"An underground movement of women who deface 'offensive' adverts and magazines on the Tube is gaining momentum," the London Evening Standard reported recently. "The group targets adverts for cosmetic surgery, images of thin models and posters they believe sexualise children, placing stickers over the pictures carrying slogans such as 'YOU ARE NORMAL. This is not'." It was only a tiny "news in brief" but it made me smile. Someone had noticed our handiwork! And not only that but something that started out as a very informal group - on Facebook, for goodness' sake - had been elevated into "an underground movement".
I have been carrying these YOU ARE NORMAL stickers around in my handbag since my friend Kirstin invited me to join the Facebook group "Somewhat Strident But Who Cares?" at the end of the summer. She said she was founding the group as a response to the flood of unhealthy media images: emaciated fashion "icons", adverts for cosmetic surgery, demeaning lads' mags. These, as she put it, "immediately make me feel shit about myself to the point where I am spitting with rage" (I told you it was an informal thing). So why not express this rage through the time-honoured protest medium of stickers?
For me, this was one of those moments when a vague and vaporous feeling that has been gathering within you for a long time is suddenly condensed into something tangible. Something sticky, and angry. An angry sticker! The ones my friend Kirstin made were brief. They were to the point. They were not compromised by direct affiliation with a movement (movements get so unwieldy, don't they?). They were gobby, basically. They said: "Fake boobs are vile!"
Soon 300, then 500 of us had joined ("Yesss... I knew you were all as strident as me") and we were out there targeting adverts on the Tube that we found, well, distasteful. Usually, I would hesitate to use that word, with its nagging, prim connotations but being in a 500-strong group called "Somewhat Strident But Who Cares?" makes you start using that kind of word with new conviction. We were getting distasteful all together, which made it seem a lot less shrewish, somehow. Facebook is a social utility and, suddenly, it was coming in useful for a lot more than just "poking" people we fancied.
The first target was the poster for Victoria Beckham's new book, in which she appeared crouching, childlike and airbrushed almost beyond recognition. Splat! Right in the forehead: "YOU ARE NORMAL. This is not". It was not an attack on Posh Spice herself so much as a note of scepticism that someone could have had three children and still look more like a faun than a woman - an airbrushing alert, a squeak of alarm that this should be held up as female physical orthodoxy. …