Questioning the new beauty lessons for girls

Dear Teenage Girls of Britain

You know those models you look at in magazines? The ones you’d kill to look like? Well, here’s some news: they don’t look that perfect in real life. They’re still ultra-skinny, with amazing bone structure (don’t think for a minute that you could look that good). Even so, in the cold light of day, without all those stylists, makeup artists, hairdressers, airbrushing experts etc., models don’t look quite as model-y. Got that? For some reason, this statement of the obvious is supposed to boost your self-esteem (and if it hasn’t, that means there’s something wrong with you).

In what might be described as the beauty industry equivalent of greenwashing, Vogue magazine has just followed in the footsteps of Dove in making a commitment to “educate” girls about beauty. Because girls really need educating, don’t they? There’s nothing like breaking a person’s self-esteem before selling a substandard version back to them (real beauty just isn’t real beauty without “beautiful underarms”, is it?). Continue reading


On Dove, shampoo and self-esteem

This evening I am the parody of a spoilt middle-class feminist who can’t stop herself from getting in a tizz about relatively minor stuff. Oh yes, I am in a strop about a hair care advert. And yes, I know it’s not [insert your favourite “properly” bad thing to happen to women – MRAs are especially good at this]. But still, every now and then, providing you’re in a position to do so, it’s worth getting annoyed about the small stuff, if only because the small stuff remains really sodding annoying.

I’ve just been watching Dove’s latest advert for shampoo. It’s special shampoo because it repairs damage to your hair follicles, smoothing over all the rubbish bits using only the power of science and one quarter moisturiser (which is, as we all know, one of the key elements in the periodic table). Anyhow, I can’t find a link to it so you’ll have to trust me on this. In all probability the shampoo’s amazing. It wasn’t that that irritated me. It was the fact that because they weren’t advertising something linked to bodies or skin or ageing, Dove couldn’t be bothered to slum it with ‘real’ women in their ad. There wasn’t a single minor flaw that isn’t really a flaw only now you’ll think it is because Dove’s made such a big deal of it in sight. This lack of consistency really pissed me off. Either patronize us one way or another. You can’t do both! Continue reading

Anti-feminist, transphobic, just plain nasty: I think I’ve just found the worst diet book ever!

People, behold! For I have made a great discovery. I have in my hands this very minute the worst diet book EVER!

<dramatic pause>

Now admittedly, I’ve not read all the other diet books available. In fact, I haven’t read very many at all. I’ve been on loads of diets but tend to go for kamikaze, self-devised ones (I might self-publish a book of them one day). However, I fail to believe that any other diet book can possibly be as bad as Dukan: Love Your Curves.

I started reading this book while waiting in a queue at the post office. My local post office happens to be inside WHSmiths so I decided to grab a random book I had no intention of purchasing to distract me during the wait. Rest assured I was under no illusions that Dukan: Love Your Curves would be a self-esteem boosting tome that would encourage me to adore my own arse. I’ve fallen for this crap before. I’m wise to it. Two years ago I bought Gary Taubes’ The Diet Delusion, thinking it would strengthen my resolve not to buy into this diet nonsense any longer. Turns out The Diet Delusion is merely the belief that any diet other than a low-carb one is the way forward. It’s rather like if Richard Dawkins were to stop midway through The God Delusion and go “aha! But as for fairies, you should totally believe in them! I do, don’t I, Tink?” Continue reading

Girls! Get yourself some nutrients!

Hey girls, fancy some nutrients? Not from eating, obviously. That might lead to mid-afternoon sluggishness or mess with your blood sugar or whatever the new euphemism for “make you into a fat, ugly pig” happens to be. What I mean is, get some nutrients through your body lotion. It’s so the way forward.

You may laugh, but using body lotion is a big step for me. At the height of my anorexia I didn’t use body lotions or bath oils or any such “indulgent” things. I was, quite seriously, worried that the oil would sink in through my skin, get into my bloodstream and create more fat cells. What a total moron, eh? Guess who didn’t do GCSE biology? But still, it’s good that I’m over that and can look forward to “nourishing” myself with the appropriate beauty products in future.

