On the days when I have the time and inclination, I like to create a look for myself inspired by the sirens of the 50s – Strong of brow, long of lash, and pout-y of lip. I like to tease my hair into soft curls and pop on something which speaks of both strength and femininity, enhances my hourglass frame and hints at sexuality, without being overt. Yes, when I can be bothered, this is my “look” (and if I happen to dash out the door, hair still damp, fresh of face, wearing odd socks, furiously typing last minute emails, sending text messages, flinging the curtains back, looking with dismay at last night’s washing up and muttering “b*gger, b*gger, b*gger” under my breath, which is often the case, that doesn’t matter either, because in my mind I’m still 50s siren lady).
So, there I was one Sunday lunchtime, in my parents’ local pub, looking pretty hot, it has to be said. My parents introduced me to an acquaintance of theirs, a jolly, robust looking man in his 60s – Tall, booming and baritone and excessively articulate. He asked if I’d had a good weekend and I told him I’d been lucky enough to see Sir Ian McKellen’s beyond fantastic performance in Waiting for Godot at the Theatre Royal the previous day. “Ah” he said and then he lent into me conspiratorially before asking in a tone that might as well have been accompanied by a pat on the head “and did you understand it?”
I discussed this in fits of hysterics later with my Mum (apparently I’d given him a look that could sour milk before monologuing at great length (and to everyone else’s great tedium) about the various interpretations of the play and which one I gave the most credence to, using quotes from the text. Well, he wasn’t to know I studied it for A level).
You know when someone says something to you that they think is totally obvious (and therefore have never bothered to mention before) but is a massive, life changing revelation for you? Well, this is the conversation my Mum and I had (and, you must bear in mind, I was simultaneously trying to speak and have an epiphany):
Mum: He only asked you because your look doesn’t fit your brain.
Me: What do you mean my look doesn’t fit my brain? What are you talking about?
Mum: Well, I think people might assume you’re not as clever as you are…..
Me: Hang on hang on. Are you saying I look stupid?
Mum: (panicking slightly) Well, no, not exactly. It’s just you have big boobs and long hair and….you know….. that look doesn’t really make you think of a brainy person.
Me: *raises eyebrow, sits back in chair, folds arms and looks back at Mum expectantly*
Mum: (digging herself out of hole) On the plus side, however, you have the element of surprise. Which is brilliant, because no one expects you to be able to talk about clever things, and then you can……. You do it all the time, surprise people. I just don’t think you realise it.
What struck me most was this innate assumption that if you are in any way glamorous it is to compensate for a lack of intelligence (or perhaps that women do not have enough brain space to simultaneously store the ability to apply makeup and information about the wider world). Do we, in the post-feminist era, truly still believe that beauty and intelligence are mutually exclusive?
It’s a minefield of an area, which even I cannot form a definitive opinion about – Where is the line between glaming up because it’s a way of expressing oneself and objectifying oneself before anyone else has even had the opportunity to? Like my new hero, Crystal Renn (I will not stop campaigning until her book is made compulsory reading for all teenage girls), I have always loved fashion, makeup, unashamed girly-ness, but it has never completely dominated my life. The confusion, I believe, somewhat arises out of the “Spice Girls” era, closely followed by the era of the WAG/Glamour Model, who somewhat spuriously claimed to embody “Girl Power” which was then placed under the umbrella of feminism (having very little to do with the genuine concept, as I believe Germaine Greer pointed out). Making a career out of turning oneself into an object of desire, be it by posing for a shoot for a lad’s mag or marrying a wealthy footballer, became suddenly something to aspire to.
Today, the Daily Mail Online published an article entitled “Land of the living dolls: Feminism aimed to liberate women. Instead, it's spawned a promiscuous generation who believe that their bodies are the only passport to success”, which touches on this very issue.
The women the article describes are desperate to win a shoot with Nuts Magazine by sprawling virtually naked on a bed in a nightclub. This has zilch to do with feminism, very little to do with sex and everything to do with the old chestnut: Low Self Esteem.
In my last blog I talked about young people feeling disillusioned what with unemployment, the breakdown of families and the recession and being desperate for some attention, which they might mistakenly equate with the love and respect that are so evidently missing from most of their lives. It’s my opinion that the girls the Daily Mail article describes symbolize a symptom of the very same phenomenon. Women degrade themselves simply because they crave attention and misguidedly believe that this is the only way to get it. Who knows, beneath the 3 inches of makeup, fake tan and false eyelashes there may be a highly intelligent girl, but with glamour modeling, wagging and it-girl-ing touted as the fast track to wealth, success and adoration, who can blame them for relenting, buying themselves a boob job and stripping off?
This all feeds in marvelously to the Body Gossip ethos, because ultimately, discussing real bodies and the value there can be in their spectacular and beautiful variety is empowering for women and men alike. In fact, in bringing bodies to the public attention, the ultimate aim is for us all to think about them less. This seems paradoxical - but once we all sincerely believe that we are uniquely gorgeous, it eliminates the need for validation from, in this particular instance, a hoard of drooling, drunken revelers in a nightclub. In the end, it is about creating a reality where women dress in whatever way makes them feel good about themselves, without it being a reflection on their character or intellect and where I can commune with my inner Marylin Monroe and still be expected to understand Beckett.