Women’s bodies, caught between realness and the internal bra

One of many seemingly trivial things that infuriates me is the sight of the strappy summer top or dress. This is an item of clothing under which most women would want to wear a bra and yet, unless it is the fashion, bra straps are not meant to be on show. Up till now there’s been no real solution to this. Strapless bras slip down, while transparent bra straps have never fooled anyone. However, the bra-free alternative — nipples at your navel — is even worse. So you see these clothes in shop windows and in magazines and after a while you start to think “is it me? Do other women have breasts of helium? Who — apart from the woman who’s buying the smallest size — is meant to wear these things?” It is a mystery and like many fashion-related mysteries, it’s one that will make you feel a failure at womanhood for no reason whatsoever. Continue reading


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

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

Bridget Jones and the delicate art of being a flawed female

Yay! Bridget Jones is back! Finally me and my fellow middle-class mediocrities can breathe a huge sigh of relief. I start to worry when we don’t have enough fictional characters around to legitimise a strictly circumscribed, unimaginative range of female flaws. But now it’s all sorted. All that stuff we worry about – when we’re not worrying about “proper” things, that is – well, we no longer have to worry about worrying about it (we still have to do the primary worrying, mind, but we’ve been let off from extending it into the meta-worries). So from now on, let’s not feel bad about feeling bad about wearing massive pants – let’s just dwell on the pants themselves! And as for not being thin – well, there’s nothing remotely odd about fixating on that. We all do it (unless, unlike Bridget Jones, we are actually fat. Should that be the case, then to all intents and purposes we don’t exist). Continue reading

Thank you, Glamour

This April, the UK edition of Glamour featured the Hunger Games‘ Jennifer Lawrence on the cover, looking suitably youthful and unattainably beautiful in a bejeweled designer body-type-thingy. I’ve just received June’s edition (I subscribe, y’see, so I’m ahead of the game) and it includes the following reader’s letter on its Mailbag page:

Hips? Check! Boobs? Check! Thighs that don’t look scrawny? Check! Thank you for putting Jennifer Lawrence on the cover – so refreshing to see a gorgeous, curvy woman.

Yes, thank you, Glamour (although the Good Men Project’s “small-breasted women” man may still want to have words with you). As for the rest of us, we are all eternally grateful that 0.1% of women featured in your magazine are not frighteningly thin.

Of course, the Glamour editors are not afraid to give themselves that much-deserved pat on the back, too. The Mailbag subheading sets the tone:

Love yourself (we do!) April’s issue made you realise that you’re gorgeous inside, outside, and just the way you are.

(btw, they didn’t credit Billy Joel for that last bit. They should have.)

Obviously, while it’s nice for your readership to get a little Real Woman ™ boost, you don’t want them getting too cocky. That’s why “LOSE 10lbs” remains in massive bold print on June’s cover, right next to JLo’s perfect head. 10lbs seems to me to be a strangely exact number. If I were to lose 10lbs, I’d actually look quite ill (mind you, I weighed 10lbs less than I do now at the end of breastfeeding my second child, and the jury was out on this. Some colleagues thought I was at death’s door and others thought I looked brilliant. The main thing is everyone felt happy to deliver their personal view right to my face, so I could collate the various opinions and decide on my next steps in my “how to please everyone by being the right weight” strategy. It’s always good when you don’t even have to ask for consumer feedback).

Alas, I digress. The main thing here is Glamour, and the importance of feeling good as a Real Woman ™ while also being conscious that you’re still too fat, regardless of what weight you actually are. It’s vital that, as women, we’re all able to do this. So thank you, Glamour. Thank you so, so much.

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!

Neutralising brilliance

My latest moisturiser is specially formulated to reduce shine, or, as the French packaging says, “pour neutraliser la brillance”. Obviously, that’s what we all want. Can’t have too much of the old “brillance”. Who knows, you might just blind someone.

Now of course, it’s not that I like having oily skin and pores the size of moon craters. Of course I don’t. That’s why I buy this stuff. Still, the phrase “neutraliser la brillance” somehow hits a nerve. I realise it’s just a faux ami (as are all my cosmetics) but the thought of “neutralising brilliance” — engaging in out-and-out blandification — is never far from my mind when I’m slapping on my latest potion.

Of course, it’s not just the blandness  of it all. It’s the reduction of out-and-out failure to desperate, expensive mediocrity. Is it better to look like every other miserable sod who’s “making an effort” – doing the whole “Real Woman” thing, accepting one’s limitations, knowing that while one can’t polish a turd one can at least smother it in concealer – or to go out in a blaze of open-pored, grease-ridden glory?

I don’t know. Still waiting for the day when mega-pores become a sign of beauty, when I’ll fill mine with highlighter and dazzle dust. In the meantime, I’ll keep applying the Effaclar in the hope that it stops me shining.