Yesterday evening I was walking home from Bargain Booze, a bottle of wine in my rucksack and the Milky Way Magic Stars bought for my sons stuffed into my gob (btw, not deliberately trying to pose as shit mum from Shitsville here – just setting the scene). Anyhow, it turns out that close to my house there’s a billboard advertising a new Dove body lotion with the tagline “The Dove lotion with nutrients that last 10 days”. 10 days! Can you imagine? (The advert also contains a photo of the classic Dove “real” woman ie one who could be a model except for one minor flaw. This one has gappy teeth. Still, she looks happy because she’s feeling good about herself. It’s the “nutrients”, y’see. That and not being a total minger).

The advert doesn’t tell you precisely what the nutrients are. For all we know, the lotion’s one quarter lard. Does it matter? ‘Course it doesn’t. We’re Real Women(tm), not fucking scientists. It’s not like we give a toss as long as we’re smothered in the stuff and feeling sufficiently “pampered” to endure the endless wait til it’s possible to even attempt putting our tights back on (NB no one ever discusses the agony of nylon friction, but they should. Worse than PMS, I reckon).

Of course, with this type of ad you have to read the small print. This enables you to think “ha! I’ve read the small print which proves I’m not a moron who buys just anything!” (then you tend to buy just anything, apart from things without small print). In the case of the Dove advert, the small print says “Based on clinical trials with applications of 3 times a day”. Clinical trials! That sounds good, doesn’t it? The “3 times a day” bit sounds a little hardcore, though. I’m not even sure I always remember to give myself the obligatory Brazilian three times a day. But then I worked it out. Nutrients? Three times a day? It’s meal replacement body lotion. Got to be.

Ensuring that girls get their three meals a day is no doubt part of the whole Dove strategy of bringing self-esteem education to girls via the purchase of Dove products. It’s just this kind of altruism which saw Dove come top in the advertising category at the Campaign for Body Confidence Awards last week. I mean, adverts such as this might still freak out stupid anorexics who didn’t do GCSE science, but that’s probably fewer girls than you’d think. Particularly since the introduction of the English Baccalaureate.

Anyhow, tomorrow I’ll be stocking the larder with Dove.* Of course, there is also a broader moral to this tale, otherwise I wouldn’t be telling it to you. And the moral is this: next time you can’t be arsed to go to Bargain Booze and are tempted to drink the cheapo brandy left over from Christmas, force yourselves, girls. Get up off that sofa and move. You never know what you might find.

* I don’t really have a larder. It’ll be the kitchen cupboard and the desk drawer in my office, although the latter’s still cool, since putting “indulgent treats” in there will make me a bit like the girl off the Special K ad.

Anyone for clever conversations?

Every day, without fail, I get a shit song going round my head. Even worse, usually it’s a Cbeebies theme tune. Yesterday I branched out a bit and managed to achieve a Balamory / What’s the story morning glory? mash-up, which I actually considered quite inspired. Today it’s back to the same old crap. Only today it’s not Cbeebies. It’s Billy Joel singing Just the way you are.

That song is AWFUL. One backhanded compliment after another. The worst bit is when he tells his beloved that hey, he doesn’t mind the fact that she’s thick:

I don’t want clever conversations

I never want to work that hard

I just want someone that I can talk to

I love you just the way you are

Well, I’m sorry Mr Joel, that might be fine with you, but it’s not for me. If I did not at least aspire to be capable of “clever conversations”, I’d feel pretty disappointed in me “just the way I am”.

The whole message of Just the way you are – in essence, you’re pretty unexceptional but it’s good enough for me – reminds me of the whole Real Woman ™ marketing strategy so beloved of Dove, Boots and the like. Hey girls, we know you don’t look like Keira Knightley. That’s okay. We’ll still let you buy our stuff.

Dove have an advert for “firming body lotion” which tells us “let’s face it, firming the thighs of a size 8 supermodel is no challenge”. Yay! Go Dove! Unfortunately, I’m less impressed at being told I don’t need to be a size 8 (which actually I am, albeit at 5ft and with no other supermodel attributes), than I am pissed off at the suggestion that, naturally, my thighs must need firming. Firming for what? They’re just thighs, they’re fine. It’s not like I’m balanced precariously on two leg-shaped pillars of jelly, about to collapse at any moment.

