I was lying in the bath this morning feeling a little repulsed by my giant jelly belly and I couldn’t help but hear the song ‘Keep Young & Beautiful’ over and over in my head.
I had no idea of the lyrics except for that horrendously misogynistic chorus refrain “it’s your duty to be beautiful”. But a quick Google search revealed it gets a lot worse. “Oh, a slim little waist is a pleasure. And a trim little limb is divine”.
As women, we are so often defined by our appearance. You’d think things might have moved on a bit since the 1930s but take a look at any magazine or website and if it’s not “alarmingly bony ribcage”, it’s “VERY pert posterior”, “super-skinny frame”, “voluptuous curves” or “ripped physique”.
OMG – she’s too fat!
OMG – she’s too thin!
Erm…does ‘she’ have anything to say? Maybe she has a brain or she’s highly accomplished.
You just don’t get the same volume of stories about men’s looks. I can’t remember any news article commenting on Philip May’s natty tie or crisp trouser suit and no mention of any snazzy brogues. But the column inches on Theresa May’s kitten heels or thigh high leather boots just keep coming.
If I was Angelina Jolie (I can dream!) I’d be disgusted by the constant commentating on my figure. She is a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador and has won the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. Jolie also founded the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation dedicated to community development and environmental conservation in Cambodia, the Education Partnership for Children of Conflict, which funds education for children affected by man-made or natural disasters and she worked with Microsoft to set up the Kids in Need of Defense, a group of law firms and volunteers who have committed to giving legal counsel for immigrant kids in the US. But she gets more press for her “scary-skinny”, “stick thin”, “frighteningly frail” frame.
I’ve spent most of my life being judged on my appearance, sometimes being disparaged for looking ugly, spotty, nerdy, porky. And other times being treated like having a fairly symmetrical face, glossy hair and a decent cleavage meant I was somehow superior to other people. And either way, inside, I was riddled with angst, insecure and paranoid.
For most of my teens I looked like the bastard love child of Deirdre Barlow and Michael Jackson. I just made sure I had plenty of personality to make up for my lack of looks but I think it’s fair to say that if ‘snog, marry or avoid’ had been invented, it’s pretty obvious which category I would have been voted into.
I have fairly thin skin and while you can pretend you don’t notice, it does hurt to be judged on your appearance. I remember a comment from a boy at school “I’d have her body but you’d have to cut off the head first”.
And you know what, I could have coped with that.
But what I couldn’t stand was fast forward about two years and the same boy apparently thought I was ‘hot’. OK so I had ditched the Deidre glasses and grown my hair but I was actually the same bloody person underneath it all! The one he wouldn’t have touched with a barge pole.
Hence the cynicism. Which then continued on into uni.
By then I probably was ‘hot’. Long curly hair, size 8-10, 5′ 7″, slightly strange dress sense mainly involving my oxblood DMs. I didn’t realise I was attractive though, I still felt like the geeky outcast. I certainly wasn’t walking around feeling all ‘hot’ and it’s only with hindsight that I even realised what I had and have now almost lost.
And yes there was a minuscule part of me that was flattered about the amount of attention I got from men but my overriding feeling was one of disdain for the male sex. (Yes mum that’s probably why I didn’t have a boyfriend as a teen, not because I was gay.)
One of my favorite t-shirts at the time had a slogan across the chest saying ‘All this’ and underneath ‘and brains too’. What I really wanted was to take any guy who showed the slightest interest in me, and shake him until he acknowledged that he was a superficial git. Because I was always convinced that they were. Perhaps it was a sweeping generalisation but I did seem to spend a good deal of time talking to men whose eyes were firmly fixed on my chest, glazed expression, no idea what I was saying.
Then along came the Spice Girls trying to reinvigorate mainstream feminism.
The phrase “girl power” is used as a term of female empowerment, independence, and self-sureness. Girl power expressed a cultural phenomenon of the 1990s and early 2000s. Source: Wikipedia
And while I can’t fault the sentiment, it seemed that you couldn’t just be empowered and independent. You still had to be sexy and attractive. Hell I even dressed up like a Spice Girl. And it never went away. Fast forward a few years and we were all getting the hang of judging a book by it’s cover.
Anyone who had access to a computer and a dial up Internet connection 15 years ago probably came across the site ‘Am I Hot or Not?’ Users would submit photographs of themselves and people would rate their attractiveness on a scale of 1 – 10.
And today we live in a ‘selfie’ culture, everyone asking for approval for their looks. Like my picture? ‘Like’ my picture.
And for some, the duck face pout, Vaseline filter and subdued lighting isn’t enough. The pursuit of perfection has gone south. Anyone for a designer vagina, full Hollywood or a vajazzle? What a bundle of contradictions we are. Take me seriously, listen to what I say but first let me prune my lady garden, put on some lippy and adjust my padded bra.
However since the look I currently sport is ‘harassed looking middle aged mum who needs her roots done and could do with losing half a stone’, these days I’d probably be quite glad of anyone who was actually interested in my body rather than my mind!
And as I like to say, a trim little limb might be divine, but when you’re old and grey (oi! watch it) personality tops it everytime.