‘.”

Smith chose the one-year anniversary of his heart attack for his first day of filming.” It’s not macabre ,” he laughter,” It’s a’ fuck off’ to demise !” The movie procures the pair trekking, again, from New Jersey to California to fight for the cinema rights for their fictional resemblances Bluntman and Chronic, as they did in 2001′ s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.

The script is a greatest hits of inside jokes. Smith settled on calling it a reboot, which one character explains, is when” they take a flick you loved as a kid and add youth and diversity to it “. That is exactly what Smith has done, recasting the movie with a pro-LGBTQ anti-Nazi and hiring Harley Quinn to play the leader of a pack of rebellious vegan girls.

Smith
Smith at home in Los Angeles Photograph: Jessica Pons/ The Guardian

” This is the most bloated and self-indulgent movie anyone’s ever produce, and I might get away with it because of the heart attack ,” he giggles. As for his star-studded cast, which includes Damon and Affleck, plus Chris Hemsworth, Rosario Dawson, Fred Armisen, Craig Robinson, Val Kilmer, Tommy Chong and rappers Method Man and Redman, he jokes that, apart from Affleck, most of them probably depicted up out of guilt.” Affleck was like:’ I didn’t even is understood the heart attack .'” Smith pauses.” I don’t know how I feel about that .”

Smith doesn’t agree with the Joker director Todd Phillips’ insisting that awake culture has destroyed comedy.” I don’t feel that way because I always punch in ,” he says. Jokes that punch down are” only boring “. But as he is punching in, the tenderest bruise is why he has not tried harder to direct serious comic book movies when he is famous for taking comic books seriously. The other film-makers in his indie clique- Tarantino, Rodriguez and Richard Linklater- made good-looking movies when they won bigger budgets.” Whereas me, I could do cheap, and then people gave me real money and they’re like:’ It appears cheap.’

” Every once in a while, I wonder if I should have done better ?” he says.” If you simply concentrated on the thing that brought you into the conversation, directing, would you be better now ?”

The indie wave he helped to inspire has become a tsunami.” If I started my career now, you might not hear about me ,” Smith says.” I couldn’t break through this noise .” To sell tickets to Jay& Silent Bob Reboot, Smith will tour with the cinema for five months offering audiences a post-screening chat that tends to climax to an inspirational sermon about how if he made it, anyone can. His biography- not his cinemas- is becoming his legacy.

” Maybe I’ll just become one with the art where Kevin Smith is no longer an individual, he’s just a concept of these series of movies. Until people are like,’ Who is Kevin Smith ?’ because they don’t watch movies any more- but that’s what the handprints are about .”

The weed he has been smoking during the interview has definitely kicked in. Yet he assures his career with clarity.

” I don’t think I’m a film-maker ,” says Smith.” I think I’m a salesman. I could sell you Kevin Smith all day. Not a lot of people are buying any more, but enough are where I still get to do this .”

Two years ago, he got a call from the man who launched his fame: Weinstein. They hadn’t spoken for about 10 years, after falling out over the marketing for their final film together, Zack and Miri Make a Porno. Weinstein indicated they partner on a sequel to Dogma. Smith was thrilled.” Hopefully people understand, but get that bellow meant the world. I felt like:’ Oh, he recollected me .'”

A week later, the first article about Weinstein’s sexual assaults broke.” All I knew was that he was a philanderer, he cheated on his wife ,” says Smith. Of course, he realised that Weinstein didn’t care about Dogma, or him.

” He was circling his wagons ,” says Smith.” I am not a victim here. But I felt employed a little bit .” Days later, to help the real victims- the women whose dreams Weinstein crushed- Smith pledged his future residuals from the movies Weinstein created to the non-profit Women in Film.

” If you’d gone back in time and told that kid:’ This is all you’ll do, but it will be connected to a person who does all of this to all these people ,’ I definitely wouldn’t have done it ,” says Smith.” I was way too Christian .” Smith is no longer religious( Dogma, he claims, rescinded his invitation to heaven ), but he still seems guided by guilt, obligation and gratitude.” Career-wise, I always was almost like I was playing on house money ,” says Smith.” Now life-wise, this is just a bonus because it was supposed to end in that emergency room .”

To him, his own Clerks catchphrase-” I’m not even supposed to be here today”- now echoes even louder.” Let’s be honest ,” says Smith.” We’re all insanely luck to be here. I’m just insanely lucky I get to stick around a little longer .”

Jay& Silent Bob Reboot is out on 29 November

Read more: www.theguardian.com

I had zero experience in a novelists’ room. Then I was offered my dream job in LA

How would I adapt to my own giant office, gummy bears on demand and daily microdosing?

” Do you want to come to California for a couple of months to work on the television show of your dreams ?” is honestly the most exciting non-food-related thing any other person has said to me. When the comedian and writer Lindy West sold the adaptation of her book Shrill to Hulu and it immediately got picked up to series( a dumb Hollywood term that basically means,” We will give you fund to attain several episodes of a show that we don’t know if anyone will actually watch “), she called me on the phone( a crime ), and we unintelligibly screamed high-pitched nonsense words at each other for a full minute and a half.

Lindy told me that she was allowed to pick one of several people who would join the Shrill writers’ room that summertime in Los Angeles, and she wanted that person to be me.

I had zero experience in a writers’ room and zero experience working on a television show, other than the soap opera running on a continuous loop in my head, starring myself. I was unbelievably flattered and 100% positive that I was grossly unqualified for this job that I was absolutely going to accept.

I love LA( dog birthday parties! spiritual healers on every corner !). You might not think so, because I’m a misanthropic depressed person with menopause acne, whose hips are too wide for every restaurant chair in this city, but you would be wrong. I’m a Fat Bitch from the midwest and I love accidentally running into minor celebrities with my cart in the wheatgrass aisle. I love witch doctor, and blond topknots, and designer sunglasses, and how everyone is friendly until they figure out that you can’t put them in a movie. I love frightening all of the miniskirted assistants at my Tv agent’s office by eating carbohydrates in public. I love going to a ritzy spa and suffering first-degree burns on my labia while getting my yoni steamed, a procedure I didn’t need that provided no benefits. I love when someone recommends their shaman to me in earnest. I love how many adorable ice-cream shops and bakeries there are all over a town where nobody feeds ice-cream or cooked goods. I love how, while sitting at a restaurant gazing out at the oceans and seas and casually mentioning that your back has been bugging you, people will offer a little no-big-deal nibble of shrooms, the route someone in, say, Milwaukee would go fishing through their pouch for a dusty Advil.

The first day of my new task as a lowly faculty writer on a US comedy television series, I was several minutes late and are covered under a thin sheen of musky flop sweat at 10 am, my palpable impostor disorder causing my belly to careen acid up the back of my throat. The perfect way to show up for your first day at a new job!” Nice to meet you, fellow comedy kids! Would you like to shake my damp and clammy hand? My body smells like a dog’s teeth !”

I approach most attempts with zero expectations- a skill I have sharpened after 40 years of fairly regular frustration. I learned early on that if you simply expect things to be bad , not even bad but the worst thing that could ever happen to anyone, then, unless someone gets murdered in front of you, whatever it is usually turns out to be fine. Bearable, at the worst. It’s a good skill to have, and it attains new things, for the most part, pleasantly exciting. I had no idea what was in store for me, so I packed a lunch and brought a refillable water bottle simply in case, because I was fully prepared to eat my room-temperature string cheeses while confidently saying dumb stuff like,” I’m just pitching here, but what if we sent that character to the moon ?”

Everyone else seemed borne and unimpressed so I tried to imitate their nonchalance as we were shown to our individual offices . A real office! With a desk, some chairs and a couple of windows plus a computer and a filing cabinet! No one else seemed fazed. Oh, sure, of course. They were bona fide showbiz professionals who’d probably had dozens of its term of office throughout their careers. I, meanwhile, wrote my last volume in the incapacitated bathroom at my old undertaking during lunch breaches. “ Be cool ,” I advised my inner tuna casserole. Nothing is more embarrassing than unbridled exuberance. I walked in and put down my backpack filled with shrink-wrapped portable snack cheese.” This’ll work, I guess ,” I said coolly, pretending to inspect a room that was bigger than my last apartment. I snuck a picture, my hands vibrating with hilarity, and send it to my friends in the heartland, who are all potatoes.

Samantha
Samantha Irby:’ Writing a Tv show is like hanging out with your friends’ Photograph: Eva Blue

Menus would magically appear in the middle of the conference room table at 10.30 every morning. Do you know that there is not a single Thai restaurant where I live? No need to cry for me, it’s not like larb is a basic human right. I’m just trying to illustrate why the fact that we could just, you know, have dishes delivered in the middle of the day was cause for celebration. I’m a rube, OK? I’m used to living that” packet of expired Swiss Miss cocoa in the violate room if you can find it” kind of life.

I’ve never had a shared assistant before. And, frankly, an deputy is a great deal of pressure, and I would never want to have access to one again. Every time someone young and eager( whose job it was to remember how much Stevia people like in their tea in the hopes that one day that would translate to a writing undertaking) offered to get me a drinking, I said here today,” Wait, can I get you a drink? What kind of kombucha do you like ?” and then I’d melt into a thick goo of inadequacy. I have never not had a job where I wasn’t the one whose chore it was to fetch things or clean up with a mop. I love a cold drinking and I detest strolling, so what a dream not to have to do that, but it felt weird not to give the person who committed to memory that I like that one weird soda a tip-off or the keys to my rental vehicle. You know, to make it feel even.

I frankly cannot tell you how to make a television programme, but I can tell you that we got to make a shopping list every week of things to have on hand in the kitchen. This is an unbelievably astonishing gift that immediately devolves into the most stressful decision you’ve ever had to stimulate in your life!

Someone would slide the notepad with’ groceries’ scrawled at the top over to me and I’d have a complete internal breakdown.

Should I write gummy bears? Is everyone going to know that I’m the one who requested a child’s candy ? What if I put down yogurt , and they get the unsweetened health kind? Is it more depressing or less depressing if I write down the specific brand and flavour that I want? Why do I always want the shit called low-fat chocolate cherry cupcake yogurt ?

Writing a television show is like hanging out with your friends in the same room every day, arguing about what should happen on a display you haven’t watched yet. After the first week, I waited for someone to show up and tell me,” OK, hoe, it’s cute that you thought we were just gonna let you sit in a chair and get paid to think about imaginary people. Here’s your scrubbing brush, you recollect where the lavatories are, right ?” And … I would do it. I would scrub those toilets. When I ran at a bakery, I had to mop the floor every night and scrub down pastry lawsuits, and once burned an entire layer of skin off my limb on a trayful of fresh millet bread. For that I was paid $ 7.25 an hour, and I gladly cashed those cheques. Every day, I drove to the Shrill writing room in my Toyota Camry and wondered if that would be the day someone would see through my ruse and order me to go pick up lunch or ask students if they could use my back as a table.

In the beginning, when we were coming up with the arc of the season, we all pitched ideas to build the narrative for the main character, Annie (” Really, though, should she go to outer space ?”). The basic premise of the series is this: Annie is a fat, single woman in a situationship with a loser, and she’s also unfulfilled at her job, where she is underappreciated. Our goal was to figure out a way, in only a handful of episodes, to evolve her from a whiny doormat( sorry !) to a bitch who owns her shit. While talking about a tangible style to shift Annie’s perspective from the beginning of the season( unhappily eating special weight-loss foods and putting up with shit from a shitty human) to where we wanted her to be at the end of it( fat and fine with it, or at the very least on the way to being fine with it, and dumping said fucking shit ), all of the writers were throwing out notions( we didn’t want to resort to a cheesy makeover montage or make her over the head with an exercise bike ). I said that maybe she could go to a fat-girl party, and maybe that party could be at a pond, and maybe seeing half-naked fat people enjoying themselves is likely to be the catalyst for this change in her attitude toward her body and herself.

