Friday, 25 November 2011

Everybody's Free (to wear sunscreen)

Vintage movie soundtrack devotees of yesteryear (I’m doing my best to work my way around the phrase ‘people who are a little bit old’) will remember the track which defined the summer of 1997 –Baz Lurhman’s ‘Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen’.

For those still relentlessly sipping at the fontain of youth, I’ll elaborate – The track involves a marvellously malefluous, wise-sounding American type addresses the ‘ladies and gentlemen of the class of nine-y-n-dee seyveeen’ at a graduation ceremony. He implores them, most persuasively to wear sunscreen and then goes on to dispense a series of nuggets of advice, which have “no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience’. As you would expect, despite the lack of empirical evidence, the wisdom he imparts is more than a little amazeballs. (And this is all set against the background of Prince’s ‘When Dove’s Cry’ as sung by the soulful young Choirboy character from Romeo & Juliet – Which is just one reason why Lurhman is a bit of a genius).

Two lines stick in my mind, in particular. The first is:

“Do one thing every day that scares you”.

I’m fairly sure he doesn’t mean sticking your head out of a moving car window or setting fire to your own knickers. He is referring, I believe, to bravery – The kind which propels you to take an opportunity, or strike up a conversation, or trust your own instinct.

The second is:

“In years to come, you’ll look back on photos of yourself now and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how fabulous you really looked. You are NOT as fat as you think you are”.

This is a photo of me which was taken when I was at the height of my very short-lived straight-sized modelling career, which happened to coincide with the time that my eating disorder really got it claws into my too-weary-to-protest brain (around 2003):

My boyfriend of the time had insisted on taking the photograph in a fruitless attempt to demonstrate that I was being an utter dick (hence the expression on my face). I had, minutes previously refused to leave the house convinced I was fat, hideous and that everyone was looking at me, owing to aforementioned fat hideousness.

In the, to put it politely, confused place that was my headspace at that time, I was a troll. Utterly gruesome. I punished my body for my perception of its (fairly minimal, I now realise) flaws on a daily basis.

I look at that photo now and think that I can only dream of an equivocal sort of hotness. If only I had realised it at the time.

(p.s. There’s a moral to this story. But you’re clever, I’ll allow you to extrapolate it by yourself).

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Plastic Surgery - Another Midnight Debate on Radio 5 Live

So, in a not-at-all weird scenario, tonight I went head-to-head with Body Gossip celebrity ambassador Lizzie Cundy on Radio 5 Live, debating our perceived pros and cons of plastic surgery.

I began my radio appearance (and will begin this blog) with a disclaimer: I do not judge anyone who makes the decision to go under the knife. In my line of work, I’m probably more aware than anyone of the immense social pressure put on individuals to match up to an impossible-to-organically-achieve beauty aesthetic.

However, it’s also my view that all these protestations about ‘personal choice’ by the pro-surgery clan are buying into a myth: That there is any ‘choice’ involved whatsoever.

I will defend the rights of any person to look however they damn well choose. That’s however THEY chose. NOT how our insanely body-conscious culture TELLS them they should look.

Most people would uniformly and unreservedly agree that darker women feeling that they have to bleach their skin in order to emulate Caucasian standards of beauty is morally wrong. At least, one would hope they do. So what is the difference between telling someone that their race or ethnicity is not aesthetically acceptable and telling them that they’re not allowed to have the nose or the breasts nature bestowed them with? (I will concede here that there is a bit of a difference, but hope you will see the point I'm attempting to demonstrate)

Lizzie argued that plastic surgery can make you feel better about yourself. She cited friends who had been bullied for their appearance. I asked: Would it not be better to channel our time and energies into changing attitudes, so people aren’t bullied for their physical appearance in the first place?

Here is what I believe: Life is a gigantic whacking great learning curve. We’re here to grow, emotionally, intellectually spiritually. Part of that is learning self-acceptance. If we opt to have invasive medical procedures as a ‘quick fix’ for our perceived flaws, how are we learning? How are we accepting ourselves?

We have to look beyond the choice of the individual on this subject, too. I have sleepless nights worrying about the effect increasingly accessible cosmetic surgery is having on us as a society. There is more than one way to be beautiful, and more and more people are opting to gamble their health and bank balances, striving to fit a very narrow (and, let’s face it, boring) version of attractive (which, ironically, probably won’t even be en vogue in 20 years time).

Cosmetic surgery is being normalised. Pretty soon it’ll become an expectation. If I wanted to live in a world where having a facelift is as ordinary as wearing foundation I’d move to Hollywood. The vision of a country populated by identikit Barbie and Ken hybrids is hellish enough to rival any horror movie, in my view.

Look at the sex symbols of the 1970s. They all had dodgy teeth, physiques that didn’t belie an age spent in the gym and *whisper it* less than perfectly symmetrical faces. But, they were gorgeous, they were desired and, most crucially, they were UNIQUE.

True gorgeousness comes from working your own unique version of attractive. And that is what I teach as Gossip School. Obviously, I’m not here to tell anyone not to wear makeup, or experiment with hairstyles, or clothing. Hell, do anything that’s easily reversible, or you can wash off with soap and water. You only live once.

But no one should ever be made to apologise for looking like them and that, I fear, is exactly what the cosmetic surgery industry is encouraging us all to do.