Monday, 13 August 2012

'This Morning' Debate - Laura Summers -v- Me

Earlier today I once again pootled off to ITV studios to appear on This Morning’s daily debate (and sat my (considerably larger) bottom on the exact spot on the sofa Nicola Roberts had vacated just moments earlier).

I’ve contributed to This Morning debates before without much incident – As a card-carrying feminist with a ‘softly-softly for fear of denting the male ego’ approach I seem to be a palatable sort for the viewing public to observe whilst munching their toast.

That was until….uhm….this morning. I appeared opposite Laura Summers, a young woman who has spent in excess of £60,000 on cosmetic procedures, apparently in response to having been bullied at school.

Here we are:

She argued that she’d rather have surgery than pay her mortgage (because you can't take your house with you into a nightclub) and that her various tweaks had opened a gateway to an ‘amazing’ life, because people respond so much better towards her now. She has also said in the national press that she believes herself to be a good role model for young women.

Owing chiefly to the opinions outlined above, I fully expected to hate her. In the flesh, however, Laura is rather likeable and extremely vulnerable, the combination of which inspires the sort of mentality which makes you want to nestle her to your bosom and stroke her hair. I refrained from doing either, you’ll be pleased to know.

However, none of this changes my opinion on plastic surgery for purely cosmetic purposes. I don’t ‘hate’ or ‘judge’ individuals who chose to go down this route (despite what some Twitter users and the Daily Mail misguidedly seem to believe) but I DO hate and judge a society which makes women (and, increasingly, men) feel that they need to butcher and mutilate themselves in order to be attractive, valued and acceptable.

As anyone who has ever been to the pub with me can testify, I’m forever harping on about the ‘Spectrum of Beauty’ – My vision for a future where everyone is acknowledged in our notion of attractiveness, which includes a huge variety of ages, races, shapes and sizes. After all, any sensible person knows that there is more than one way to be gorgeous.

My issue with cosmetic surgery and its increasing availability is that it’s a way for people to conform to an ever narrower beauty ideal. And the more people choose to conform, the narrower our ideas about attractiveness will become. During my lifetime I have seen beauty paradigms become more and more restrictive and extreme. The result is a generation who think that botox, fake lips, fake bosoms and fake tans are the ticket to all the things they aspire to in life – wealth, popularity, acceptance, success. This isn’t necessarily their fault - A lot of the messages we’re getting from the media, advertising and society generally back up these views – but that doesn’t make it right.

Someone has to take a stand and that person, it seems, shall be me. So often I’ve been told I’m ‘almost beautiful’ – A few ‘tweaks’ would no doubt catapult me to the giddy heights of looking a little bit like a glamour model. It would have been so easy for me to succumb to the ever-present pressure to botox the lines which have suddenly appeared in my 31 year old face or to get a tummy tuck to reverse the aesthetic effect of the operation I had there which has left a scar – but what sort of an example would I be setting?

I was not born confident (or perhaps I was, but my infant confidence was swiftly squished by the world we live in). The road to self-acceptance has been long and it has not been easy. I, too, have battled demons, but I don’t use that as an excuse to sacrifice everything that makes me unique and individual at the alter of capitalism. I am not ‘perfect’ – but perfection is an ever-changing concept in any case. Start moulding yourself to what society tells you is beautiful and you will (quite literally) be on that treadmill forever.

When did fashion and beauty stop being fun? When did it stop being about girly nights giggling in front of the mirror surrounded by lip glosses and glasses of chardonnay and start being about general anaesthetic?

I stand by what I said – In succumbing to plastic surgery Laura let the bullies win. I too was subject to nasty remarks at school (I think we all were, weren’t we?) and take immense pride that my gangly limbed, mixed race, eyes-slightly-too-far-back-in-my-head, size 16 self is now writing books, appearing on television and has her own business. I didn’t need to eradicate the physical ‘flaws’ others saw in me in order to make a success of myself and neither should anyone.

The Olympics have shown us how hard work, dedication and perseverance can reap rewards. The fact that Jessica Ennis also has a magnificent bottom is an unexpected bonus. It’s what her body can DO that’s the primary consideration. Let’s use role models like Jessica, as well as those who have excelled in intellectual endeavours, to give young women something more to aspire to than being sexually attractive to the opposite sex, or looking vaguely like something they’ve seen in a magazine.

I will defend until my dying breath people’s right to do whatever they want with their bodies, but I also reserve the right to question what their chosen modifications say about the society that we live in. I do not have a problem with makeup, hair dye, piercings or tattoos. These things help us to establish our individuality. Neither do I take issue with plastic surgery for genuine medical reasons. I DO have a problem with boob jobs for purely cosmetic purposes, the inexplicable desire to inject poison actually into one’s face in the form of botox and a host of other things which are all about the quest to conform.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – how one looks is the icing on the cake, not the sponge. Exist on a diet of just icing for too long and its saccharine sweetness will make you sick.

Be the best version of you.