‘Half-naked
‘ Half-naked fat people enjoying themselves’ in the scene Irby wrote for Shrill. Photograph: Everett Collection Inc/ Alamy Stock Photo

In Chicago, I would go to dance parties, and garb swaps, and exercise classes “thats been” made specifically for fat girls. I thought it would be cool to see Annie assure all different types of bodies unabashedly enjoying decadent party snacks while wearing crop tops and bikinis poolside.

You hear people talking about the importance of seeing” someone who looks like me ,” and it’s like,” OK, sure, who cares, shut up .” It has always been obvious in regards to race, but with sizing I guess I’d never truly thought about it that much because, well, that’s just the way things have always been. Sometimes, it isn’t always clear what you don’t have until model Tess Holliday is on the covering of a widely distributed magazine with her back fat out and then it’s: HELL YES, BITCH. SHE HAS THIGHS LIKE ME, OPEN UP MY LARGEST VEIN AND INJECT THESE IMAGES DIRECTLY INTO IT.

I wanted to write a moment like that for the demonstrate. Frankly, America needs more moments like that. More fat people doing normal stuff that isn’t “dieting” or” being sad “. As a consumer of popular culture you can’t help but be exposed to all the typical fat-girl stereotypes and tropes: she cries on the scale! She’s a great friend to skinny protagonists! She has a closet full of adorable cherry-printed skirts! For me, Shrill was an opportunity to set a bitch fat lady who can’t sing on TV, and it attained people so mad, and I love that.

We wrote the indicate over the course of two months. I ate more delicious free lunch than I could count; I went to many, many live demonstrates and left early; I watched Jeff Goldblum on the freeway and nearly drove my stupid overpriced automobile into oncoming traffic. I also 😛 TAGEND

* went to a psychic in Santa Monica who got some things so right that it scared me

* microdosed psilocybin mushrooms every day

* left a restaurant because it was too small and offered no parking, which constructed me feel like the mayor of the midwest

* ensure the dude who played Ryan on The Office( US) at a fried chicken spot

* went to Sephora in Pasadena and let the handsome salesman with very smooth skin dishonor me into buying six billion dollars’ worth of tiny bottles of oil

* slammed my hand in the door of the rental automobile and pissed my gasps from the blinding pain

* stocked up on powerful crystals

* tried fruitlessly to find a quality bagel

* sat in the car listening to Drake’s In My Feelings on repeat in a parking lot in Long Beach while watching other people frolic in the water

* ordered tacos a thousand times

* feigned I was starring in La La Land and constructed unironic jazz hands in public

After we writers turned our individual scripts in, we expended a week or so punching up one another’s jokes. I learned so many things on the job, entailing I faked knowing what people were talking about then looked it up on my phone when they turned their attention elsewhere. I get off the plane in LAX not knowing how to write” this scene happens in the house at breakfast” in a script, but now I know it’s” INT. HOUSE–MORNING “.” Punching up” basically means that other writers go through your script and try to come up with lines that are funnier than yours, and you get to do the same thing to theirs; then everyone submits them anonymously and individual producers, who get final script acceptance, picking the ones that they like best, and they’re probably not yours but whatever, bitch!

When the scripts were all punched up and edited, it was time to leave. I mostly spent my last week watching Sharp Objects in the air-conditioning at our rented home and avoiding all the Gila monsters prowling around outside. Then I went home, where I no longer had to talk about weed or pretend to understand fashion.

My life snapped right back to whatever it was before I left. I ran my usual errands, picked themed snacks for our monthly volume club, and let my muscle memory lead me right to the gastrointestinal distress aisle at my beloved local pharmacy. I didn’t have to learn the layout of a new store any more.

I don’t ever want to be the kind of person who is not fully blown away by the magnitude of getting to make a big, dumb, shiny thing that doesn’t cure disease or whatever, but brought people some elation. I never want to take for granted that a person in a big corporate office pulled out a giant cardboard cheque for millions of dollars to buy mini hotdogs and fake margaritas, only because I typed this scene up on my old, junky laptop. It still feels like a takeover, like:” Do they actually know that they let those individuals who regularly falls for fake news narratives write an entire episode of their television depict ?” I’ll never be too cool for all those coffees a kid with a master’s degree had to spend his summer running to get for me. I am a garbage person who has taken a shit in the street before! Did I ever imagine, 20 years later, I’d be wearing those flat headphones you only see around the necks of directors in behind-the-scenes DVD extras of your favourite movies, watching performers read terms that I wrote from a monitor? I DID NOT. I believed I would be living in a windowless apartment above a Jamaican restaurant, married to a small hairless dog. I may still end up there, fixing Mr Little Jeans his dinner as reggae heartbeats through our floor from the restaurant below, but I will always have my Hollywood Summer.

* Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby is published by Faber and Faber on 2 April. Shrill is on BBC iPlayer

If you would like your comment on this piece to be considered for Weekend magazine’s letters page, please email weekend @theguardian. com, including your name and address( not for publication ).

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Body of work: why Billie Eilish is right to stand her ground against dishonor

Billie Eilish has done everything right in her career so far, but thats not enough for a celebrity industry fixated on sex

Billie Eilish has given the music industry everything it could possibly want. An authentic new voice that appeals to teens and their parents. A debut album that has sold more than 2m transcripts in the US alone. A decisive stylistic evolution from the preceding decade’s dominant pop mode. A clean sweep of the four key categories at the Grammys. A copper-bottomed streaming success model. A James Bond theme that rejuvenates a tired franchise and widens her commercial and creative clout.

Until she offers up her prime commodity as a young female pop starring, it will never be enough.

While 18 -year-old Eilish is a beguilingly physical musician, she has never shown her body in service of her art. She opts loose garb because she feels comfy in it, and has denounced the use of her image to dishonor female pop starrings who dress differently. Not that it’s stopped anyone. Denying spectators the traditional metric by which female superstars are judged- sexiness, slimness; the body as weathervane that reveals how tormented or contented they must be when they lurch between the extremes of those states- has created an obsession with her body and what it must stand for.

Eilish’s world tour- which opened last night in Miami- underscores these contradictions:” While I feel your gazes, your disapproval or your sighs of relief, if I lived by them, I’d never be able to move ,” she says in a video demonstrate between sungs, as she removes her top and sinks into a pond of black water.” Would you like me to be smaller? Weaker? Softer? Taller? Would you like me to be quiet? Do my shoulders elicit you? Does my chest? Am I my stomach? My hips ?”

As if to prove her phase, the Sun reported on Eilish” stripping to her bra” with zero mention of her speech or its message, and titled their narrative” Thrilly Eilish “. Again: Eilish is 18 years old.

alexa 78 (@ ILOMIL0S)

empowering pic.twitter.com/ IBOl9LF 0rU

March 10, 2020

It’s hard to think of any previous generation of young female pop starring getting away with making such a public admonishment at the height of their stardom. Motown’s girls were taught comportment by an in-house employee. The anorexia that killed Karen Carpenter was framed as an effective diet. To have her art taken seriously, Kate Bush had to endure the objectification of male journalists who typed with one hand. The Spice Girls had to wait until after the band’s demise to discuss their respective eating disorders, lest they disrupt the image of supportive female friendship. Britney, Christina and Beyonce’s millennium-era abs were testament to their drilled work ethic; Katy Perry and Ariana Grande’s burgeoning images were dependent on marketing their sexuality, while Taylor Swift’s taut middle stoked her image as an American ideal. To recognise Amy Winehouse’s bulimia would have complicated a convenient media narrative of debauchery.

In that context, Eilish’s freedom to speak out represents a kind of progress. It’s symptomatic of the control that she has retained over her career, and its impact on her fans is potentially profound. But being anointed a liberating force in the body-image stakes is its own kind of prison, one that preserves physicality as the ultimate measure of a female star’s worth- and the standard by which they can be undermined. The music industry and the media like to pat themselves on the back for stimulating superstars of Eilish and Lizzo, who often joins her in headlines about body positivity, though if these women one day wish to change their physical presentation, they will be accused of betraying fans and squandering their authenticity.

It is a minority of female musicians who are permitted this limiting form of freedom in the first place. Beyond Eilish and Lizzo’s presence at this year’s Brit awards, the photos from the red carpet looked like scenes from 2002: female musicians and influencers bearing aggressively toned abs, low-slung sparkly pants, attires with gaping cutaways to highlight those impacts. The media may praise Taylor Swift for speaking out about the ailment feeing that she experienced until a few years ago, but it still perpetuates the standards that mean record labels will subject young, female pop starrings to the penalizing diets and exercise routines that Swift has described from her past. Female musicians who gain weight rarely return to the prime of their careers. Dua Lipa’s new video features an exercise routine. The narrative around Adele‘s fourth album, due later this year, is already centred on her recent weight loss.

Ever since the pianist Clara Schumann proved herself a concert virtuoso, female artists have had their creative worth tied to their physicality. The standards are so penalizing and contradictory that it is hard not to suspect that they are purposefully engineered that way, to guarantee obsolescence as they succumb to human fallibility, thus clearing the decks to wave in a new phalanx of young bodies to ogle. As long as the industries that depend on its exploitation continue to exist, and new generations of onlookers are trained in envy and contempt for those bodies, this won’t change.

As the industry races to replicate Eilish’s success and the media starvations for more young girls to compel positions, you’d hope they would heed how this therapy has evidently affected her and ensure that no young female superstar is ever again subject to these vicious criteria. As if.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

‘Parenting here means checking the ingredients of teargas’: my return to Hong Kong

Emma-Lee Moss, who makes music as Emmy the Great, on life, new motherhood and her divided birthplace

It feels as if the entire world’s press is there, standing on the pavement outside the Foreign correspondent’ Club. They’re in Hong Kong to cover the protests, but tonight, the Friday before National Day, they’re off duty. From the bottom of the hill, the bars of Lan Kwai Fong thrum reliably. There is an uneasy peace in the air, as though we all know that, three days from now, the long-running citywide demonstrations will reach a violent new apex.

I’ve walked this route hundreds of hours, and been a parade of different egoes. I’ve been a adolescent trying to score 7-11 brew on the spot where Chungking Express was filmed. I’ve been a visiting novelist ordering drinks at the FCC bar. But now I am the mother and primary carer of a nine-month-old, and my time out has been negotiated. Quite frankly, I am dazzled by the world after 7pm. As I shuffle past the media crowd, I feel a pull, a yearning. In another life, I’d be there with them. When I moved back to Hong Kong in 2018, it was in search of stories about the strange, convoluted city I was born in.

I take the lift up to a wood-panelled room and join a table of thirtysomethings wearing plastic bloom garlands. I am expecting to be the main event tonight, at the reunion of my primary school class. For nine years, I was the only mixed-race person at my local Cantonese school, where I was known widely as gweimui ( literally” ghost girl “). Chinese school is where I developed a persist complex about not fitting in, and where, after being bullied, I fantasised that one day I’d do something so momentous it would appear in a newspaper, and my classmates would see that I was more than only a girl with an English dad and a Hong Kong mum.

