In which Fern slims for Britton.

Printed 04/06/08

Womankind is a fickle, fickle species. Following the immortal guidance of Donna Summer and Tina Charles, we love to love. We love to love things that don’t really deserve to be loved; things that barely register on the love-o-meter as moderately likeable; things that men only know exist when they find you weeping into a pillow after they are discontinued in the shop or killed off by spiteful scriptwriters.

We love to love our conditioner brand. We love to love adverts. We love to love anything that’s at least half the size it should usually be, like hotel soaps or those teeny tiny lipglosses you hang off your phone. Not because anybody needs teeny tiny lipgloss, you understand*, but because it’s quite fun to hold them and pretend you’re a giantess for a few minutes.

Indeed, we are happiest to bestow our love-to-loving on things that will almost certainly, unless we find ourselves in a sci-fi horror from the 50s, never love us back. I am reminded here by a phone call I received from my mother a month or so ago: “It’s SO sweeeet,” she cooed in the same voice she used for Waffles the late hamster, “I just want to give it a hug”. The adored addition to the Bravo family, it turned out, was my Dad’s new ukulele. Just a guitar, but OOH it’s so tiny!

Yes, we cheerfully ladle affection left right and centre, then remove it again with all the emotional consistency of a Katona marriage. Personally, I believe this indiscriminate approach is acquired during the fledgling stages of emotional development with the sacred rites of the pencil case, where girls learn to love according to novelty, newness, and everybody else wanting one. The multi-colour biro was love object no.1 until usurped by the popcorn-scented gel pen. It’s a sad business.

And of course, when our devotions are extended to fellow humans rather than the upstairs of WH Smith, they become all the more capricious. Take Fern Britton, for example. Poor old Fern. She was the nation’s surrogate mum, the thinking man’s crumpet (and butter), the reason I invented the peanut-butter-custard-Oreo-golden-syrup-surprise. The poster girl for womanly acceptance. The lyrical inspiration, I always wanted to believe, behind “everybody needs a bosom for a pillow”. We loved to love to love her, with sugar on top.

Until, of course, she committed the ultimate betrayal of womanhood, the salad-munching harpy, and got thin. No! How DARE she?? Suddenly it was less of the love, more of the bitterness and resentment. Oh, and the fear that she’d start cajoling Dawn French and Beth Ditto into it too, until the entire ‘fat but pretty’ list comprised of the girl from Hairspray and maybe Aunt Bessie in the right light.

But there was worse to come this week for (increasingly) Little Britton, when it was revealed that she’d, as I like to think they refer to it in the offices of CelebsWithNoKnickers magazine, ‘done a Diamond’ and had a gastric band fitted. No! How DARE she?? While we could just about stomach the idea of beloved Fernie slogging it out on a treadmill, or maybe just losing all the weight accidentally after an ill-judged trip to one of the night time pavement hotdog stands on Tottenham Court Road (I’ve played the e-coli lottery enough, my time must be soon), the notion that she cared enough to swap a cheese knife for a surgical scalpel was positively unsavoury.

But what really upset us was the notion that somehow she had ‘cheated’. In the big board game of vanity, Fern had been collecting £200 without passing Go (and losing her community chest in the process, a cruder writer might add…). No woman shalt be skinny without paying her dues in misery and carbohydrate withdrawal sweats.

I disagree, however. In my book, Fern has done us all a favour by revealing willpower to be the mythical, fairytale notion we suspected it was all along. Now that we know she’s actually weak like the rest of us, just a darn sight richer, it’s like we’re all on the same team again. We can return to loving Fern, and loving Rubens pin-ups, and maybe loving some teeny-tiny snack foods. Which we do love to love to do.

*Notwithstanding those who have teeny tiny lips.