Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Airbrushing ourselves away

Take a look at that pic of me – Twiggy I am not, and never have been. All my life I have fought a battle with a thyroid problem that means I have to take a replacement dose, and the fact I love my food. I thought I had come to terms with the shape I was, but two TV programmes this evening showed me very clearly that I haven’t. I am in the same position as the vast majority of women, not just in the UK, but in most of the western culture, hating all or some part of our bodies because it doesn’t conform to what the media think it should look like.

The first programme was the first episode of a new series ‘British Style Genius’. It brought back a lot of memories of my teenage years, both good and bad. I was still a ‘normal’ size then, although not as skinny overall as fashion demanded I should be, and I was not able to wear some of the iconic clothes of the era from shops like Biba and Quorum which did from time to time cause tears.

I would have hoped that after all these years and the huge growth in eating disorders amongst young girls that the media and women themselves would have seen sense and accepted that human beings simply come in different shapes.

Regrettably today’s designers and model agencies, despite pressure even from Downing Street are still making and showing clothes that most of us can only ever aspire to wear. What is fundamentally wrong is that so many clothes are intentionally designed to look good on a size 8 with no thought about how they might adapt for a size 18 and very few designers even care. I recall a couple of years ago, hearing a top designer, saying that he would not even consider designing a range for larger women, if we couldn’t diet to be size 10 we didn’t deserve nice clothes.

I despaired when even the designer responsible for the M&S Per Una range, supposedly for ‘real’ women was still choosing the clothes shapes on the basis that they looked good on skinnies. I noticed that one of the M&S store managers that featured in the programme was more similar to me in size and also that the clothes SHE was wearing did not look like they came from the Per Una range she was supposed to be selling.

Definitely the most beautiful dress of the evening was a 1920’s vintage evening gown that had been updated with some 21st century crystal appliqué. But it was a size 10 at the most, more probably a size 8. Wallis Simpson would have looked fantastic in it. Remember what she said ‘You can never be too rich or too thin’.

Later in the evening singer Alesha Dixon – the winner of Strictly Come Dancing 2007 - was on a mission to get a top magazine to photograph her for a cover and NOT re-touch it. Most of the titles that women would associate with fashion and beauty turned her down flat. So did men’s titles like Heat and Nuts who strangely insisted that their readers wanted ‘normal women they could relate to’ - sorry, normal and untouched doesn’t equate with boobs like balloons. Finally the Mirror Sunday supplement agreed to do it. She looked fantastic of course, but they couldn’t leave it alone and ran a feature inside showing what bits they WOULD have re-touched.

She also interviewed someone from the toiletries and cosmetic range Dove who have made a big thing of featuring ‘real’ women in their recent advertising. I am right behind the sentiment, although I can’t say I use the products because they don’t also carry the cruelty-free label I insist on.

What literally made me weep with anger, frustration and nausea was the shots of 18 year old Ellie having a breast implant operation. Yes, it is her choice, but when the media makes women so unhappy about their bodies they will go through that kind of butchery we HAVE to call a halt. I sincerely hope that it has put a lot of women off such horrible self-mutilation.

The ordinary women that Alesha spoke to in the street were absolutely clear that what THEY wanted for the next generation is for them to be happy with their natural selves, whatever shape colour and size that happens to be.

I would ask for just two things. When I go into M&S or any other store, I can find clothes in size 18 and 20 that really ARE that size and are also not made exclusively for someone a foot taller than me. Why can’t trading standards say that if a garment is supposed to fit someone with a size 40 bust it actually does. If that was the case, I wouldn’t have to go a size up in Next and Top Shop – even presuming I could find ANYTHING at all in those places to fit me.

Just because we CAN digitally wipe out wrinkles,crows feet and re-spray Sharon Stone’s face to make her look 20 rather than 50, doesn’t mean that we should. I am still not really sure who wants this unreality. It’s good to have something beautiful to aspire to but it should never be so intrusive that it makes us despairing or miserable and at the worst, suicidal about what we really are. Anorexia and bulimia ARE forms of self abuse and ultimately suicide and the media have to co-operate in ensuring that they become history by not encouraging us to worship the unattainable.

Alesha was extraordinarily brave to challenge the same media mob that have helped make her famous and deserves congratulations.