This thought was the founding brick of ambition that drove me to become a musician and novelist, under the name Emmy the Great. Now my want has finally come true, but with a caveat. I am at this reunion because person ensure an article about me in an arts magazine, but it wasn’t about any of my albums, or projects, or anything I’ve written. It was about what it’s like to have an English dad and a Hong Kong mum. Some 25 years later, this is still my most noticeable feature.

I look around the table, disoriented by faces I never expected to see again. Surely they will want to know about the amazing life I went on to lead! I prepare the necessary Cantonese vocabulary in my head.” After we left primary and secondary schools, I moved to East Grinstead, Sussex. In England, I wasn’t a white girl any more. I was considered Chinese. In England, I had to assert over and over that I was British- still do. But I was so grateful for the grass and open space that I accepted this identity. I never expected to be back here in Hong Kong, a gweimui once more. And, abruptly, I’m a mother, too! I never sleep. I never go out. I’m caught between expat and Cantonese culture. I’m losing my mind, actually. How are you ?”

But despite a morbid obsession with the incorrects perpetrated on me by a group of 10 -year-olds, I can’t maintain my guess from the topic of the moment. The city has been tense and uncertain since the first major demoes began in June, initially in response to a bill that would allow extraditions from Hong Kong to China, but now expanded to five demands, including universal suffrage and an independent inquiry into police conduct. Parenting has thrown up new challenges, like cry the council to ask for the ingredients of their teargas, and its effect on children. As each new weekend approaches, the population theorizes. Will it be peaceful, or will it spill into violence? Will we wake to news that stimulates us tearful with pride for Hong Kong, or frightened by the scale of the escalation?

Tonight, as China gears up to celebrate its 70 th year as a republic, there is no doubt about which style the news will sway. Someone at the reunion says they are boycotting products from the mainland, including tea. Another, a tiny son who has inexplicably grown into an adult, says he won’t use the MTR metro system any more , now that it’s been accused of enforcing the government’s agenda by shutting down during protests. I spot an opening to admit that, the day the demoes began, I was in England, on tour. By the time I got back, teargas had become the stock police response, and my partner and I decided we wouldn’t attend demonstrations- in case we find ourselves incapacitated and unable to care for our daughter. Instead, I say nothing. I don’t tell them, either, that we are planning to leave Hong Kong for England when our daughter turns one, because I’m self-conscious about having one foot in Hong Kong, and one abroad. This is how it’s always been. It’s how they remember me. And, ever since the protests began, I am wondering if it stimulates me a part of the problem.

***

I can only tell you what I remember. In 1994, Forrest Gump was the English-language film at every cinema for months. Every weekend, my parents would throw their three children into a Volvo and drive to Pacific Place, a mall in the Admiralty district. We’d fulfill our friends, expat families whose children went to see international schools, at McDonald’s, where the kids would climb the Ronald McDonald in the playzone, until we were allowed to go to the CD store and pick out an album. Everybody wore Nikes and had a favourite WWE wrestler and Street Fighter move.

In 90 s Hong Kong, everyone could speak English, even taxi drivers like my Uncle Ron, who had crazy hair and had once cut a demo videotape in a stoner-rock band. But my siblings and I spoke Cantonese, too. On the weekends that we didn’t see our friends, we had dim sum with my mum’s family: Auntie Dora, Uncle sam and Uncle Ron; my two older cousins, too, one of whom had recently taken a new English name, Michael Jordan Lee.

Moss
Moss with her grandmothers, 1988. Photograph: courtesy Emma-Lee Moss

American basketball, Japanese anime, Oxbridge ambitions. In Hong Kong- where the phrase” east fulfills west” is so overused that I’ve seen it advertising a shampoo parlor for dogs – you were at the centre of the world town, a place where global capitalist culture could operate unfettered, dominating the rites and oddities of the Chinese way of life. Watching over everything is was benevolent, late-stage British colonialism; its influence oozed into everything, from the names of English lords on road signs, to the ” Chinglish” that imbued the local Cantonese dialect. Hong Kong’s last governor, Chris Patten, was vaguely popular, his final approval ratings still higher than any subsequent leader. It was China that we feared and felt distinct from, even as schoolchildren.

As the transfer of sovereignty in 1997 approached, the expat families began discussing their various plans to leave. Many had one mother who was from Hong Kong, and one from abroad. The handover was an obvious deadline to fulfil any aspirations of living in” the other place”, where you went to visit your grandparents. Our closest family friends went to Australia, Singapore, Germany and Texas. When the day came that the British flag was folded up, and the People’s Liberation Army marched in, we were already scattered various regions of the world, watching on Tv while our moms cried. I didn’t see my best friends, Dan and Ash, again until I was 18. Today, when I text them images of Pacific Place filled with protesters, they joke:” Forrest Gump tickets released again ?”

Looking back, it’s easy to view 1997 as a year of mass exodus from the city, a few moments marked by the loss of foreign professionals( who are still inexplicably “expats” while other temporary workers are “migrant workers” ). But to do that would be to ignore the vast majority of Hong Kong people, who are Hong Kong-born Chinese, speak Cantonese as a first language and were not offered British passports by the departing government. They include my uncles, my aunt, my cousins, my classmates. There are also the minority ethnic groups who are as rooted in Cantonese culture as Hong Kongers. For households like mine, the handover was an opportunity to start again. For those who stayed behind, it was the beginning of a period of uncertainty. The Basic Law- a de facto constitution- promised Hong Kong” a high degree of autonomy” for 50 years. This created, in principle, a liminal time between British and Chinese rule during which the question” Who are we ?” became crucial and explosive.

In his volume Generation HK, on the young Hong Kongers who came of age in the post-9 7 period, the journalist Ben Bland describes the end of British rule as leaving an” identity vacuum “. In fact, the end of the colonial epoch also left an opportunity for Hong Kongers to regroup, to allow Hong Kong-Chinese culture to lift itself from the darkness, and to look back and ask what of the city’s history would be preserved, and protected, before it was absorbed into the mainland.

Today, you can’t take a step without hearing the phrase:” This is the real Hong Kong .” It is a thought that emerges when you find yourself in an alleyway inhabited by street vendors selling milk tea from polystyrene beakers; when the sunlight begins to drop over Aberdeen harbour( in Cantonese, Little Hong Kong) and a fisherwoman steers her craft, one hand on her Samsung Galaxy; when teenage couples hold hands at the entrance to Ocean Park( real Hong Kong ), the amusement park that was never defeated by the arrival of Disneyland( not real Hong Kong ). It is an inescapable theory, as tangible as rain, all the more sweet for the fear that it will soon slip away.

For Hong Kongers today face inordinate pressure that goes beyond the cliff edge of 2047. The high live costs associated with its status as a haven for the wealthy have led to an ever-widening gap between rich and poor, which discovers its most extreme expression in” cage homes” for those who cannot afford housing. Meanwhile, whenever Beijing’s influence creeps beyond the promises of the Basic Law, it throws up ambiguities in its wording. The impact is like gaslighting: are we crazy? Or are our liberties being eroded?

The quest for post-colonial identity is something that lured me back to Hong Kong in late 2017. That spring, I had expended a month in Xiamen as part of a British Council scheme, and the effort to communicate in Mandarin( which, it is about to change, I don’t speak ), had somehow unlocked all the Cantonese I’d stored up from my childhood. I was dreaming in Cantonese, and felt a longing to be back in Hong Kong, to see the lanterns at the Mid-Autumn festival.

My mothers, sister and nephew had been back in the city for some time. As well as this, there was a person. While in transit from Xiamen, I had met a British artist who worked at one of the international galleries. We had bonded over our scattered thirties and our love of English woodlands. That Mid-Autumn, we began an adventurous period of walking through the city at twilight, the time when the lighting ricochets off the buildings like mermaid scales in the wind.

It was three years since the Umbrella Revolution and Occupy Central. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the civil unrest had dissipated. Instead, I sensed a defiance in Hong Kong and linked it to the arts. Venues had been shut down by strict building regulations, and lifestyle restrictions that induced earning money from music almost impossible, and yet, as the indie DJ Wong Chi Chung told me, there were more than 800 indie bands based in Hong Kong. Improvisation was key: wall murals around unexpected corners, rooftop farms, pop-up art spaces in old mills. It was a place opposing to find itself, asserting its right to be. It was increasingly where my heart belonged.

In January 2018, I decided to return to Hong Kong. My flight arrived in March. Forty weeks later, my partner and I checked into the hospital where I was born, and I devoted birth to our daughter.

***

” Does anyone is of the opinion that the city’s flaws are their own fault ?” This is the question that nobody hurls me in the subsistence group for women with postnatal depression and nervousnes; in the free playgroup run by friendly septuagenarian churchfolk; in the parenting WhatsApp groups and in the void of the mums’ Facebook pages where I have stooped to scrolling for hours through ads for baby products.

Some 18 several months after I arrived in Hong Kong, my quest to understand it has mutated into something terrible. It’s the not-sleeping that did it, I believe. Or those submerged infant memories that abruptly appear in your thoughts when you’ve just had a baby, disorienting enough without the realisation that you’re unexpectedly in the place where you spent that infanthood.

Emma-Lee
‘ Hong Kong was increasingly where my heart belonged .’ Photograph: Theodore Kaye/ The Guardian

I remember bumping into a friend in London, who had just had a baby and was moving back to Finchley, where she grew up. “ Finchley ,” she’d groaned, like Persephone on her route to suburban hell. Now I know how she felt. You are my Finchley, I scream at Hong Kong, silently.

On a baby’s schedule, you are stripped of the things that stimulate you who you are. Hong Kong, which should feel familiar but doesn’t, contains none of the touchstones I need as my identity slips into the blank of what the poet Liz Berry describes as “feedingcleaninglovingfeeding”. I look around and ensure my first home with the bleakest gaze. I find pollution that threatens my baby’s lungs and stops us going outside for days. I consider expensive housing that drew us to an industrial estate in the middle of nowhere, where our road to the playground takes us through a construction site and past a sewage treatment plant. I place my family in this picture. Were we and the individuals who left not the prime recipients of the sunny 90 s, before unfettered capitalism and political change took its toll? Every time we fly away, we are opting out of the consequences.

In this new, dark Hong Kong, my uncles are gone, having both passed away while we were in England. No sweet Uncle sam , nor Uncle Ron in his emerald green taxi. In motherhood, I come up against uncomfortable aspects of the culture I shared with them. There is the culture preoccupation with postpartum weight loss, which leads a nurse to praise me when I lose too much weight in the first week of breastfeeding. There are the rigid ideas of what motherhood looks like: installing an art piece I worked on with the data journalist Mona Chalabi, my two-week-old in her sling, the technician tells me that I should be at home, in incarceration. Yet, when I hear expats complaining about such difficulties, I am angry. I cannot let myself relate to them; it feels like cheating on my relatives. In the space between my two demographics, I see how divided the city can be. There are gulfs of language, gulfs of experience. Varying privileges are doled out are in accordance with nationhood.

In the 20 th weekend of protests, graffiti appears on the mountainside:” If we burn, you burn with us .” My writer’s brain finds how Hong Kong and I are in tune. We know how pressure can take a search for identity and turn it into a full-blown identity crisis.

