A woman at fighting weight

interview lucy sweet 'Unskinny' was a disgustingly scatological ('a bit rude', says the author) comic strip about girls who have fun and couldn't give a damn about the size of their thighs. Now it's a rude book
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"DO THEY serve margaritas?" is the only comment Lucy Sweet has to make about a choice of lunch venue, and "Mmm - this is very lardy," her enthusiastic verdict on the food. The creator of Unskinny, the comic for well-adjusted female teens and the boys who love them, certainly doesn't disappoint, with her pack of fags, loud laugh, and utter fearlessness in the presence of calories. "People are meant to be fashionable and dynamic, and they exist on Marlboro Lights and mineral water. That's no way for anyone to behave. If you don't like food, there"s something up with you."

Now, the comic she dreamed up to amuse her friends when she was an art school drop-out in Newcastle is being published in book form. "Lads are shite aren't they?" demands one strip. "Here's the simple difference between men and lads. Men: tousle-haired lovelies who are good in bed and make shelves. Lads: nobheads who live with their mams." Unskinny may be feminist - in the broadest sense - but there's always room for boys with that elusive "aura of shaggability".

Unskinny was born in the early Nineties and initially sold to friends, who were often themselves the stars. One strip, "The Chix from 106" ("They are monsters! They break wind! They don't eat salad! They have no respect for men! Ha!"), is based on the house she shared with four fellow students. "The Chix are all real. We were just a bunch of lardy slappers who ate cake mix and frozen cheesecakes in front of the telly. Now people have started getting jobs and being responsible, but at the time it was quite close to the truth. We were complete slobs - it was awful. We once got burgled and were told off by the fingerprint man for breaking his brush because it was such a filthy house."

Almost immediately, Unskinny proved to have wider appeal than Sweet's social circle. "Forbidden Planet in Newcastle loved it and carried it in the shop without charging me for it, and have done ever since. They were really supportive." So were the parents. "I had to get around pounds 300 per issue and I was on the dole at the time. I don't know how I did it, apart from going, 'Dad...' He basically sponsored the first few issues, so he's a top man in my opinion."

Nothing, it seems, is too crude for Lucy. George Clooney solves her "women's problems" ("This comic strip is about Thrush. If you're squeamish (or a man), go and read Bunty, tossers.") There's a handy list of the "ten worst places to come on". A Brad Pitt lookalike unblocks her toilet ("Nice plunger!"). Does she ever think: Nah, too disgusting? Sweet gives a "Don't understand the question" frown and says, "Nothing's too disgusting. It's a bit rude, but if you're a woman, you respond to it because it's telling the truth about things people don't like talking about, like bodily functions. They're things I think about, I don't know whether I'm weird or not. I walk down the street and it's just like, 'Mmm, I wonder what would happen if I met Ewan McGregor in Greg's today?' I think girls walk around in a state of lust quite a lot of the time. I know I do."

Unskinny might be mucky stuff, but it proved to have a startling impact on Sweet's personal life; she met her husband through it. "He used to get it mail order. He was a fan-boy, yeah." A correspondence began, culminating in a romantic meeting at Manchester bus station. "He was in a band, touring. He was young and lithe and I thought, 'Why not?'"

They got married in Vegas, earlier this year, and now live in Glasgow, a town Sweet has mixed feelings about. "You do get quite a bit of trouble there. Somebody got his head cut off in the street the other day. I couldn't get my, erm, head round that. My friend works in the morgue and she'll be doing him next week. She just has to read the paper to see what her workload's going to be like."

Ask her about her philosophy and she blanks you, but there's a definite Unskinny attitude Sweet wants to disseminate. "It's a good word to describe someone who isn't thin and isn't fat, is basically curvaceous, up for it, into having a bit of a laugh. I wouldn't call it "fat and overcompensating" - she breaks off, choking with laughter. "Unskinny is a bit more catchy. When I started in '93, '94, the supermodels were really high profile, and I just got sick of it.

"It's from my own personal experiences of not being able to get clothes in the size I want, feeling marginalised because I'm a bit heavier than other people. I'm THAT MUCH away from a size 14" - she holds thumb and forefinger a centimetre apart - "and I'm still made to feel I should lose weight. I want to make big girls fashionable, because I think they're sexy, and they should be models and film stars and be able to do whatever the hell they want without having to compromise by slimming down. I'd just like a teenage girl in her bedroom somewhere, who can't quite fit into her Miss Selfridge minidress, to go, 'Oh it's all right then. I'll go out on the pull and do what everybody else is doing instead of measuring my thighs all the time.'"

All of which would seem to place Sweet in the irreverent world of the Ladette, her spiritual home Minx magazine. But she's forthright in her denunciation: "I think that's watered-down crap. All those women's mags, no matter how 'laddish' they pretend to be, still expect you to have a face-pack on while you sit on the sofa eating chocolate. They have to make money out of women, that's the long and short of it. I think it's about time women woke up and said, 'I'm not subscribing to that.' Women aren't using their energies in the right way. If you're a good-looking young woman, you're a powerful person, but people just go, 'I look a bit fat in this jacket, I can't possibly have an impact on anything,' because they've been force-fed all this crap."

Loaded, in contrast, gets a qualified thumbs-up. "I'm not a big fan, but at least it's up front and honest, unlike Cosmo, which is horrible and manipulative. Loaded's just some blokes clicking about in an office, putting in little bits and bobs when they feel like it."

Sweet combines a feisty practical feminism with a contempt for the traditional, hard-line version. "If Pamela Anderson were a feminist, she'd be the most powerful woman in the world, because she's got what men want, and if she said what women wanted to hear, she could rule the earth." Sounds like a subject crying out for Sweet's pen, but Pammie's only Unskinny appearance so far has been less than glorious: "It involved taking her up in a aeroplane about 5 million feet so that her tit implants explode. It was a little bit harsh..."

Major cultural icons get the Sweet treatment in each issue: David Duchovny is a creepy mortgage adviser, Paula Yates menstruates on The Big Breakfast bed; and there's "Spuds in the Hood", "which is about me meeting Liam Gallagher at a baked potato stand in the Arndale Centre. He says to me, "You're not bad looking for a fat bird," Sweet says fondly. "Ooh, the charm." The only surprise is that she hasn't got round to covering the Spice Girls. "I think that anything that can make a 12-year-old girl do kung-fu kicks and ask boys out has got to be good. You've got to be really uptight to completely hate everything the Spice Girls are about, because they're all-purpose, they're about so many different things. If one of them were fat, it would be even better."

Yeah, Girl Power means controlling everything except your own image. Maybe Lucy Sweet can help change that at least.

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