It has come to my attention that Chantelle Houghton is struggling to lose her “baby weight”. Chantelle – the woman famous for not being famous, and hence a postmodern symbol for something or other – features on the covers of New! and Now, looking like a normal person with a stomach and therefore totally rubbish. New magazine even quotes her as saying “this is the worst time of my life – I can’t stop comfort eating”. If, like me, you happen to clock this headline while on your way to purchasing something far more serious (such as cheesecake), you’d be forgiven for thinking “well boo sodding hoo! Some of us have real problems” (such as the absence of cheesecake). In the grand scheme of things, Chantelle’s belly is a non-issue, so why am I still thinking about it at all?
Magazine covers such as these ones really piss me off. They’re sexist, spiteful and bullying. They’re also meant to be trivial, yet they don’t feel trivial to me. There’s something deeply wrong with an environment in which these images and headlines are peddled as entertainment. Moreover, the effect such magazines can have on the self-esteem of young women can be appalling. I think all this yet I don’t bother to say it very often. Mention it and you just get dragged into a debate about the legitimacy of caring at all.
Attacking women’s glossies can be a lucrative – witness the popularity and ensuing book deal won by The Vagenda. All the same, as feminist projects go, it’s become quite a specialist area and an embarrassing one to boot. Rather like the whole yummy mummies debate, it’s somewhere you tend not to want to go if you mean business. It reeks of privilege and a focus on the trivial as opposed to the broader picture. Indeed, much of the criticism of the No More Page 3 campaign is couched in these terms. Whenever the “unimportant” end of sexism and objectification is challenged, the same old criticisms come up and it’s hard not to shrink before them.
Mention that Heat, Glamour, Marie Claire etc. are peddling hateful, oppressive nonsense and you will encounter all of the following arguments, none of which address your original proposition:
- if you don’t like it, don’t buy it
- they’re mostly written by women so women can’t complain
- celebrities are fair game – that’s how they make their money
- there are more important things in the world than celebrity mags
- banning these things would be censorship
- only stupid people are influenced by this rubbish
- but then what *snigger* would middle-class female journalists have to moan about?
I was going to address each of these in turn, but I can’t actually be bothered. They’re all irrelevant. I don’t for a minute think we should be banning magazines such as Now, but I do think it should be permissible to get into a discussion about the spiteful attitudes they promote without having to spend the whole time defending this as a legitimate topic of conversation.
Of course it is legitimate to point out that holding up post-natal female bodies for ridicule and creating salacious narratives out of body dysmorphic distress deserves to be challenged. Of course any magazine reinforcing the distorted beliefs of people with eating disorders needs to be criticised. And yes, to some it might feel like such criticisms are never-ending but I can’t help thinking we all benefit from having this sort of thing in the ether – a small corrective, at best. Anyhow, back to Chantelle and her tummy. It looks like a tummy and she looks sad, but this might all be because she’s happened to breath out and the camera’s caught her at a bad moment. Anyhow, it’s a tummy and it’s attached to a real, live person, not just a postmodern celebrity phenomenon. And I guess if we realised this Chantelle might be in need of a new job – but we’d all be better for it.