Protest
Protest graffiti in Causeway Bay, 8 November. Photograph: Emma-Lee Moss

In early November, a student dies from injuries sustained while falling from a car park in unexplained situations. In the eruption that follows, there are no easy conclusions left. Protest schedules are abandoned, school is cancelled. There is no playgroup. There is no support group for women with postnatal depression and nervousnes. The total number of teargas canisters fired reachings10, 000. My partner is teargassed stepping outside his office in the day, to check if the street is safe for his colleagues. Universities become battlegrounds. At the Polytechnic University, schoolchildren are among those caught inside the campus for days when the police seal off the exits. Then pro-democracy nominees win a landslide majority in district council elections, and there is a respite from conflict. As new councillors get to the urgent task of freeing the final Poly U students, the city wonders what else this national mood will achieve.

Medics
Medics result protesters to ambulances at the Polytechnic University, on 21 November. Photograph: Ye Aung Thu/ AFP via Getty Images

In the midst of this, my time in Hong Kong is drawing to an end. I reflect on everything it has meant, this second time around. This precious time with my mothers, the responses to old questions. My relationship and my daughter. In the rawness of new parenthood, and the chaos of the last few months, I almost missed the gifts that Hong Kong gave me, the healing it offered. Even in these nasty days, there is a sense of the possibilities in community- my old schoolfriends and I are less distant in our communications. We have become simply another group of parents worried about the rumours of harmful chemicals in the teargas.

I’ve learned here that you don’t know if people or places will return to your life. You also don’t know when they won’t; I believed I’d make a final visit to the village where I grew up, but it’s next to the Chinese University in Shatin, the site of another major conflict between students and police. I guess this is the fear that follows everybody in Hong Kong today. When the smoke clears, what, if anything, will remain intact? In this place of many living and many rulers, how many times must we say goodbye?

* If you would like a comment on this piece to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s letters page in print, please email weekend @theguardian. com, including your name and address( not for publishing ).

Read more: www.theguardian.com

‘Parenting here entails checking the ingredients of teargas’: my return to Hong Kong

Emma-Lee Moss, who attains music as Emmy the Great, on life, new motherhood and her divided birthplace

It feels as if the entire world’s press is there, standing on the pavement outside the Foreign Correspondents’ Club. They’re in Hong Kong to cover the protests, but tonight, the Friday before National Day, they’re off responsibility. From the bottom of the hill, the bars of Lan Kwai Fong thrum reliably. There is an uneasy peace in the air, as though we all know that, three days from now, the long-running citywide demonstrations will reach a violent new apex.

I’ve walked this route hundreds of periods, and been a parade of different selves. I’ve been a teen trying to score 7-11 brew on the spot where Chungking Express was filmed. I’ve been a visiting novelist ordering beverages at the FCC bar. But now I am the mother and primary carer of a nine-month-old, and my time out has been negotiated. Quite frankly, I am dazzled by the world after 7pm. As I shuffle past the media crowd, I feel a pull, a yearning. In another life, I’d be there with them. When I moved back to Hong Kong in 2018, it was in search of stories about the strange, convoluted city I was born in.

I take the lift up to a wood-panelled room and join a table of thirtysomethings wearing plastic flower garlands. I am expecting to be the main event tonight, at the reunion of my primary school class. For nine years, I was the only mixed-race person at my local Cantonese school, where I was known widely as gweimui ( literally” ghost daughter “). Chinese school is where I developed a persist complex about not fitting in, and where, after being bullied, I fantasised that one day I’d do something so momentous it would appear in a newspaper, and my classmates would see that I was more than simply a girl with an English papa and a Hong Kong mum.

This thought was the founding brick of ambition that drove me to become a musician and novelist, under the name Emmy the Great. Now my wishing has finally come true, but with a caveat. I am at this reunion because someone watched an article about me in an arts magazine, but it wasn’t about any of my albums, or projects, or anything I’ve written. It was about what it’s like to have an English dad and a Hong Kong mum. Some 25 year later, this is still my most noticeable feature.

I look around the table, disoriented by faces I never expected to see again. Surely they will want to know about the amazing life I went on to lead! I prepare the necessary Cantonese vocabulary in my head.” After we left primary and secondary schools, I moved to East Grinstead, Sussex. In England, I wasn’t a white daughter any more. I was considered Chinese. In England, I had to assert over and over that I was British- still do. But I was so grateful for the grass and open space that I accepted this identity. I never expected to be back here in Hong Kong, a gweimui once more. And, suddenly, I’m a mother, too! I never sleep. I never go out. I’m caught between expat and Cantonese culture. I’m losing my intellect, actually. How are you ?”

But despite a morbid preoccupation with the incorrects perpetrated on me by a group of 10 -year-olds, I can’t keep my supposes from the topic of the moment. The city has been tense and uncertain since the first major demonstrations began in June, initially in response to a bill that would allow extraditions from Hong Kong to China, but now expanded to five demands, including universal suffrage and an independent inquiry into police conduct. Parenting has thrown up new challenges, like yell the council to ask for the ingredients of their teargas, and its effect on children. As each new weekend approaches, the population speculates. Will it be peaceful, or will it spill into violence? Will we wake to news that attains us tearful with pride for Hong Kong, or frightened by the scale of the escalation?

Tonight, as China gears up to celebrate its 70 th year as a republic, there is no doubt about which style the news will sway. Someone at the reunion says they are boycotting products from the mainland, including tea. Another, a tiny son who has inexplicably grown into an adult, says he won’t use the MTR metro system any more , now that it’s been accused of enforcing the government’s agenda by shutting down during protests. I spot an opening to admit that, the day the demonstrations began, I was in England, on tour. By the time I got back, teargas had become the stock police response, and my partner and I decided we wouldn’t attend demoes- in case we find ourselves incapacitated and unable to care for our daughter. Instead, I say nothing. I don’t tell them, either, that we are planning to leave Hong Kong for England when our daughter turns one, because I’m self-conscious about having one foot in Hong Kong, and one abroad. This is how it’s always been. It’s how they remember me. And, ever since the protests began, I am wondering if it induces me a part of the problem.

***

I can only tell you what I recollect. In 1994, Forrest Gump was the English-language film at every cinema for months. Every weekend, my parents would hurl their three children into a Volvo and drive to Pacific Place, a mall in the Admiralty district. We’d gratify our friends, expat families whose infants went to see international schools, at McDonald’s, where the kids would climb the Ronald McDonald in the playzone, until we were allowed to go to the CD store and pick out an album. Everybody wore Nikes and had a favourite WWE wrestler and Street Fighter move.

In 90 s Hong Kong, everyone could speak English, even taxi drivers like my Uncle Ron, who had crazy hair and had once cut a demo tape in a stoner-rock band. But my siblings and I spoke Cantonese, too. On the weekends that we didn’t see our friends, we had dim sum with my mum’s family: Auntie Dora, Uncle Sam and Uncle Ron; my two older cousins, too, one of whom has now been taken a new English name, Michael Jordan Lee.

Moss
Moss with her grandmothers, 1988. Photograph: courtesy Emma-Lee Moss

American basketball, Japanese anime, Oxbridge aspirations. In Hong Kong- where the phrase” east satisfies west” is so overused that I’ve seen it advertising a shampoo parlor for puppies – you were at the centre of the world town, a place where global capitalist culture could run unfettered, dominating the rituals and oddities of the Chinese way of life. Watching over everything is was benevolent, late-stage British colonialism; its influence oozed into everything, from the names of English lords on road signs, to the ” Chinglish” that pervaded the local Cantonese dialect. Hong Kong’s last governor, Chris Patten, was vaguely popular, his final approval ratings still higher than any subsequent leader. It was China that we feared and felt distinct from, even as schoolchildren.

As the transfer of sovereignty in 1997 approached, the expat families began discussing their various plans to leave. Many had one parent who was from Hong Kong, and one from abroad. The handover was an obvious deadline to fulfil any aspirations of living in” the other place”, where you went to visit your grandparents. Our closest family friends went to Australia, Singapore, Germany and Texas. When the day came that the British flag was folded up, and the People’s Liberation Army marched in, we were already scattered various regions of the world, watching on TV while our mothers cried. I didn’t see my best friends, Dan and Ash, again until I was 18. Today, when I text them images of Pacific Place filled with protesters, they joke:” Forrest Gump tickets released again ?”

Looking back, it’s easy to view 1997 as a year of mass exodus from the city, a few moments marked by the loss of foreign professionals( who are still inexplicably “expats” while other temporary workers are “migrant workers” ). But to do that would be to ignore the vast majority of Hong Kong people, who are Hong Kong-born Chinese, speak Cantonese as a first language and were not offered British passports by the departing government. They include my uncles, my aunt, my cousins, my classmates. There are also the minority ethnic groups who are as rooted in Cantonese culture as Hong Kongers. For families like mine, the handover was an opportunity to start again. For those who remained behind, it was the beginning of a period of uncertainty. The Basic Law- a de facto constitution- promised Hong Kong” a high degree of independence” for 50 years. This created, in principle, a liminal day between British and Chinese regulation during which the question” Who are we ?” became crucial and explosive.

In his volume Generation HK, on the young Hong Kongers who came of age in the post-9 7 period, the journalist Ben Bland describes the end of British rule as leaving an” identity vacuum “. In fact, the end of the colonial epoch also left an opportunity for Hong Kongers to regroup, to allow Hong Kong-Chinese culture to lift itself from the shadows, and to look back and ask what of the city’s history would be preserved, and protected, before it was absorbed into the mainland.

Today, you can’t take a step without hearing the phrase:” This is the real Hong Kong .” It is a thought that emerges when you find yourself in an alleyway populated by street vendors selling milk tea from polystyrene cups; when the lighting begins to drop over Aberdeen harbour( in Cantonese, Little Hong Kong) and a fisherwoman steers her craft, one hand on her Samsung Galaxy; when teenage couples hold hands at the entrance to Ocean Park( real Hong Kong ), the amusement park that was never defeated by the arrival of Disneyland( not real Hong Kong ). It is an inescapable concept, as tangible as rain, all the more sweet for the fear that it will soon slip away.

For Hong Kongers today face inordinate pressure that goes beyond the cliff edge of 2047. The high live costs associated with its status as a haven for the wealthy have led to an ever-widening gap between rich and poor, which determines its most extreme expression in” enclosure homes” for those who cannot afford housing. Meanwhile, whenever Beijing’s influence creeps beyond the promises of the Basic Law, it hurls up ambiguities in its wording. The impact is like gaslighting: are we crazy? Or are our liberties being eroded?

The quest for post-colonial identity is something that enticed me back to Hong Kong in late 2017. That spring, I had expended a month in Xiamen as part of a British Council scheme, and the effort to communicate in Mandarin( which, it is about to change, I don’t speak ), had somehow unlocked all the Cantonese I’d stored up from my childhood. I was dreaming in Cantonese, and felt a longing to be back in Hong Kong, to see the lanterns at the Mid-Autumn festival.

My parents, sister and nephew had been back in the city for some time. As well as this, there was a person. While in transit from Xiamen, I had met a British artist who worked at one of the international galleries. We had bonded over our scattered thirties and our love of English woodlands. That Mid-Autumn, we began an adventurous period of walking through the city at twilight, the time when the sunlight bouncings off the buildings like mermaid scales in the wind.

It was three years since the Umbrella Revolution and Occupy Central. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the civil unrest had dissipated. Instead, I sensed a defiance in Hong Kong and connected it to the arts. Venues had been shut down by strict building regulations, and lifestyle restrictions that induced earning money from music almost impossible, and yet, as the indie DJ Wong Chi Chung told me, there were more than 800 indie bands based in Hong Kong. Improvisation was key: wall murals around unexpected corners, rooftop farms, pop-up art spaces in old factories. It was a place fighting to find itself, asserting its right to be. It was increasingly where my heart belonged.

