It is rare I blog about “current issues” or even issues that have been and gone, but I have to make an exception to the unwritten rule after foolishly buying a copy of Glamour to read on the train on Thursday while en route to my parents house. I’ll admit I actually wanted the free “gift” of the hair smoothing potion that came with the magazine and it will keep the other bazillion hair products that I have bought, been given, borrowed (but have yet to return to their owners) company. It is also worth mentioning that I have stupid hair. It never EVER does as it is told, no matter how many products, treatments or threats I throw at it. It has 2 default settings: up or messy. And according to some higher law that women the world over are as yet unaware of, it only ever looks as I want it to just as I am about to go to bed/get in the shower/go for a run (delete as applies to you).
Women’s magazines have been a longstanding bugbear of mine for a variety of reasons; mainly because that they will contradict themselves at least 6 times in as many pages. They will try to tell you that to be a “real” woman you must consume, apply, wear, sign up to and eat/sleep/drink a certain way. I’m not about to rail on about how the female form should not be a straight up and down or how “real” women have curves because some women are straight up and down, with tiny bust and hip measurements while others are curvy with DD breasts and a size 16 hips. BOTH sizes are valid, both sizes are fine as are all the sizes inbetween and outside those 2 examples. As a woman who has shed 3 stone (or close to) I have been overweight and unhappy. The 2 are not mutually exclusive and indeed it is possible to be overweight and happy and the “correct” weight and unhappy. However, I digress. Glamour, this month have Jennifer Lawrence as the cover girl – in a swimsuit. Straight away it irked me. Why put her in a swimsuit? It’s pretty (and ridiculously expensive) but I can’t help but wonder what it is trying to say. The caption also made me think “Talks, swears – and eats! – like a normal person”. Please Glamour, define normal? I’ll gloss over the article. It was nothing for the Pulitzer committee to get twitchy about. What I did appreciate was an “average” sized woman was portrayed in mainstream media amid a sea of women who appear too slim to be real.
Within the same issue, a rather banal piece on the Duchess of Cambridge aka Kate Middleton aka the future Queen. I think I was one of the many people who didn’t get caught up in the Royal wedding frenzy that swept over the world last year. I’m not a huge fan of weddings, much less those of people I don’t know and will never meet. The idea of getting married terrifies me – something my father is thrilled about (no wedding to pay for) and I have a sister who will make a brilliant bride (one day), not to mention my 2 brothers who have marriage to look forward to in their distant futures (hopefully). The article documented how much KM (as she will henceforth be referred to) supported the British high street and how much her “look” has been copied and admired and also how much it has cost her to look as she does: polished, professional and princess-y. The cost for the year (as calculated by Glamour)? £11,240 approximately. Other than royalty, actors, (successful) musicians and various well heeled folk, what woman can afford an average minimum wage JUST to look that good all year round? Yes, there are some very well paid women in the world (although the pay gap still exists but that is another post for another day) but for your average call center staff member or PA or independent shop keeper that look is the stuff of fairy tales and daydreams. But the real blood boiler moment came when I saw the picture of KM in a short sleeved steel blue/grey satin dress (Catherine Walker 2011 – the July North American Tour). Readers, I direct your attention to the picture.
Now, I’m hoping you have had a good look at it (and I apologise for the quality and size) and have realised that this picture should be taken as seriously as our current government’s ability not to screw up the NHS. The original image can be found here. This picture has been edited within an inch of its life. How do I know this? Because I have lived with a photographer and she has shown me the wonders and horrors of Photoshop. While on the one hand it is a gift from Adobe heaven and can render a snotty child immaculate with a couple of clicks it can also render a woman’s body confidence to less than nothing and could leave it in shreds on the bedroom floor. By editing this picture, the already svelte KM appears rail thin, with an impossibly tiny waist and legs that baby giraffes would sell their lactating mothers for. Images are not all that they seem – a picture does indeed tell a 1000 words and all of the words it whispers are lies.
