Hit & Run: Missing the XXL factor
Wednesday 01 July 2009
Beth Ditto is known for her idiosyncratic rock yodel, her sexual preferences and, of course, her habit of taking her clothes off on-stage. She isn't one to hide her lights under a bushel, nor is she one to hide her bushel under the stage lights. Fans and critics alike have been treated to the most intimate details of her (under)garments, and now high street shoppers will be too.
Her new range of clothing for plus-size chain Evans goes in-store nationwide next week, and begs the question, does Beth really know best? Yes, she has a, er, bulk of experience behind her, in terms of being one of very few larger recognisable pop culture personalities, but she takes dressing for your shape to a whole new level. Ditto regularly used to perform in swimming costumes, leotards and all-in-one skintight lycra suits, before she ripped them off and flung them at her adoring public. The one hook that should bolster these clothes is actually just a patronising bit of tokenism: Beth Ditto is not a trained designer, she's just not thin.
"Designing this line is a dream come true," she told the fashion press this week, "it's all about must-haves for a night out." Inspired by Blondie and Grace Jones among others, the sequinned and spandexed collection has an Eighties feel to it, in keeping with one of the biggest trends of the season – although all the lycra provides a certain amount of stretch too. There is a prom dress in the range, a biker jacket and a hoodie. There is also a pair of domino-print leggings and an elasticated purple tunic. Ditto has never played by the style rules, but much of her collection is destined not to flatter their eventual owners. Long T-shirts and tunics end up looking a bit like tents – a belt is your best friend in this situation, as is an empire line. Certainly not a voluminous T-shirt with a cat's face on it, and almost definitely not a clingy, scoop-neck jersey dress.
Last week saw the first Full-Figured Fashion Week kick off in New York, celebrating designers who make clothes for women who don't fit a size 12. But it came after a week of stories in the American press about companies down-sizing their plus-size ranges because bigger clothes cost more to make, with regard to material and pattern-cutting. So it's great that Ditto's range has launched and that the UK remains one of the best places to buy well-designed clothes larger than a size 14. "If 'fatshionistas' are willing to pay for luxury goods," wrote Amy Odell in The New York Times, "why won't the industry make them for them? It's not like these companies are rolling in it right now. And these women aren't getting any thinner." It's true – but the high street should work on great design and directional lines, instead of hiding their plus-size curves behind a celebrity face and a sequinned purple tunic-tent. Harriet Walker
Cycling wrecks your sperm? Balls to that!
My plums are in peril, my damsons in distress. My knackers are knackered. That's the prognosis of Spanish scientists, who suggest hard-core cyclists are more likely to be saddled with dodgy reproductive cells. Their study of triathletes showed men who bike more than 300km (186 miles) a week have a significantly poorer "sperm morphology" than the average man. To which I say, "balls!" I'm putting in almost that many miles training for this month's Etape du Tour, the amateur stage of the Tour de France, and my little boys are doing just fine, thank you very much. Well, I assume they are.
Perhaps we should look at the evidence. The team at the University of Cordoba, who are advising the most prolific pedallers to freeze their semen while it's healthy, aren't sure why the sport affects fertility. Lycra-related constriction, "microtrauma" of the testes caused by saddle friction, and the side effects of tough training are all possible culprits.
A closer look at the Spanish study reveals a sample of 15 athletes. That's not a huge, er, sample size, is it? And while I hate to resort to the "what about..." response, what about Lance Armstrong? He's spent gazillions of hours on a in the saddle and neither that nor even testicular cancer stopped him having his fourth child last month. And what about China, the country with the world's highest population of bikes and babies? Still, maybe I'll get some baggy shorts. Simon Usborne
Wigglers getting jiggy with it
Worms might not be the sexiest of beasts but they can currently be found online wriggling their way through the invertebrate equivalent of Debbie Does Dallas. Allyson Whittaker and Paul Sternberg of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, have studied the mating rituals of worms and have filmed the tiny critters getting it on – they've essentially created the first worm porn, if you will (the things people get up to, eh?). Their video – which actually has a serious purpose, namely an attempt to study the nervous control of sexual behaviour in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans – is spicy stuff. The footage, currently available on newscientist.com, is grainy and surprisingly sensual. The male worm's movements are almost balletic, mimicking the movements of another slimy critter, veteran porn actor Ron Jeremy, at his best. Like all blue movies, the narrative is rather predicable: a male worm presses the front side of his tail against his hermaphrodite partner, as he backs along and searches for its vulva in confusion. Unfortunately for him, his sexual quarry is not that keen (a common problem) so the male has to search a bit, before curling around his conquest and eventually finding what he's looking for (yuck). It's an edifying few minutes. A word of advice, though – if you view it at work it's probably best to minimise your screen before watching to the bitter end. Rob Sharp
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