In January 2018, I decided to return to Hong Kong. My flight arrived in March. Forty weeks later, my partner and I checked into the hospital where I was born, and I dedicated birth to our daughter.

***

” Does anyone is of the opinion that the city’s flaws are their own fault ?” This is the question that nobody hurls me in the support group for women with postnatal depression and nervousnes; in the free playgroup run by friendly septuagenarian churchfolk; in the parenting WhatsApp groups and in the void of the mums’ Facebook pages where I have stooped to scrolling for hours through ads for baby products.

Some 18 months after I arrived here Hong Kong, my quest to understand it has mutated into something terrible. It’s the not-sleeping that did it, I guess. Or those submerged baby memories that abruptly appear in your thoughts when you’ve just had a baby, disorienting enough without the realisation that you’re unexpectedly in the place where you spent that infanthood.

Emma-Lee
‘ Hong Kong was increasingly where my heart belonged .’ Photograph: Theodore Kaye/ The Guardian

I remember bumping into a friend in London, who had just had a baby and was moving back to Finchley, where she grew up. “ Finchley ,” she’d groaned, like Persephone on her route to suburban hell. Now I know how she felt. You are my Finchley, I scream at Hong Kong, mutely.

On a baby’s schedule, you are stripped of the things that construction you who you are. Hong Kong, which should feel familiar but doesn’t, contains none of the touchstones I need as my identity slips into the blank of what the poet Liz Berry describes as “feedingcleaninglovingfeeding”. I look around and find my first home with the bleakest gaze. I assure pollution that threatens my baby’s lungs and stops us going outside for days. I watch expensive housing that drew us to an industrial estate in the middle of nowhere, where our route to the playground takes us through a construction site and past a sewage treatment plant. I place my family in this picture. Were we and the others who left not the prime beneficiaries of the sunny 90 s, before unfettered capitalism and political change took its toll? Every time we fly away, we are opting out of the consequences.

In this new, dark Hong Kong, my uncles are run, having both passed away while we were in England. No sweet Uncle sam , nor Uncle Ron in his emerald green taxi. In motherhood, I come up against uncomfortable aspects of the culture I shared with them. There is the culture preoccupation with postpartum weight loss, which results a nurse to praise me when I lose too much weight in the first week of breastfeeding. There are the rigid ideas of what motherhood is like: installing an art piece I worked on with the data journalist Mona Chalabi, my two-week-old in her sling, the technician tells me that I should be at home, in imprisonment. Yet, when I hear expats complaining about such difficulties, I am angry. I cannot let myself relate to them; it feels like cheating on my relatives. In the space between my two demographics, I see how divided the city can be. There are gulfs of speech, gulfs of experience. Varying privileges are doled out are in accordance with nationhood.

In the 20 th weekend of protests, graffiti appears on the mountainside:” If we burn, you burn with us .” My writer’s brain watches how Hong Kong and I are in tune. We know how pressure can take a search for identity and turn it into a full-blown identity crisis.

Protest
Protest graffiti in Causeway Bay, 8 November. Photograph: Emma-Lee Moss

In early November, a student dies from injuries sustained while dropping from a car park in unexplained circumstances. In the eruption that follows, “there arent” easy conclusions left. Protest schedules are abandoned, school is cancelled. There is no playgroup. There is no subsistence group for women with postnatal depression and nervousnes. The total number of teargas canisters fired reachings10, 000. My partner is teargassed stepping outside his office in the day, to check if the street is safe for my honourable colleagues. Universities become battlegrounds. At the Polytechnic University, schoolchildren are among those caught inside the campus for days when the police seal off the exits. Then pro-democracy nominees win a landslide majority in district council elections, and there is a respite from conflict. As new councillors get to the urgent task of freeing the final Poly U students, the city wonders what else this national mood will achieve.

Medics
Medics leading protesters to ambulances at the Polytechnic University, on 21 November. Photograph: Ye Aung Thu/ AFP via Getty Images

In the midst of this, my time in Hong Kong is drawing to an objective. I reflect on everything it has meant, this second time around. This precious period with my parents, the answers to old questions. My relationship and my daughter. In the rawness of new parenthood, and the chaos of the last few months, I almost missed the gifts that Hong Kong gave me, the healing it offered. Even in these awful times, there is a sense of the possibilities in community- my old schoolfriends and I are no longer distant in our communications. We have become simply another group of mothers worried about the rumours of harmful chemicals in the teargas.

I’ve learned here that you don’t know if people or places will return to your life. You also don’t know when they won’t; I thought I’d make a final visit to the village where I grew up, but it’s next to the Chinese University in Shatin, the site of another major conflict between students and police. I guess this is the fear that follows everyone in Hong Kong today. When the smoke clears, what, if anything, will remain intact? In this place of many living and many rulers, how many times must we say goodbye?

* If you would like a comment on this piece to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s letters page in publish, please email weekend @theguardian. com, including your name and address( not for publication ).

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‘It’s very good’: how soap made from siphoned human fat left audiences in a lather

Dutch artist Julian Hetzels installation Schuldfabrik took a provocative look at the age of excess

In a fashionably minimalist shopfront in Adelaide, a woman is cleaning my hands. She gently pours water over them, presenting me with a bar of soap, while she explains its mending properties. As she pats them dry, she places my palms in a praying position.

So far, so Lush. But while the whitewashed walls and posh glass display cabinets may look familiar, this isn’t any ordinary cosmetics company. The soap I am trying- creamy in texture, snow-white in colour, satisfyingly chunky in shape- is made from human fat.

I am taking part in the installing Schuldfabrik, created by Dutch artist Julian Hetzel, which first premiered in 2016 in Austria and is currently showing at the Adelaide festival.

Eager to examine society’s positions towards excess- as well as the taboo against using products siphoned from humans- Hetzel asked liposuction patients to donate their fat to the project. This was then turned into soap, stamped with the logo “SELF”, and wrap in modish monochrome packaging. It is currently being sold in the pop-up shop for $ 35 a bar.

As Neil Armfield, joint artistic director of the celebration, put it:” It’s very good soap .”

It doesn’t attain the experience any less confronting. True, scientists across the world are looking at routes we can utilise human waste: from converting faeces( usually expelled into space) into a potential food source for cosmonauts to turning sewage into fertiliser. But as someone Jewish, I couldn’t stop thinking about Nazi Germany, where legend has it scientists boiled down concentration camp victims into soap.( The truth of this is hotly debated, but the use of Jewish bodies to “benefit” the Third Reich through medical experimentation and forced labour is undisputed .)

Julian
Julian Hetzel, inventor of Schuldfabrik. Photograph: Russell Millard/ Adelaide Festival

Hetzel, however, is more interested in interrogating first-world guilt, and what to do with the surplus of resources we have, than exploring what his art says about history.

“Shuld”- the German word that lends the artwork its title- has two meanings: “guilt” as a moral duty and “debt” as an economic obligation.” What if there was a way, akin to carbon trading, of absolving remorse by creating’ positive outcomes’ for society from the byproducts of quick-fix weight loss ?” Schuldfabrik asks. In other words, Hetzel seems to be saying, if “fat” denotes gross overabundance, can it be used to help others who have less?

In Schuldfabrik that question is treated practically. Proceeds from soap sales go towards excavating wells in a village in Malawi. That’s not all: for every bar of soap sold, another is donated to the village. In one fell swoop, Schuldfabrik claims to provide both clean water and a tool for hygiene.( The simple act of hand-washing, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, can help prevent the spread of diarrhoea and respiratory infections, which kills 3.5 million children annually in the developing world ).

Reflecting this, the installation starts in a confessional where I am placed, alone, in a claustrophobic pitch-black stall. Beforehand each audience member in our small group is interrogated by a stern lady in a lab coat.” Do you drive to work in a vehicle ?”” Do you recycle ?”” Do you know where your dress was attained ?” she barks at one woman. The girl seems down, operates her thumbs across her hem, and admits, sheepishly, that she doesn’t.

We are then led to another room where a “plastic surgeon” from The Hague explains the procedure of liposuction, before demonstrating on a hyper-real sculpture of a human. She inserts a needle into his flabby, hairy belly, depicting liquid fat into a nearby container. All the while, she discusses how changing ideals of beauty have fuelled the cosmetic surgery industry.

A
Photograph: Russell Millard/ Adelaide Festival

In the “factory”, there are other rooms too: a laboratory where the process of soap attaining is explained( the ingredients, we read, contains 10% human fat, working in partnership with other vegetable oils ); a room where two non-Anglo men labour in a sweatshop to produce packaging; and a room where bubbles foam down from the ceiling, meeting on the floor in eerie human-looking shapes, to booming classical music.

Finally, we are ushered into an office where the company’s CEO explains his mission, safely positioned behind a glass window. For 20 minutes he waxes lyrical, his corporate terminology belying a chill messianic zeal. At one point, exemplifying the virtuous cycle of up-cycling on the window with a white marker, he creates the shape of a Christian cross, creating his hands like Jesus:” Wash the ache away !”

Soap may seem like an everyday object, readily accessible for a dollar in Woolworths. For centuries, however, it was considered a sign of richness: a soap tax in 18 th century England mean the product was set aside for the wealthy. More recently soap has remained a luxury for many: less than 0.1 percentage of households in Ethiopia and just 34.7 percent in Swaziland have access to soap and water, according to a 2010 -1 3 survey.

Schuldfabrik promises personal betterment while offering a solution to the consequences of poverty. But Hetzel probes the very resolvings he offers. Is “saving” people in developing countries through buying an expensive artisan product merely another excuse for consumerism? Are we doing it simply to feel good about ourselves?( In this case, the conundrum is theoretical: the numbers of soap produced and sold through Schuldfabrik will scarcely make any real dent in Malawi; in my group just one woman made a purchase .)

There are other issues, too. Fatness is treated in Schuldfabrik like a privilege; but in the West, and in many developing countries in various regions of the world, obesity levels are worse amongst the poor where the costs of fresh, healthy food is prohibitive. Unlike in the movie Fight Club, in which Brad Pitt’s character steals fat from a liposuction clinic to make and sell soap, these patients agreed to the use of their own bodies for art. Yet the very fact that this fat needs to be got rid of in the first place- not to mention the underlying presumption that this is, ultimately, a route for obese patients to be ” productive”- conjures up the words of Cat Pause, a researcher in fat studies at Massey University, New Zealand, who once told me:” Fat bodies are believed to be lazy, inactive, unattractive, asexual, unhealthy, unsuccessful and unhappy .” Do something good! The artwork seems to say. Donate!

During my afternoon ablutions in Adelaide, a baptism, of kinds, I thought about the cost of cleanliness. Who gets access to hygiene and who doesn’t. The price of human waste. And the route we are dealing with ” fat” bodies- as well as others viewed as unwanted or worthless- in society. Exiting the shop, I glanced at large black letters emblazoned on the wall.” From people for people ,” it read.

* Guardian Australia was a guest of Adelaide festival

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Selfies, influencers and a Twitter president: the decade of the social media celebrity

From Gyneth Paltrow to Trump, todays starrings speak directly to their fans. But are they genuinely controlling their message?

I have a friend, Adam, who is an autograph seller- a niche profession, and one that is getting more niche by the day. When we gratify for breakfast last month he was looking despondent.

” Everyone takes selfies these days ,” he said sadly, picking at his scrambled eggs.” It’s never autographs any more. They just want photos of themselves with celebrities .”

