Monday, 15 March 2010

Monday Morning Rant

I had what can only be described as a magnificent Sunday yesterday. It started with three sausages and finished watching Eddie Izzard: Marathon Man on TV with an almost unbearably cute puppy fast-asleep on my right leg. In between my Mum and I drank copious amounts of Chablis and put the world to rights.

Yes, sometimes I eat sausages and drink alcohol. Shocking I know. However yesterday was Mother’s Day and if you can’t get squiffy with your Mum and eat anything she proffers in your direction on Mothering Sunday then just when can you? However, 6 days out of 7 I’m happily munching on at least 5 fruit and veg’s per day and walking absolutely everywhere.

As such, despite being a size 16 and, I have no doubt, technically “obese” according to the evil BMI charts of wrongness (not that I would ever submit myself to be judged by such criteria), I can confidently assert that I’m a better role model for young women than any of Girls Aloud. This opinion was backed up today by the Daily Mail Online, who seem to have momentarily (and rather refreshingly) spared us all their usual penchant for unforgiving body fascism and deigned to concede that, just perhaps, Nadine Coyle and Cheryl Cole might be a tad too thin (although I did notice they couldn’t resist mentioning the “obesity crisis” once. Old habits die hard).

I need to clarify my stance – Since during my recent visit to a high school in Walsall, I stated that I did not particularly think Cheryl Cole was anything to aspire to and was greeted by gasps of disbelief and 16 year old girls frantically fanning themselves and swooning with shock left, right and centre (almost. Although, interestingly, at the University everyone agreed with me so I suppose CC worship might just be a fleeting right-of-passage style phase all young women are currently destined to go through). To be absolutely clear: I do not hate Cheryl Cole. I don’t hate any of Girls Aloud band members, particularly (I reserve that strength of emotion for people who deserve something more than my nonchalance). What I object to are the unseen external forces they have clearly been subjected to which have forced them to conform to the “never too rich or skinny” prototype. I hate what they represent. They are, without a shadow of a doubt bad role models, but this isn’t necessarily their fault.

Liz Jones, the Mail Online journo was absolutely right when she said “alongside No. 1 singles and sell-out concerts comes responsibility” however, it’s the industry generally which needs to acknowledge that responsibility not these poor, shrinking, malnourished girls who are merely pawns in a much larger, more sinister machine.

Furthermore, pointing the finger at any celebrity and accusing them of perpetuating anorexia is not only reductive, it’s willfully missing the point – We cannot keep placing sticking plasters over something which is a much wider issue in a society which has its priorities all wrong. After all, if we didn’t heap such utterly disproportionate amounts of adulation, wealth and fame on people whose talents are limited to miming and being a human coat hanger, then would it really matter how thin they were?

In my capacity as a Body Confidence campaigner working with young people, I’ve noticed that girls want to be thin, not because they equate thinness with beauty, but because they see it as a fast track to all the success, wealth and love that they crave. In a climate where many of them come from broken homes and even more are destined to be unemployed, even if they do achieve the qualifications which they are told are the be-all-and-end-all, who can blame them for searching for a more instantly gratuitous track to everything they have been missing?

Performers usually crave fame because they are emotionally unstable to begin with, for whatever reason – It might be a cliché but it’s also usually true. Most creative people will admit that their talent was born out of some sort of personal tragedy, usually in their childhood, which left them feeling undervalued – “Applause fills the hole in my soul” as Krusty the Clown said on The Simpsons. People who feel invisible, insecure, unappreciated and unlovable also tend to be prime candidates for eating disorders. The two things go hand in hand. Rather than berating celebrities for something which is their natural tendency why don’t we 1) give them the help they need and 2) stop looking to them for diet and lifestyle tips? After all, they are singers, models, WAGs and IT girls, not nutrition, style or fitness experts. When we relegate our entertainers to the correct pecking order, in the scheme of life (i.e. below, rather than above, Nobel peace prize winners, scientists, philosophers, scholars, soldiers, nurses etc), young people will stop trying to emulate them. Simples.

To read the Daily Mail article click: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1257927/Girls-Aloud-Britains-successful-girl-band--suddenly-skinniest-too.html#ixzz0iEzCXk7t

On the delightful, sun-filled train journey to the picturesque little village which is home to my parents, I saw a woman who absolutely fascinated me.

She must have been in her 70s, with a wizened little face and an extremely frail frame, although she was nicely dressed in a waist cinching number and court shoes. Either her hairdresser was a magician, or she was wearing a wig – A voluminous, shiny affair, with a high crown and cascading ringlets in various colours falling to just below her shoulders. Think Dot Cotton with Dolly Parton’s barnet. Luckily, I was wearing sunglasses, which allowed me to feed my fascination by staring at her like David Attenborough observing a beetle for the best part of the 15 minute journey.

I guessed that she had been very attractive back in her heyday and that she had learned the art of makeup artistry in the 1960s, failing to adapt it since. I watched as she applied a heavy, very pale foundation, several layers of black and grey eye-shadow and heavy handedly began lining her lips with a neural shade. The result was horrific, in a kind of can’t-tear-my-eyes-away type way. This, I thought to myself, is what happens when women refuse to acknowledge the ageing process.

The prevailing social attitude of “youth = beauty” is symptomatic of exactly the same phenomenon which encourages young women so starve themselves right back to child-like proportions. Projects like Body Gossip are working to introduce more diversity into the beauty spectrum – but that isn’t limited to body shapes, it also extends to races and ages we aren’t used to seeing in the public eye. That’s why my delight at the above Daily Mail article was somewhat tarnished when I subsequently clicked on this one:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1257962/The-future-face-40-Botox-fillers-high-tech-face-creams-mean-Big-Four-0-doesnt-look-like-used-to.html

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