Shelley Bovey is Welsh-born and English-educated so she has assimilated the best of both cultures. The Welsh influence led to an assumption that she would become either a musician or a writer. She earns her living by writing but has also followed the family tradition of making music and sometimes wonders if she would not in fact have preferred it to writing ...
Her first real job was in Fleet Street, on the Daily Express. Together with a team led by Robert Millar, fearsome editor and late father-in-law of Alistair Campbell, she helped set up Action Line, the very first media consumer service which obtained justice for its readers and got good copy for the paper as a result. It was a great start for a young journalist. (Later, television picked up the idea and ran with it in the form of such consumer programmes as 'The Braden Beat' and 'That's Life'.) In 1969, she married Alistair Bovey, a structural engineer.
The Childbearing Years. Shelley chose to stay at home to bring up her three children, and became involved with the natural childbirth movement. She trained as a Breastfeeding Counsellor and Ante-Natal teacher for the National Childbirth Trust. The anthropologist and childbirth educator Sheila Kitzinger was her tutor and has been her professional mentor and friend ever since.
When the last nappy had worn out and all the children were at school, Shelley thought once more about her career. By then, she and her family were living in Somerset, far from where it all happens media-wise. It wasn't all mud and green wellies, though. Bristol was only 25 miles away and Bristol contained the BBC Network Production Centre, whence came the Natural History programmes and a good deal of drama (in every sense!) Bristol NPC also produced much of the Radio 4 output including such well-loved programmes as Down Your Way and Any Questions?
All Shelley had to do was convince the Radio 4 hierarchy that a Daily Express reporter of the sixties could cut it as a radio journalist in the eighties. She sold a feature idea to Woman's Hour, lied about being experienced with BBC recording equipment, (she had to learn fast), and was back in business. For several years she worked as a reporter on Woman's Hour, The World Tonight and other magazine programmes; as a researcher for Down Your Way, Any Questions? and Religious Programming; as a reader for Religious Programming and as producer/presenter of her own half-hour documentaries. She also abridged books for radio, including Fay Weldon's wonderful Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen.
After several years with the BBC she began to turn some of her radio features into magazine articles and eventually left the Corporation altogether after being told she should lose weight, (on radio?!) By then she was writing regularly for several magazines and newspapers and was literary critic and Contributing Editor for SHE.
Shelley had been overweight since the age of eleven and had suffered a good deal of prejudice and discrimination on account of it (see BBC above!) Spending a good deal of time in the offices of a glamorous, mainstream magazine like SHE emphasised how much society judges people on the size they are, irrespective of intellect, skills, performance or personality. Most of her colleagues were slim and glamorous, in that London West End, media-darling way, and some of them were longing to get their hands on her to do a before and after diet makeover story.
At that point (the mid to late eighties) there was no real political awareness of size discrimination in Britain. It says a lot for SHE that when Shelley suggested she should write a piece on this subject, exposing the injustice of it, they agreed, titling the article 'Being Fat Is Not a Sin: a Plea for an End to Prejudice.' It was the first time the subject had been aired in a mainstream publication and Shelley and the magazine received a great deal of mail from readers identifying with what she had written. Sheila Kitzinger suggested it was time she wrote a book.
In October 1989 her first book Being Fat Is Not a Sin was published. Because it was the first book of its kind in Britain and because weight is a subject about which everyone holds a strong opinion, the book attracted a great deal of attention and brought the issue to public consciousness. Shelley Bovey became well-known as a campaigner and activist for the burgeoning size acceptance movement. In 1994, The Forbidden Body: Why Being Fat Is Not a Sin (a bigger, updated version of Being Fat with much new material) was published.
By now Shelley was doing a considerable amount of broadcasting and newspaper and magazine interviews on the subject of weight discrimination. It is a perennial subject and exerts an ongoing fascination for most people. She took a break from the issue to write a book about parents' emotions when their children grow up: The Empty Nest: When Children Leave Home, published in 1995, but returned to size matters when she was asked to be the editor of an anthology celebrating the lives and achievements of large women. She commissioned 24 original essays, and Sizeable Reflections: Big Women Living Full Lives was published in 2000.
Her latest book, What Have You Got to Lose?: The Great Weight Debate and How to Diet Successfully, (published in January 2002) may appear at first glance to be a departure. Three years previously Shelley had faced up to the fact that she felt unable to continue living in a body that felt too big for her, and she has now lost six and a half stone. She also felt that the size acceptance movement was in danger of rejecting those large women who for physical and/or psychological reasons could not accept their size. The book examines the issues of body image, health, and the politics of both size acceptance and weight loss, and concludes that for some large women, voluntary weight loss should not only be an option, but if conducted the right way, can be successful (in that the weight loss can be maintained.) In other words, dieting need not be the failure it usually is. The next step is to get the size acceptance movement to accept that weight loss has to be the right choice for some people.
The Guardian, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, The Mirror, The Sunday Times, Sunday Telegraph, Mail on Sunday, The Scotsman, the Universe, She, New Woman, Ideal Home, Choice, Woman's Own, Bella, Boots Health and Beauty, Healthy Eating, Woman's Realm.
|Being Fat Is Not a Sin||Pandora Press, London||1989|
|The Forbidden Body||Pandora / HarperCollins, London||1994|
|The Empty Nest||Pandora / HarperCollins, London||1995|
|Sizeable Reflections||The Women's Press, London||2000|
|What Have You Got to Lose?||The Women's Press, London||2002|
1987 - Most Outstanding Feature in the Magazine Publishing Awards.
1990 - Being Fat Is Not a Sin was chosen as one of the Top Twenty Selected Titles for the Feminist Book Fortnight.
Shelley Bovey lives with her husband and various animals in a very old cottage near Glastonbury Tor. Their three children: Jane, Lindsay and Alexander have all left home and the family meets frequently.