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A brave face

August 1, 2012

I caught about half of a Radio 4 Woman’s Hour debate this morning on the pressure women feel to look good – partly inspired by some idiotic comments by Radio 1 presenter Chris Moyles. He’d been making disparaging remarks about some of the female Olympic athletes’ bodies.

Excuse me, Chris Moyles, but aren’t you a blobby, greying, middle-aged man, whose only brush with a six-pack comes when you buy your lager at Tesco?

Obviously I don’t want to make disparaging remarks about people’s physiques myself – ahem, only those in glass gyms should throw stones, and my membership has unaccountably expired – but reeeeeally.

The Woman’s Hour debate was scary, particularly for a mother of teenage daughters. I remember when I was a teenager I was convinced I was fat/ugly/badly dressed …. well, when I see pictures now of my younger self, I realise that only the last part was true. But hey, what can you do if you’re forced to grow up in the 70s and 80s?

Seriously, the pressure seems to come from every direction, these days. At least when I was a teenager, I knew that old people (those over the age of 25) were just that. Old, and therefore irrelevant. Today, though, a 23-year-old rang in to the radio programme, to say that she felt her skin was not as good as many of the 40-year-olds she saw in magazines or in films. She knew that their dewy complexions were the result of photoshopping and airbrushing …. but still. She felt she couldn’t live up to the years ahead. She was already slipping behind the ideal, failing somehow.

And it’s true, now, that we are expected to keep caring about what we look like for ever – not just declare ourselves out of the game at 40, or 50, as other generations did, and thankfully subside into housecoats and slippers. We’ve got Jane Fonda still yammering on at us about face creams at the age of 70ish, for goodness sake. I’m glad she’s still getting the work – most women over the age of 50 simply disappear from our screens – but please, aren’t we even allowed to get wrinkly in our 70s?

Where does the pressure come from? Is it really from boys and men, apparently now so used to hairless women from internet porn that they are even more outraged than John Ruskin when they come face to face (as it were) with real pubes? Or is it the female editors of the celebrity magazines who, week after week, tell us that Kerry Katona is too fat, Kate Middleton could be getting too thin and Katie Price is definitely too much of everything?

Women don’t need a lot of prompting to doubt themselves. And these magazines are extremely efficient at raising those niggling questions which never seem to have a comforting answer – unless, of course, it’s by buying their so-called solutions, with ads for everything from simple shampoo to full-on plastic surgery to fix all our problems. Until next week, that is.

Thank goodness we don’t have to read these mags. And thank goodness, too, that not all men are like Chris Moyles. The Radio 4 debate ended with a middle aged lady ringing in, saying her son and his friends had seen Casino Royale a few years ago and came out lusting not for all the toned, honed, Bond girls, but for the wonderful, imperious, husky-voiced Dame Judi Dench, playing M.

Phew. There’s hope for us all yet.

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  • Sally August 2, 2012 at 12:10 am

    Fab post.

    I don’t buy the magazines, and I won’t have them in the house. I refuse to allow myself to be suckered into all that insecurity just to make someone else a little richer. I wish we could reframe this debate to be about strength and health, and not about dewy skin and breasts that defy gravity. Not that I’d feel any better about myself, being both badly dressed AND unhealthy, but there’s hope for my daughter…

    • Dulwich Divorcee August 14, 2012 at 11:12 am

      I think all we mothers feel like you, Sally – but that’s one of the great positive messages the women athletes have given at the Olympics. They are all different shapes and sizes, from weightlifters to gymnasts, but what they aren’t is silicone-enhanced or fake in any way. Just strong and determined to succeed. If our daughters take away that message from the last two weeks, it will have been worth the dazzling number of billions it all cost.

  • Naomi Richards August 6, 2012 at 9:58 am

    It is scary isnt it – we all compare ourselves to those around us and want to be a bit more of this and that. In my mind it comes from everywhere and we need to look at what we have and love it and ignore those people who tell us what is beautiful.

    • Dulwich Divorcee August 14, 2012 at 11:16 am

      You’re absolutely right, Naomi, it’s very hard to ignore all the pressure …. and just be satisfied with what we are. Hard to hang on to your self esteem in the face of airbrushing 🙁