Walker has come up against a fair amount of hostility while promoting Dietland. During a live radio interview in Australia, the novelist Will Self, also a guest on the show, went full werewolf on her. “He basically derailed my whole interview,” Walker says, with an upset sort of laugh. He didn’t just trot out the usual “fat is unhealthy” stuff, but helpfully mansplained that humans are evolutionarily programmed to find fat people ugly. Self was being so abrasive, Walker recalls, that after the interview another guest asked if she was OK.
The run-in wasn’t the first time Walker faced overt abuse from a Brit. She lived in the UK for seven years, on and off, and says: “London was the most fat-shaming place I’ve been in my entire life. It was on a scale like nothing I’ve ever experienced.” In the US, Walker says, fatphobia would manifest itself in subtle ways: she’d find herself excluded from things. In London, however, strangers would say horrible things to her face. “I’ve lived in New York, Paris, Boston and the western US – and that just doesn’t happen.”
One reason, Walker suggests, is that “women’s bodies were on display in London like I’ve never seen. In the phonebooths with those pictures of naked women, and on Page 3, and in those tabloid newspapers with half-naked women on the cover. It was like the whole city was a red-light district.” She contrasts this to her native US, where “we have fashion magazines with scantily clad women but you don’t see those kind of porny images in public as much. I felt part of the reason I got harassed in London was because there were messages everywhere that women’s bodies are public property.”
Walker channelled her London experience into a chapter of Dietland in which Jennifer forces British tabloids to feature naked men on their covers. “London was being renovated,” writes the author, “and the wallpaper covering every surface of the city was no longer decorated with women.”
QotD: “women’s bodies were on display in London like I’ve never seen”