Tuesday, 29 June 2010

The Big Breast Debate

If there is one thing Western Society doesn’t need, it’s for more of our attention to be focused on boobs. However, the nation’s cleavages were once again thrust into the limelight today as the Daily Mail’s Bel Mooney published a witty and well-reasoned repost to Kathryn Blundell’s controversial article in a magazine for new mothers, which declared breast feeding to be ‘creepy’.

Now, I’m going to preface my contribution to the Great Boob Debate by telling you what qualifies me as a brexpert (breast expert). My tits are close to my heart, both physically, figuratively, metaphorically and symbolically. No one can fathom from wence they came, being as I am the product of two Dynasties of Modest Curves. Inexplicably, after my recovery from anorexia in 1996, I literally woke up one morning with a magnificent chest, totally out of proportion with my frame (or at least that’s how it seemed at the time). At university, I soon became known as ‘the girl with the boobs’ and celebrated and lamented them in equal measure, as I attracted admiring glances from the campus’ male dwellers but struggled to be taken seriously in my beloved debating chambers.

Bizarrely, when you consider I was in the grip of a new eating disorder by that stage, I made peace with my plentiful bosom relatively early on. There was (and continues to be) absolutely no disguising them, so I decided to make them a feature. Many years of IRG’s (inappropriately-revealing-garments) later (if you can’t do it in your mid 20s when can you?) and I’m now totally au fait with the art of the modest cleavage. I’m also reconciled to the idea that the vast majority of heterosexual males find my breasts unfathomably fascinating.

My chest was thrust upon me and as such became part of my identity (although it doesn’t totally eclipse it, fortunately). It’s usually the first thing people notice about me, and forms an element of their descriptions of me. If I devote any time to counterbalancing any subsequent bimbo assumptions, I do it so utterly unconsciously that I haven’t noticed. I’m quite happy to acknowledge that “yes, they’re huge” (34H in case you’re wondering) before moving onto the next, infinitely more interesting subject.

Having said all of the above, I do, perhaps surprisingly, have some rather strong views on the way women’s chests are sexualized and perceived and I’m thoroughly opposed to breast implants for solely cosmetic reasons. Working with teenagers is a fantastic eye-opener in this regard. Whereas men my age are, as a general rule, adverse to the idea of dome-like, rigid, plastic bosoms, guys in their teens and early twenties appear to regard them as normal. They can hardly be blamed for this. When was the last time you saw a natural looking breast in a magazine, on the internet or on television? Even those ever-decreasing minority of celebs who haven’t succumbed to the allure of plastic surgery (hang your head in shame at your glaringly obvious departure from this minority, SJP) are edited in post production so that their cups positively runneth over, and apparently they’ve now runneth’d as far as the general expectation of the collective male minds.

Girls as young as 12 are now asking their parents for birthday boob jobs, so conditioned are they by the idea that massive boobs = instant attractiveness. Once, it was relatively unusual to see implants in real life. Now, they’re as normal as fake nails (with the crucial difference of course that one cannot simply remove them at the end of the night). Again, it’s what this represents, rather than the girls themselves, that I resent (I don’t walk around emanating transparent hatred for the great plastic masses, just mild pity) – i.e. the terrifying departure we are making from natural beauty into the realms of cyborg-like uniformity.

Newsflash, boys: Sorry to disappoint but breasts are for babies. They are there to nourish our offspring first and foremost and your mysterious ability to derive sexual pleasure out of them is a secondary factor (and in my case, an unexpected bonus). Blundell’s article, which placed the blame for her aversion to breastfeeding at the door of, to paraphrase, not wanting droppy tits, is not only a testament to our increasingly aesthetic obsessed society, it’s also vaguely pathetic. There I was thinking I was, to an extent, defined by my breasts and here is a woman so chest-centrically-obsessed she is prepared to sacrifice the wellbeing of her own children in her quest for perkiness.

Bel Mooney hits the nail squarely and spectacularly on the head with her observation that this is an example of our changing (for the worse) attitudes towards femininity and you can read her article by clicking http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1290442/BEL-MOONEY-How-sad-mothers-seen-sex-objects-breastfeed-child.html.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Julien MacDonald - Face. Bovvered.

Now, far be it for me to suggest for one moment that Julien MacDonald made his recent remarks in the press about plus size models being a ‘joke’ to raise publicity for the impending televisual flop which is Britain’s Next Top Model (the American version can be vaguely amusing, if you enjoy your soul slowly being sucked out of your eyes in a tornado of vacuous cattiness- but does anyone actually watch the British version?)……However, he quite obviously did.