Anyone who has attended a red carpet event or watched one on Tv, knows that selfies have securely supplanted autographs, with fans careening desperately towards celebrities with outstretched phones instead of pens and paper. Celebrities have adapted accordingly. In 2017, a video of Liam Payne ran viral that depicted him miserably working his way down a line of selfie-takers, his smile lasting as long as it took for each fan to press click.

A photo of oneself with, say, Tom Cruise, feels more personal than a mere scribbled signature, which he could have given anyone( and could have been signed by anyone ). But the real reason selfies have abruptly rendered autographs as obsolete as landline telephones is because of social media. Instagram is constructed for photos , not autographs, and what’s the point of having your photo taken with Payne if you don’t then immediately post it and watch the ” OMG !” s and” NO Way !!!!” s come flooding in? If you stand next to a celebrity and your friends don’t like the photo, did it ever happen? Do you even exist?

Instagram launched in 2010, four years after Twitter, six years after Facebook. Although social media was originally pitched as a way for people to keep in touch with their friends, it quickly also became a way for people to feel greater proximity to celebrities, and to flaunt this closeness to others. Facebook, with characteristic hamfistedness, attempted to monetise this in 2013, when it announced it was trialling a feature that would allow users to pay to contact celebrities for a sliding scale of fees: 71 p for Jeremy Hunt, PS10. 68 for Tom Daley. But there was no need for people to spend money for the privilege, because celebrities had already proven extremely keen to bend down low and share their lives with the peasants. When Demi Moore appeared on David Letterman in 2010, she was already so addicted to Twitter she continued to tweet while live on air to millions. (” This stinks ,” Letterman griped .)

The appeal of social media for a celebrity is obvious, in that it allows them to talk to the public without those awful middlemen: journalists. The past decade is littered with examples of why celebrities( and their publicists) now prefer social media( which they can control) to giving interviews( which they cannot .) It’s unlikely that Michael Douglas would have tweeted that his throat cancer was caused by cunnilingus, as he told the Guardian’s Xan Brooks in 2013( and for which he later publicly apologised to his wife, Catherine Zeta Jones ). It’s even less likely that Liam Neeson would have made an Instagram story about the time he went out hoping to kill a” black bastard” after a friend was raped, as he said in an interview this year. Why risk such disasters when, instead, you can just take a flattering photo, slap a filter on it and post it to your already adoring followers? Mega celebrities with a hyper-online fanbase- Justin Bieber, Beyonce, Frank Ocean- can now go for years without giving an interview and their careers are helped rather than harmed for it.

Instagram is an airbrushing app, one that lets people touch up their photos, specifically, and their own lives, generally, by determining what they choose to post.( When Jennifer Aniston ultimately joined social media last month, and momentarily broke the internet, she naturally chose Instagram over the bearpit of Twitter .) Some are more honest about this than others: after he married Kim Kardashian- the celebrity who more than any other has made a virtue out of artifice- Kanye West proudly told reporters in 2014 that the two of them expended four days of their honeymoon in Florence playing with the filters on the wedding photo, that they eventually posted on Instagram,” because the flowers were off-colour and stuff like that “.

Frank
Frank Ocean: a mega celebrity with a hyper-online fanbase. Photograph: Rex/ Shutterstock

You wonder what they’d do with all that time if the internet didn’t exist- remedy cancer, perhaps? Musician John Legend and his wife Chrissy Teigen have established a new kind of fame for themselves with their regular social media posts: with Teigen complaining about Donald Trump on Twitter; both of them posting photos of their perfect household on Instagram. Teigen is considered more “real” than her friend Kardashian because she is funny and doesn’t take money to advertise dodgy weight-loss supplements. But their photos are as idealised and managed as any Hello! shoot. The reason Teigen- a heretofore relatively little known model- has over 26 million adherents on Instagram is because she hits that social media sweet place, which is to be( to use two of the more grating buzzwords of the decade) aspirational and authentic.

At the beginning of this decade, it was the aspirational side of the equation that was deemed more important- leading to the rise of a new kind of celebrity: the influencers. This bewilder group of people indicate their lives are so perfect that, by showing us photos of how they eat, dress, mother, travel, decorate, exert, put on makeup and even remedy themselves of illness, they will influence us to do the same. For the successful, the money was suddenly limitless, as brands realised that the public trusted influencers more than adverts, and so threw money at them to endorse their products; Kylie Jenner, a makeup influencer, currently makes$ 1m per sponsored post. This was always a delicate bubble and it finally began to burst last year, when the Advertising Standards Authority decreed that influencers need to spell it out when they’re being paid to promote something. Writing ” ADVERT ” beneath that perfect photo of you chugging some Smart Water next to a waterfall doesn’t really boost one’s authenticity.

Even more problematic were the Fyre Festival debacle and the fall of YouTube superstars such as Logan Paul and PewDiePie, scandals that eroded the relationship between online celebrities and their followers. It turns out influencers weren’t more trustworthy than adverts; in fact, in the unregulated world of the web, they were markedly less so.

An older demographic has sneered at influencers, as they did with the previous decade’s reality Tv stars, indicating they are not ” real” celebrities. This is an absurd complaint, in recognition of the fact that some influencers have more adherents than traditional movie stars do. Yet influencers atomise audiences in a way traditional celebrities don’t: even if you have never bought Vogue, you’ll know who Cindy Crawford is; unless you follow Chiara Ferragni on social media you will likely have no idea who she is- and yet the style influencer has four times as many adherents as Crawford.

Ironically, the rise of the influencer began with a very old-school celebrity, one who is frequently accused of being the personification of the worst kind of elitist privilege: Gwyneth Paltrow. When Paltrow launched her wellness website, Goop, in 2008, few would have predicted it would reshape both Paltrow’s career and cultural notions of what constitutes an aspirational lifestyle. Paltrow helped usher out the 2000 s trend for bling and Cristal, swapping them for yoga clothes and gluten-free kale crisps, stimulating discreet asceticism the ultimate -Alister look. Which is more authentic is debatable, but the biggest swap Paltrow stimulated was personal: “shes gone” from being an Academy Award-winning actor to online influencer. And, in recognition of the fact that her company is now estimated to be worth $ 250 m, she probably stimulated the more lucrative choice.

Happily , not everyone uses social media to hawk fantasy images of themselves. Occasional glimpses of reality peek through, to everyone’s delight, and by “reality” I entail “feuds”. We’ve had Katy Perry and Taylor Swift’s long-running snarky subtweets aimed at one another. There were Kim Cattrall’s explicit swipes at Sarah Jessica Parker on Instagram. After her brother died, she wrote:” I don’t need your love or support at this tragic time @ sarahjessicaparker. Let me make this VERY clear.( If I haven’t already .) You are not my family. You are not my friend. So I’m writing to tell you one last time to stop exploiting our tragedy in order to restore your’ nice girl’ persona .” Most recently, Coleen Rooney accused” Rebekah Vardy’s account” of selling tales about her to the tabloids. One can only feel deep stabs of regret that Bette Davis and Joan Crawford died before either had access to an iPhone.

As much as young celebrities tout the importance of authenticity, those who come across as most genuine tend to be the older ones- perhaps because they are less internet savvy, or, more likely, have fewer media directors. Bette Midler and, in particular, Cher have really come into their own on Twitter, gleefully sharing their often emoji-heavy supposes on Trump and politics in general. (” What do you think of Boris Johnson ?” one tweeter asked Cher.” F-ing idiot who lied to the British ppl ,” the goddess replied, rightly .) And while Instagram may be best known for hyper-stylised photos of, say, Beyonce holding her newborn twins, the most purely enjoyable celebrity accounts belong to Glenn Close- she posts candid videos of herself and her puppies, always liked by Michael Douglas- and Diane Keaton, who posts decidedly unstylised photos of herself.” YES, I AM WEARING[ TROUSERS] UNDER A SKIRT” is a typical all-caps caption. Ever wanted to know what Annie Hall would be like online? Now you know.

Actor
Sarah Jessica Parker, target of Instagram swipes from fellow Sex And The City star Kim Cattrall. Photograph: Reuters

Of course, the downside to being able to reach one’s public immediately is that the public can reach back. Stars from Stephen Fry to Nicki Minaj have publicly left social media sites after the audience proved a little less admiring than they hoped. “Stan”- or obsessive fan- culture has blossomed. Sometimes this has been to the celebrity’s benefit: Lady Gaga’s fan squad, the Little Monsters, amped up her Oscar campaign for A Star Is Born. But if stans feel they have been let down by the object of their preoccupation, they will viciously bully the( usually female) star, as Katy Perry and Demi Lovato have experienced. As a outcome, many celebrities have turned off the comments on their accounts, so we can hear them but they can’t hear us. So much for getting closer.

And yet, for all the fascination social media currently exerts, the celebrity narratives that will have the most enduring impact did not start there. There had been rumors about Harvey Weinstein for years, but he was ultimately undone by good old-fashioned investigative reporting, by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey at the New York Times, and Ronan Farrow at the New Yorker. Michael Jackson, R Kelly, Woody Allen, Max Clifford, Kevin Spacey and Bryan Singer became pariahs( in Jackson’s case, posthumously) when their accusers spoke to journalists. Caitlyn Jenner introduced herself to the world , not on social media, but on the covering of Vanity Fair. When Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex, the artist formerly known as Meghan Markle, spoke out against the “campaigns” against her, they directed their rage towards the print media( and the Mail on Sunday in particular ). Ironically, this could be seen as instead reassuring to the newspaper industry: sure, our sales are falling, but for a certain kind of celebrity, publish is still what matters.

Nonetheless, this decade has, in a very profound way, been shaped by the social media celebrity. Donald Trump did not emerge from the online world; he came to prominence through the traditional format of TV. But he has taken advantage of the route Twitter prioritises personality over expertise: it doesn’t really matter what you say, as long as you say it in a way that captures the most attention; and the public has grown accustomed to this kind of communication. In the early part of the decade, Trump devoted himself a Twitter makeover; it was a platform where he could move from being the embodiment of obnoxious Manhattan privilege( bragging in interviews that he wouldn’t rent an apartment to anyone on welfare ), to the say-it-like-it-is kinda guy, the one who tweets about the dangers of vaccination. When he ran for the presidency, Trump maintained this persona, and many people assumed that’s all it was- a persona- and one he would fell once in office. Well, we all know how that turned out.

Now he, and in this country, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn, treat their offices as if they were a form of social media: they rely on the web to build a dedicated following, and complain about journalists who venture anything but adoring coverage. They disdain traditional interviews, preferring instead to put out their messages via Facebook or Twitter, metaphorically turning off the comments, staying comfortably inside their respective bubbles. Social media was never supposed to reflect the real world, but the real world is increasingly being bent to reflect social media. And it’s not only autograph vendors who will suffer for that.

* If you would like a comment on this piece to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s letters page in publish, please email weekend @theguardian. com, including your name and address( not for publishing ).

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Roxane Gay:’ No one is guaranteed love or affection’

The author of Bad Feminist and Hunger has strong terms for incels, harassers in publishing and diet gurus

Born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1974, Roxane Gay is an author, essayist, New York Times sentiment novelist and associate prof of English at Indiana’s Purdue University. She has published a fiction, An Untamed State , two short story collects, Ayiti and Difficult Women , the New York Times bestseller Bad Feminist ( which Time magazine described as” a manual on how to be human “), and a memoir, Hunger: A Memoir of( My) Body ( Corsair, PS8. 99 ), released in paperback on 7 June. It deals with Gay’s rape at the age of 12 and the lifelong consequences of her decision to make her body as big as possible as a form of self-protection. She is also the author of Marvel’s Black Panther: World of Wakanda and will publish her first YA work, The Year I Learned Everything , later this year. She lives between Indiana and LA.