Clearly there is the assumption that there is some level of improvement to which I must aspire. It’s not perfection as in days of yore (Helena Rubenstein’s classic “there are no ugly women, only lazy ones”). But in some ways, I’d rather it was. I’d rather be told to work my arse off to look like Claudia Shiffer than be told to work my arse off to look, well, passable. Because in any case, I’m not going to work my arse off at all. None of us can. We don’t have the time, money and, one would hope, the inclination to do all the crazy things we’re told to do.

When I was at college the Eating Disorders society put some stickers on the toilet doors proclaiming “Only 8 women in the world look like supermodels. Don’t think thin, think different”. It was well meant, sure, but I couldn’t help thinking, every time I saw it, that it kind of proved the supermodels were the “different” ones. And yeah, I would quite like to be different in some way. Not necessarily by being beautiful – I’m not completely deluded – nor even, more broadly, by looking a particular way. I’d just rather not be told “don’t worry about being mediocre – hey, nearly all of us are!”.

Anyhow, that’s probably just me having ideas above my station again. I’m no different from the Dove women, only I use the wrong deodorant and hence don’t have “beautiful” underarms, so effectively I’m just that little bit worse.

As a plus point, I’ve no longer got Billy Joel in my head. It’s switched to Good Enough by Dodgy. Personally, I still prefer yesterday’s Oasis-Cbeebies combo.

What’s the story in Balamory – yeeeeeeeeaaah!

From now on I’m washing my face in Windolene

Every time we drive up to see my partner’s parents, it involves crossing the River Dove. We always tell the kids “that’s one quarter moisturiser, you know”. Geddit? Well, it always makes us laugh…


I am thinking about Dove because, for some reason, an advert on Facebook is inviting me to “See how the Dove Self-Esteem Foundation is tackling self-esteem in schools”. And do you know, I just can’t resist. There, watched it (and accidentally “liked” it. Bugger). Thankfully all the girls in the video are blandly attractive. And thanks to the Dove campaign, it appears they won’t stop doing the sports they enjoy, whereas in the past they might have done so due to worries about how they looked. That’s good, right? Keeps them in their bathing suits and leotards AND keeps them slim enough to look acceptable in them. God knows what Dove would have done with nine-year old me, though (there is Real Beauty and there is early onset adolescence, and never the twain shall meet).

To be honest, I find the chutzpah of the Self-Esteem Foundation quite breathtaking. The Dove website is even worse. I mean, they’ve been doing this Campaign for Real Beauty for years, but it still just blows me away. Here are some choice quotes, just in case you’re in any doubt as to whose side they’re on:

You can make a difference. Buy any Dove product to help give a girl a self-esteem education.

Or tell her not to pay any attention to crap cosmetics adverts. The kind that tell her which products to buy so she can give herself a self-esteem education…

Here at Dove we uphold one central belief above all others: every woman is beautiful …

Well, it’s good to get your priorities right. And thank you, Dove, I’m flattered …

… And with the help of skin care, nutrition, lifestyle and a good mood, every woman can feel even better about herself.

Dammit, I knew there had to be a catch! Look, I’ll cut down on the Creme Eggs, but there’s no way I’m having “a good mood”. But hey, what “skin care” would you be suggesting? It wouldn’t be the sort with one quarter moisturiser, would it? (because moisturiser is, like, an essential element on the periodic table, and not something that cosmetics manufacturers invented to market alongside soap anyhow…).

Treat yourself to at least one relaxing, pampering activity per week, be it a bubble bath flanked by candles, a facial or a movie rental marathon at home.

A facial! Yesssssss! You know, some nights, it gets to bedtime and I just can’t be arsed to remove my makeup and faff about with all those potions and stuff. But somehow, if I make the whole process last several times as long, it becomes this wonderful, relaxing, rejuvenating experience. Funny, that.

Well, enough of the website. The thing I love most about Dove, though, is the mirror advert. Have you seen it? Dove asks some women to wash a mirror in Dove soap (sorry, “beauty bar”), and others to wash one in normal soap and ONLY THE SOAP LEAVES A RESIDUE! And the women who’ve washed their mirrors with soap are VERY UPSET! Because it means that if you wash your face in soap you will get this horrid residue on you or something except you probably won’t because your face is not a mirror but hey, I’m not taking any chances.

From now on I’m washing my face in Windolene.