Now, I’ll let you into a secret. Women have body hair. Yes, I said it. We have armpit hair and leg hair and pubic hair. We have eyebrows that creep down and out of their supposed location. We even have (gasp) some facial hair. There, I said it again. Women are hairy creatures and we spend hundreds of pounds and umpteen hours trying to stem the growth of this horrendous affliction with little effect. Another secret women don’t want people to know (even other women), nothing works. We can pluck and shave and wax and laser and epilate and sugar until we are blue in the face. The hair will grow back. But guess what? This is natural. This is what the human body is designed to do. Hair serves a purpose and yet we are bombarded with images of women totally hairless (other than on their head) and we are told that hair is bad. It is the sign of being a lesbian apparently…of being lazy, unattractive and “different”. Worse, it is seen as a “European” thing. We have all heard the jokes and jibes; French women don’t shave their armpits, Italian women have moustaches, Spanish women have unruly and huge amounts of pubic hair. Conversely we are told that all Scandanavian women are porn stars with big breasts and shaved genital areas.
I am one of those women. Not only am I of mixed European blood (French- gasp!, Swedish – ooh! and British -oh) and I am also a very furry person. It used to be something I was very self conscious about. Throughout my teens I was paranoid about it, my hairy legs, my bikini line, my armpits. All of which combined with breasts, hormones and the usual growing pains made my teenage self a mass of self loathing. It has only been in the last couple of years after a medical diagnosis that I have a “reason” for my furry appearance. It turns out my ovaries are not all they cracked up to be and the hormones are to blame for my excess hair. Thankfully it is not life limiting. I can work, play, have relationships, run, travel, do anything I want. It is not a curse or a problem. It is just natural. I will also admit to being a waxer and a shaver. I have a friend who is a brilliant beauty therapist and we see our appointments as opportunities to catch up and natter. The pain is minimal and I’ll admit I do like having my legs waxed and fuzz free. Currently though, I am rather furry. I haven’t had my legs (or bikini line) waxed in several months. The main reason? It was cold over the winter. Leg hair keeps you warm. I also couldn’t be bothered. My girlfriend is thankfully, an enlightened woman. She has similar opinions on furry bits of the body and for that I am extremely lucky.
To prove a point, I have been running in my 3/4 length running tights since the weather has been warmer. Without having waxed my legs, I was a little hesitant. What if someone saw me? What if they saw my legs! In the end I didn’t give it too much thought and just ran. It was liberating if a little fluffy. Eventually I will get my legs waxed again, most likely this weekend if S has an appointment slot free. But not because I feel pressured by society to do so but because I can get dried off quicker after a shower. Ladies, I know it flies in the face of what we are told we should look like but I promise you we are not supposed to spend this much time, money or effort getting rid of the fuzz. And if you are lucky enough to be one of the fur-less people, please don’t give the less fortunate women THAT look. You know the one. The look that says “Ew, you are weird and I’m not sure I should be near you”…yes…that look. It is not friendly. Women are already under scrutiny, we shouldn’t be turning on each other.
Going back to my original point (I do eventually get there…honest) the images we are subjected to through the mass media, whether online, on TV and through stupidly bought magazines at train stations are persistently wrong. They show us polished, distorted, unrealistic images and we are expected to buy into these lies. The lies are drip fed slowly from puberty and are unrelenting. Slowly we have forgotten what women actually look like. We are thin and fat, tall and short, medium sized and tiny. Our hair comes in a multitude of colours, lengths, textures and styles and we are at liberty to change them as and when we see fit. Our bodies are lumpy and wobbly, with cellulite and spots, birthmarks and flaws. Our eyes are every shade of blue, green, grey and brown and some have flecks and others don’t. We have moles and scars, freckles and age spots. We are not a picture on a page, but living and breathing people.
Do not believe the images – objects may appear more beautiful in real life than in the mirror. But ultimately learn to love yourselves. You are amazing.