From your early forays on to internet messageboards to writing this book, it seems as though language was a key part of processing the trauma of your childhood rape. Did writing offer control ?
Definitely. I think writing always devotes us control over the things that we can’t actually control in our lives, so taking control of the narrative of my body as a public space was perfectly helpful in terms of thinking about my relationship to my body. Did you encounter personal revelations as you were writing ?
It started as a process of writing what I know to be true and it became a process of revelation. I was able to stimulate some realisations about myself that previously I hadn’t made and it really forced me to confront my relationship not only with my body, but with food. I mostly saw how unkind I had been to myself when my body has actually gotten me through a lot in life. And recognising that, in many ways, I was holding on to the weight for the incorrect reasons and the only one that was really hurting was myself. There is some difficult material in the book regarding the effect the attack had on your sex life, particularly when you write that you have to think about your attacker if you want to experience pleasure during sex. What kind of responses have you had to that segment ?
I actually haven’t heard anything about that specific portion. I wasn’t thinking about the reader when I was also expressed that. I was simply writing my truth. That revelation felt connected to the chapter about discontinuing Yale to move to Arizona, which alluded to some complicated sex encounters. Could that be the kernel for another memoir ?
No, that will not[ laughs ]. As long as my parents are around that will not become part of another memoir. I never believed I would write one memoir, so I can’t say I’m never gonna write another, but I have no plans to. I don’t know that I have anything more to say about myself. You do lots of different kinds of writing- fiction, memoir, essays, columns, graphic novels, television. Is there any you do and keep private ?
No. I think that sharing the work with the world brings close to the process of any dedicated book or piece. When you published Hunger in June 2017 , nobody could have foreseen the conversation about rape culture that would develop following the Harvey Weinstein allegations. Has that changed the tenor of discussion around the book ?
No- I toured this volume before all of that came out. I think it’s definitely going to shift the tenor when I tour the paperback in June, though. Have you been encouraged by these discussions ?
I have. It has been also frustrating to see the ways in which people are dismissive of what has come out, but in general I am encouraged to see women and men coming forward about their experiences with sexual violence. And we’re starting to see at least some public reckoning. I don’t know that the justice system has caught up yet, because unfortunately in the US there’s a ordinance of limitations. But it’s been a long time coming. It’s up to us to make sure that this conversation does not leave the public sphere any time soon. You’ve said there are Weinsteins in publishing. Have you seen this reckoning reach your field ?
No, we’ve got a long way to go in publishing- frankly, in all realms. With[ the allegations against] Junot Diaz, that doorway is starting to open and it’ll be interesting to see what more comes out, if anything. I’m not even interested in this happening publicly. It merely needs to happen. You recently tweeted about the so-called ” incels”, the internet subculture whose members refer to their inability to find a romantic or sex partner as” involuntary celibacy “. Girls are taught that humen will lay claim to their bodies. Why are we culturally resistant to teach sons that they don’t deserve sex ?
That’s just the way it is. We have to change that and we have to teach both young men and young women about enthusiastic permission. And that a woman can say ” no” at any time and it may suck, but you still have to listen to that “no”. Until we got to get, we’re gonna continue to see things like in Santa Fe, where a young lady rejected a man and he went to school and killed her and nine others. No one is guaranteed love or affection and I don’t say that callously, because I think that love and affection and sexuality are important and that everyone should have their shot. But the men that can’t get laid, there’s a reason. It’s because they’re sociopaths and nobody wants them, and I’m not gonna cry for them. Who’s your literary hero ?
I love Zadie Smith. She’s incredible and the opportunities she takes in both her fiction and nonfiction are just superlative- especially NW . What’s on your bedside table ?
I’m reading The Stand by Stephen King and Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, a fantasy volume grounded in African tradition about three young person on a quest to restore magic to the nation of Orisha.

I’m in the middle of Family Trust by Kathy Wang, Ivy vs. Dogg: With a Cast of Thousands ! by Brian Leung, about this small town that elects a youth mayor and things run awry, and America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo. Are there any genres you avoid ?
Oddly enough, I don’t read a lot of nonfiction or much self-help. There’s nothing wrong with it – it’s just not for me. You wrote an essay about getting weight-loss surgery to reduce the size of your stomach in January. How are you feeling ?
I feel fine. I’ve definitely settled into a routine. It’s been four months so I’m still learning a lot and there are still a lot of changes, but I have definitely adapted to those changes. Are they the changes you hoped for ?
I only hoped for a change. You often discuss the above pernicious influence of diet culture, which publishing perpetuates. Should there be more regulation on the messaging and medical integrity behind books about diets, food and bodies ?
Absolutely, but I couldn’t begin to know how to begin to implement that. The diet industry is predicated on the notion that fatness is unhealthy and that everybody’s fat. And these things are untrue. And I guess people need to recognise that a lot of the so-called ” medical studies” about fatness are actually paid for by diet companies and weight-loss drug manufacturers. We have to follow the money more carefully and look at context. Until we do that I suppose a lot of people are going to continue to buy into these damaging notions that are perpetuated by diet volumes and diet programmes.

* Hunger by Roxane Gay is published by Corsair( PS8. 99 ). To order a transcript for PS6. 99 go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p& p over PS10, online orders merely. Phone orders min p& p of PS1. 99. Gay will stimulate her debut UK appearance in conversation at the Southbank Centre on 10 December

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Booksmart star Beanie Feldstein:’ Everyone said we didn’t belong in LA’

She was Lady Birds best friend and her brother Jonah Hill got a tattoo in her honor meet the sparky starring of the summer months wildest high school comedy

Beanie Feldstein is eating ice-cream in a red dress that is as bright as strawberry sauce.” This is one of the coolest things I’ve ever worn ?” she says, her inflection rising at the end, as it often does, giving even her most confident affirmations an equivocal note. The 25 -year-old star of Lady Bird, Bad Neighbours 2: Sorority Rising and the new movie Booksmart is giggly and amiable. Within seconds of me spotting that her ice-cream is vegan (” I’m allergic to dairy ?”), she is recommending vegan bakeries in hipster enclaves of the UK capital that a visit Californian might not be expected to know about.” London is like my second home ,” she trills. A glance at her Instagram feed proves that she is certainly well-acquainted with the area around the Palace theatre, where Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is playing.

” I’m such a Harry Potter nut. My friends in college would be partying, and I’d be, like:’ Uh, I’m gonna go home and read some Harry Potter .'”

I remind her that her brother Jonah Hill, 10 years her senior, came up with a decent Harry Potter gag in the film Funny People: after consider the latest instalment, he complains that the actors are now so old that it should be called Harold Potter.” Oh, I don’t remember that! I love it .” One of her favourites of his is 22 Jump Street.” He wrote a joke in it for me. When he’s doing the stroll of disgrace across campus in the morning, carrying his shoes the route a girl would carry her heels, and he says: ‘I merely wanna get into my bed and watch Friends .'” She lets out a delighted squeal.” Which is literally all I ever say .”

Booksmart.

Feldstein is every bit as funny as her friend, and could be on her way to being just as well known. No one who saw Greta Gerwig’s sharp and snappy Lady Bird could have helped feeling protective toward Feldstein as Julie, the title character’s dopey and devoted best friend. Lady Bird’s allegiances fluctuated, but Julie remained steadfast; Feldstein’s reward was to have complete strangers informed her they wanted her to be their best friend, too.” That was my dream scenario because I’m so preoccupied with all my best friends and I love being cosy with everyone .” Her terms run together in an excitable torrent with no gaps in between.

She has recently been a regular, alongside British comics such as Kayvan Novak, Matt Berry and Natasia Demetriou, in the Tv spin-off of the vampire comedy What We Do in the Shadows. And later this year she will be seen with Paddy Considine and Emma Thompson in the film version of Caitlin Moran’s autobiographical novel How to Build a Girl. First, though, comes Booksmart, a high-school comedy that is as finely detailed as Lady Bird- and also marks the directorial debut of another performer, Olivia Wilde- but with a more rambunctious energy, combustible where Lady Bird was clipped.” Olivia pitched the film as Training Day for high school ,” she says.” The stakes are so high it feels like war .” Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever play Molly and Amy, a pair of work-hard, play-soft educators’ pets who discover too late that they could have had it all- the hedonism as well as the -Agrades. On the eve of leaving high school, they trench their plans to watch the latest Ken Burns documentary in favour of going berserk at last and experiencing, as Molly puts it,” a seminal fun anecdote “. Hilarity and vomiting ensues.

Saoirse
Saoirse Ronan with Feldstein in Lady Bird. Photograph: Allstar/ A24

I wonder how Julie from Lady Bird would have got on with Molly from Booksmart.” Julie is such a sweet, kind, devoting spirit. Molly would eat her alive. She would just be, like, flick !- and then flick her across the room, even though they somehow have the same face. It was such a different character for me to play because she is so unrelenting in a way I find quite inspirational, while also being sort of prickly. And she is very guarded, which I am not. Maybe I should be. I’m such an open book .”

It’s hard not to adore Molly when she carefully inserts missing apostrophes into the graffiti in the toilet stalls. Would Feldstein have been writing graffiti or correcting it?” Correcting, for sure. I’m such a rule-follower. Although I do feel I’m not totally a Molly. I’m more like George .” He is the fastidious and dapper drama fanatic, played by Noah Galvin, who throws his own murder mystery parties. At the age of three, Feldstein- bear Elizabeth, but nicknamed Beanie by a nanny- had a Funny Girl birthday bash; the theme of her batmitzvah was vintage New York. Although she grew up on the west coast, in LA’s affluent Cheviot Hills neighbourhood( former residents: Lucille Ball, Buster Keaton, Agnes Moorhead ), her mothers are New Yorkers, who swept her off to Broadway presents whenever they were back east. Her father has been a tour accountant for Guns N’ Roses and business administrator for Madonna, while her mother is a costume designer.” We stuck out like sore thumbs in LA. My mom has this thick Long Island accent. Do you know the Yiddish word ‘geshrai ‘? It entails’ to exclaim aloud ‘. She’s always geshrai-ing. Everyone was, like:’ You guys don’t belong .'” I must appear alarmed because she rushes to clarify:” I mean, we weren’t tanned, and we didn’t go to the beach .”

Kaitlyn
Kaitlyn Dever with Feldstein in Booksmart. Photograph: Francois Duhamel/ Annapurna Pictures

Her eldest brother, Jordan, was also in the entertainment industry: he managed Maroon 5, but died in 2017 at the age of 40 from a pulmonary thromboembolism. Feldstein wrote a touching piece a year later about coping with his death- considering the world now through” grief glasses “. And she turned to the thinkpiece format again in Please Stop Complimenting Me on My Body, in which she conveyed inconvenience with the approving reactions she received after unknowingly losing weight during an exhausting year-long Broadway run in Hello, Dolly! alongside Bette Midler. Throughout her childhood, she was told she was too big; only in college did she learn to love her body.” After years of pain ,” she wrote,” I had finally saw such a beautiful peace, one that most people , no matter what size they are, don’t have. And all of those’ compliments’ take that away from me. After years of ultimately not feeling judged by myself or others, all of a sudden I felt so considered .”

