How Not To Be A Lady


Last night, I was fortunate enough to see Kate Bush’s ‘Before The Dawn’ show. It was a magical experience. For me, the best part was discovering that her voice and musicianship are the best they’ve ever been, unlike so many other artists who can’t cut it live. But for those of an insensitive disposition, the most important thing about Kate Bush’s return to live performance seems to be that she no longer looks exactly the same as when she was 19 years old.

On the way home, I came across a review for the Big Issue by Rachel Johnson, a woman who made a documentary entitled ‘How To Be A Lady’, concerning manners and etiquette. #Irony. The review wasn’t favourable, but that’s neither here nor there. I enjoyed the show, others didn’t. That’s fine.

What’s not fine is this:

‘…that’s really THE KATE BUSH in pudgy white bare feet and black velour trousers’

This direct quote is the first of a series of digs about weight.

Here’s another: …’ a middle-aged woman who looks as if she’s bust loose from a Weight Watchers class to express herself with an I (sic) interpretative dance solo, would make it these days past the first round of The X Factor.’

And another: ‘… she’s doing this after packing it all in for thirty years and bringing up her son, and clearly not skimping on the pasties’

These direct quotes are taken from a cached version of the piece as I saw it on the Big Issue website last night.

It has since been edited and some of these jibes removed. No apology from the Big Issue, just a hasty back-covering edit. Shame on you, Big Issue, for printing it in the first place, and for sweeping it under the carpet when you realised it was wrong.

I will list here the times it’s ok to comment on the weight or other physical characteristics of an artist.


That’s right. It is never ok to do this, as the appearance of an artist is totally irrelevant to the quality of their work.

I saw for myself last night that Kate Bush is still a very beautiful woman but that is also irrelevant to her work.

Her voice is stronger and more controlled now than it was at the first height of her career. This is relevant.

Relevant comments on her appearance would include that she appeared confident and happy to be back on stage; she appeared as a woman in control of her art and her career; she appeared as an artist connected to her audience; she appeared as someone of great vision and originality.

That a woman such as Kate Bush can achieve so much on her own terms is something to be lauded. Her appearance has always been judged where it should not have been. Far too many saw her as a pretty teenager in a leotard when the focus should have been on the beautiful songs she wrote at such a young age.

And now, when she is older, wiser and even more original in today’s manufactured, soulless, reality TV musical climate, she is pulled apart for her looks by those with less talent, less originality, and less integrity.

Women suffer so much misogyny, especially in music, and it’s even more of a stab in the back when it comes from other women. When, as a teenager myself, I had some demos reviewed in the music press, the female journalist spent the majority of the review slating my photos as being designed to influence a male reviewer. The pictures, incidentally, were head shots, and I was wearing a high necked grey t-shirt. But apparently my face/hair was some kind of trap that she wasn’t about to fall into.

When someone tries to point out another’s perceived failings, it shines the light on their own. The writer who denounced Kate Bush’s feet as ‘pudgy’ has pictures of her own feet on her Twitter page. So now I’m looking at them critically and finding them wanting. Whilst pudgy trumps gnarled in my book, it’s neither kind nor relevant to mention it.

But I don’t ask reviewers to be kind, only fair and reasonable. And whilst it is reasonable to express dislike or disappointment at an event, it is not fair to resort to playground taunts.

Rachel, if you’re interested to know what I took away from your review of the show, it’s this: that you’re probably quite insecure and need a fair bit of attention, even if it’s negative; that you don’t really understand much about musicians and music lovers if you think that artists should whore themselves to their ‘fans’ rather than remain true to their art (to mention X-Factor in the same breath as an actual artist such as Kate Bush compounds this); and that you don’t understand that bitchy comments don’t make for incisive critique.

If you want some advice, Rachel, aspire to be better than this. Girls and women need to know they can be valued for something other than their looks. We need role models. Kate Bush is one. With a little thoughtful effort maybe you can be too. Don’t be part of the problem.


7 comments on “How Not To Be A Lady

  1. thoroughly agree with your article. I read the big issue article and was disgusted at how it was written- she obviously wasn’t ever a fan or she wouldn’t have spelt Babooshka wrongly! And to follow with digs about her age/weight were completely uncalled for. I am going on the 10th and am looking forward to seeing Kate Bush- the artist, the genius.

  2. Pingback: *SPOILERS* Reviews of Before the Dawn |

  3. Thank you, Suzanne Barbieri, for writing down what most of us Kate Bush fans felt after reading Rachel Johnson’s ‘review’ of the concert!!! And shame on The Big Issue for giving her a platform to spout her misogynistic drivel!

  4. A excellent reply. I read this dreadful review and was appalled that this woman took up a valuable seat at one of the concerts, which might have gone to a real fan. I went on the second night, and it was probably the best thing I’ve ever seen. I’m still in awe of the fact that I was present to get even a glimpse of the genius and unparalleled imagination and talent that is Kate Bush. This was clearly wasted on that ‘writer.’

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