I’m therefore not going to devote a great deal of my time to explaining WHY his remarks are idiotic (as I credit the readers of my blog with enough intelligence to figure that out for themselves).

I will merely say this: MacDonald represents the kind of archaic, head-in-my-own-posterior mentality which is, mercifully, gradually being stamped out in the fashion industry. In the meantime, he should stick to designing for Debenhams. After all, perhaps if he devoted a little more time to considering designs which would flatter real women they wouldn’t have to reduce his line by 70% every sale season just to shift it off the shelves.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Why the Beauty Issue is More than Skin Deep

Yesterday evening I attended the Ogunte Women’s Social Leadership Awards on behalf of Ruth Rogers, who had been finalized in the ‘Campaigns’ category for Body Gossip (woo!). I wore my lucky hot pink suede stilettos, and as such was confident she’d scoop the prestigious gong, but sadly on this occasion, they remained merely fabulous footwear and didn’t work their usual magic (we was robbed). I did, however, feel right at home in a room populated entirely with women incredibly passionate about social change and prepared to chew your ear right off in order to achieve it.

Most of these women were incredible, inspiring and equally interested in our campaign as I was in there’s. One of them, conversely, shocked me with her rudimentary understanding of Body Gossip. She lollopped up to me, examined my name tag and remarked in tones dripping with sarcasm ‘oh yes, Body Gossip, that’s people moaning about their bodies isn’t it? Like it’s the end of the World if you don’t like your body. Ha!’. Momentarily stunned I simply replied ‘not exactly, no’.

I was then treated to what was obviously a very well-rehearsed 20 minute rant about climate change, how no one appreciates the urgency, how it’s the most pressing social issue in today’s society, the root of most natural disaster and human tragedy and of course the implication of all this being that Body Gossip paled into insignificance by comparison.

I felt my 18 year old self (the champion Oxford Union debater) stir within me. I tried to placate her by eating black 4 olives on a skewer. She wasn’t having any of it. Olives were apparently no substitute for the joy of a decisive rebuttal. Finally, I turned to face this walking mass of self-righteousness straight on and said ‘perhaps there are issues which you perceive to be more worthy than body image. However, I think you will find most people are far too crippled with insecurity and self-loathing to give a tiny little rats arse about the environment, so perhaps you had better jump on board, love’.

I then treated her to a catwalk style pivot, head swish and onward saunter, if only to demonstrate that there is no law against pioneering for social change AND conditioning your hair.

If history has taught us anything, it is that sweeping issues under the proverbial rug is the least effective means possible of solving them. We might not like to think of ourselves as the kind of ‘superficial’ people who might get swept into life-crippling body image obsession, but until we face our demons, we’ll be rendered incapable of thinking about much else, including, but not limited to, climate change.

Attempting to abstain from society, opting out, not getting on the celebrity worship merry-go-round and snorting derisively at the entire situation doesn’t help either. The fact is that we live in a world where an estimated 30% of young men and 70% of young women cite their relationship with their body as their number 1 worry. These young people have the potential to be anything (they could even go on to be scientists who discover an alternative for current fuels, you will note, Climate Change Lady), but they are flittering away this potential by pouring their energy into obtaining an elusive ‘perfect’ aesthetic. 1 in 10 people under the age of 25 allow this to develop into an eating disorder, with millions more opting to exhibit their dissatisfaction in other ways (body dysmorphia, depression, self harm, alcohol abuse etc).

Whilst perhaps not as dramatic as a natural disaster, lack of self esteem is, undoubtedly, killing people. Furthermore, however much we dislike admitting it, we are all responsible for the state of society and we all have a responsibility to fix it.

Would I consider campaigning for climate change? Absolutely. But I’m going to work on the self esteem and mindset of as many young people in this country as I can first.

After all, everyone has a different passion. Mine is ensuring teenagers are allowed to fulfill their potential and succeed in their chosen field without having their lives blighted by the physical and emotional problems which accompany low body confidence (and getting the diagnostic criteria for eating disorders changed…… and enlightening people about the genius of David Bowie…….. but those are for other days). Ruth’s is ensuring real people’s body stories are given a powerful voice, so that we can appreciate natural and realistic beauty. Climate Change Lady’s is saving the environment. No one is more worthy or urgent than the other. Just like there’s room for all types of bodies in the beauty spectrum, there’s room for all sorts of causes in the concept of social change.

So, the moral of the story is, if you wish to confront me and question everything I stand for at a public event, please feel free to do so, but do be prepared to be put down spectacularly by Oxford Union Girl (I cannot control her, I’m sorry, she is a force unto herself) and then to be the subject of one of my blog-rants. Don’t say you have not been warned.