It is her middle brother, she says, who has taught her to have confidence in her own opinions.” The biggest thing I’ve learned from Jonah is to value my own voice. I’m such an opinionated person in my private life, and he fosters me to be opinionated in my work life, too .” Story of sibling rivalry and discord are conspicuous by their absence. To celebrate his sister’s appearance in Hello, Dolly !, Hill even had the message” Hello, Beanie !” tattooed on his forearm.” He told me he was going to do it and I just said:’ Ha-ha .’ Then he came in with it and- oh my God, it takes up most of his arm !” Will she reciprocate?” I wholly would have done, except I’m allergic to everything. But I have a sticker of him on my luggage. Does that counting? Me at luggage claim:’ Um, that’s my bag with my brother’s face on it, can I simply, um- excuse me- pardon me .'”

While he was directing his first movie, Mid9 0s, she was in the UK’s Midlands shooting How to Build a Girl. She had the advantage of never having find or heard Moran when she read the script, leaving her liberated from doing any sort of impersonation of her as Johanna, a misfit on her way to becoming a music journalist.” That was such a benefit. And Johanna is only a fictionalised version of Caitlin. The story is true-ish, that’s what we’re saying .” Nor was she familiar with Wolverhampton.” None of my London friends even knew where it was. But now I’ve got such love for the people there. They were so welcoming. I worked for three weeks in Shop in the Square, this feminist utopia in the middle of Wolverhampton. Six hours a day, I was ringing things up, serving clients, working on my accent. And I pulled a pint at the local saloon! I felt like the mayor of Wolverhampton .” Now she is pining for British colloquialisms.” I love that word ‘knackered ‘. I really miss it. If it’s hear among future generations of Americans, you’ll know it’s because of me .”

Booksmart is released in the UK on Monday. How to Build a Girl opens later this year

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Missy Elliott- Beyonce said:’ If I sound crazy, don’t set this out! ‘

As she returns to the spotlight, the hip-hop icon talks Michelle Obama, collaborations and the truth behind her hiatus

It must have been an eye-opening experience to watch Missy Elliott’s performance at the MTVvideomusicawards last month if you had never encountered her before. Her six-song medley was a thrill-ride of kaleidoscopic visuals, VMAdancers and costume changes: Elliott was a cyberqueen, a B-girl, a scarecrow, an airborne beachball, a one-woman advertisement for what pop music can be. The performance, marking her video vanguard award, instantaneously went viral, capped a year of accolades( an honorary doctorate from Berklee College of Music, the first female rapper in the Songwriters Hall of Fame) and coincided with the Iconology EP, her first new body of work since 2005. It dazzled the uninitiated while reminding millions of older fans what a vital creative force-out the 48 -year-old was and how much we had missed her.

Two days later, Elliott is still bathing in goodwill.” It’s a bles ,” she says, calling from New York.” A bles !” She has a throaty southern accent and a brilliant, exclamatory laugh. After a month of planning and two weeks of rehearsals, she says the set went like a dream.” The only hour I was scared was when I was backstage and I had to keep changing clothes really fast. I thought:’ Oh God, I’m not going to have my gasps on in time. I might be in my panties !’ Ha ha !”

Katy
Katy Perry and Missy Elliott perform at Super Bowl Halftime in 2015. Photograph: Christopher Polk/ Getty

This is not Elliott’s first comeback but it feels different. The last day she returned to the public eye, as Katy Perry’s guest during the course of its Super Bowl half-time show in 2015, she “freaked out” the night before, daunted by the size of the audience and the length of time she had been away.” I ended up in the hospital for having an anxiety attack ,” she says.” I guess any artist who has had a break such as that one would be anxious. I recollect Katy saying:’ This is the perfect time to perform your new record. It’s the biggest platform .’ I was like:’ I don’t even know if they recollect the old ones so I most definitely don’t want to do a new one !’ I’m always anxious whenever I fell anything because you only never know if they’re going to get it. So I’m always biting my nails and pacing the floor .”

Elliott was meant to release her long-overdue seventh album that year but after merely one brilliant single, WTF( Where They From ), she returned to her quieter life as a novelist, producer and guest MC.” I detest to say I’m back because in reality I never ran nowhere ,” she insists.” I was still doing stuff behind the scenes. I don’t always want to be upfront. I’m so shy .” I suggest that anyone watching her fly through the air in an inflatable leather suit at the VMAs would not automatically diagnose her with shyness.” I was like that as a child ,” she says.” We would have family reunions and they always wanted me to get up on the table to perform. After an hour of them praying me, I would eventually get on the table and become this other little kid. Then they couldn’t get me off. Once I set foot on the stage, I block out everything. I can be in my own world .”

Melissa Elliott first constructed a private world as a child in Virginia. It was a fantastical refuge from a violent father, an abusive cousin and the grind of poverty; when reality fails you, construct your own. Behind her bedroom door, she was a star, practising adoption speeches in the mirror and performing to an audience of dolls.” The teacher would ask what everyone wanted to be and I said:’ I’m going to be a hotshot .’ And everyone in the class would chuckle. I wonder if those kids remember me to this day, because I remember everyone .”

In high school, Elliott formed an R& B group called Fayze, who later signed with the Swing Mob label under the name Sista and moved to New York. But Sista flopped and the Swing Mob crew dissolved, so Elliott didn’t reached her stride until she returned to her home state in 1995 with her best friend and producer Tim ” Timbaland ” Mosley.” Timbaland was more quiet than me and I’m super-shy so just imagine ,” she says.” He’s most definitely not like that now! Through him I satisfy Pharrell and we all bonded .”

Missy
Missy Elliott and producer Timbaland in 2004. Photograph: Jon Furniss/ WireImage

Avoiding the radio and MTV, the Virginians tunnelled deep into their imaginations to find genuinely new audios. Elliott describes one memorable day in Virginia Beach’s Master Sound studio:” I was in the booth doing The Rain[ her debut solo single] and I kept hearing:’ I dislike you so much right now !’ And I was like:’ Yo, who is screaming ?’ I’m getting so mad. And Pharrell comes knocking on the door and says:’ I want you to hear something .’ And he plays it and it’s Kelis. Me and Tim were like:’ Man, we wish we had done that record .’ That’s how we pushed each other .”

Missy ” Misdemeanor ” Elliott could do it all- sing, rap, write, make- but what she and Timbaland were doing was so far out that they needed to prove themselves, first by working on Aaliyah’s 1996 album One in a Million. It was the shape of R& B to come: radical yet irresistible. For her own The Rain( Supa Dupa Fly ), Elliott cooked up a joyfully bizarre video with director Hype Williams to let people know who they were dealing with.” It helped people understand the type of artist that I am: witty, with a fun, comical sense, but futuristic, too .” Suddenly, everybody wanted a piece of her.

Elliott recollects receiving calls from Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and Janet Jackson in a single month.” It happened so fast that I’m just now getting a chance to sit back and re-evaluate everything ,” she says.” This year has allowed me to look back over my life and be like:’ Wow .'” When she watches the spectacular video for her 1999 single She’s a Bitch, in which she rises out of the ocean like a bald cyborg, she’s astonished.” I guess:’ Where was my mind at? What space was we in to create records like that ?’ So many moments I look back and wish that I knew what I was believe at the time .” Like a hip-hop Doctor Strange, Elliott was a reality-bender. On hittings such as Get Ur Freak On and Work It she made everything elastic- voice, rhythm, speech, body- until the usual regulations ceased to apply. Both avant-garde and platinum-popular, she revolutionised hip-hop and R& B while also wowing the likes of Thom Yorke, Damon Albarn and Bjork. Her videos with Hype Williams and Dave Meyers were no less game-changing than her records, each one a reinvention. She credits Elektra Records for running with her imagination.” Not once did they say:’ No, you can’t do this .’ I would bring stuff to them and they’d be like:’ Let’s do it .’ The only hour you get pushback is when they realise the budget is a million dollars .” She laughs.” Then they’re like:’ Wait a minute …'”

Simultaneously, she and Timbaland created startling makes for other artists, including Tweet, Melanie B and Destiny’s Child, featuring a 16 -year-old Beyonce.” It wasn’t that Beyonce came in and was loud or’ Look at me, I’m gonna be the superstar ,'” Elliott recollects.” She was very sweet. But when she went in the booth, that’s when I knew .” Beyonce later appeared on Elliott’s 2002 track Nothing Out There for Me.” I said:’ Hey, I want you to rap a little bit .’ And she was like:’ Miss, if I sound crazy, don’t set this out !’ And I said:” Trust me, B, I’m not gonna allow you to sound crazy .’ “Shes gone” in there and now she’s rapping better than me !”

In recent years, critics have emphasised the political impact of Elliott’s work. By radiating pleasure and freedom while upending expectations about race, gender and body image, she was an empowering figure, although she insists that was a byproduct rather than an agenda.” Never, ever once did I think of making a political statement. I did what I did. I didn’t know that it would become that for others later .” She enjoys it, though.” To know that it has been taken that style, I’m happy .”

Then, in 2005, Elliott effectively set her solo career on ice. What happened?” Well, I’m going to be honest, there were a lot of things ,” she says hesitantly. One was overwork. A stranger to holidays, she was always either working on her own music( six albums in eight years) or someone else’s.” I needed to refresh my intellect. Then I got sick, so that was another thing .” In 2008, after three years of chronic fatigue and drastic weight loss, she was diagnosed with Graves’ disease, a thyroid ailment, and treated with radiation therapy. Even once she was able to resume recording, Elliott’s hiatus between albums became self-perpetuating: the longer she remained away, the harder it was to come back. Without deadlines or financial pressure( she invested wisely ), her perfectionism took over. She disappeared into the studio, racking up several albums’ worth of unreleased material.” You end up building up a trillion records ,” she says.” It’s easier for me to write for other people and not be as critical. I’m very difficult on myself. I’m like:’ Let me see if I can make something better ,’ so you only maintain powering on .”

The overwhelming, instant scrutiny of social media worsened this self-doubt. The beginning of this year, Cardi B tweeted about nervousnes and Elliottsympathised:” Many people deal with this … i am one … it’s real .” This wasn’t something that rappers discussed publicly in the 90 s.” Anxiety and depression, I’m not gonna lie, I rarely heard that back then ,” she says.” But now I hear it a lot. Before social media you really didn’t know what people thought of you but now it’s so in your face that I think it probably dedicates a lot of artists nervousnes. You have a lot of people coming at you, good or bad .” So she stuck to supporting roles on records by the likes of Ariana Grande, Janet Jackson, the Missy-indebted Lizzo and debut recording artist Michelle Obama: Elliott was the highlight of Obama’s 2016 charity single This Is for My Girls.” I wasn’t gonna say no. Y’know, it’s Michelle Obama. Am I actually gonna be like:’ Nah Michelle, I’m busy !’ She made me feel she was in my family. I almost forgot she was the First Lady .”

Now, eventually, Elliott is “most definitely” ready to take the plunge and release that album, self-doubt be damned.” This time the label is like:’ Knock it off, Missy Misdemeanor Elliott !’ Ha ha !”

The good news is that new music means live reveals. The bad news is that these might have to take the form of a Las Vegas residency because Elliott’s notions may be too ambitious to be portable.” It’s going to be a lot because there’s so much going in my mind ,” she says.” My mind is like a rollercoaster. It’s like an amusement park. Heh heh heh .” At long last, Missyland is reopening for business.

Missy Elliott’s Iconology EP is out now

Read more: www.theguardian.com