Now That’s What I Call Misogyny

Happy 2014, ladies! You’ve probably overindulged a bit this Christmas, I know I have. I had to go to bed early last night after eating so many Quality Streets that I missed out on the exciting sugar rush and just had bad stomach ache instead. So I’m feeling a little bit below my best and wondering if there will ever be a time in the near future when I can sit up again without going “oooooh” accompanied by a pained expression. Thank god that Now magazine has just the tonic:

via @gillesoffthenet on Twitter

via @gillesoffthenet on Twitter

I mean, if this cover doesn’t cheer you up I don’t know what will.

Here we have, in 2014, a mainstream weekly that has taken no less than 21 pictures of women in the public eye, in their bathing suits, and deemed them unfit for purpose. Purpose, of course, being to look runway-ready at all times.

(Sorry, I seem to have referred to the images above as women, when they are in actual fact, as Now magazine screams from its front cover, just “bodies”.)

One of the “bodies” is a new mum, one is a supermodel just turned 40, one is an actress deemed too fat, another too thin. And the accompanying tagline is that looking at these images will make you feel “normal”. The whole thing is too horrific to know where to begin. It’s like something out of a sick satire; but this is actually being displayed in the magazine aisles of shops up and down the country. This ‘feature’ was brainstormed, written about, OK’ed, and published by real people in the media industry.

I have history with these sorts of magazines, and know that they can be damaging. I bought into their philosophy of what’s “normal”. When I was in primary school I was quite skinny, I never ate lunch but only because I was one of the world’s fussiest eaters and never liked what was being served in the dinner hall. When I started secondary school I was allowed to take in packed lunches – the dream! But I started developing quicker than many of my friends, and I was eating more and I suddenly became conscious that I was getting bigger.

The thing is, I was never fat. I was very aware of my body, though, as by this point I was swimming training nearly everyday with dreams of being the next Ian Thorpe. I tell you, there have been so many occasions over the last ten years when I wished I had stuck with a sport where you get to keep your clothes on. I was too young to appreciate that I was training my body to do things and continue for distances that not many others my age were able to do. I was too focused on the fact that my hips looked bigger than they should and my thighs met at the top.

I started buying these magazines, like Now and Heat, and cutting out pictures that I then kept in a scrap book. It was around the time that Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Richie were everywhere; when the media pretended to be horrified by the tiny sizes these girls had shrunk themselves down to, all the while glamorizing and even encouraging them. Kate Moss was heralded as ‘the perfect size 8’. It was the era of the society girls, who had time and money to eat nothing all day and party all night. These were the sort of pictures I was cutting out of magazines.

These publications are obsessed to the point of distraction by women’s body weight. What message are young girls supposed to take away from these articles? That women have nothing to offer, nothing else worth mentioning, than their number on the scale? Why was I made to think, at age 13, that a picture of a nearly emaciated woman, with her tracksuit trousers hanging off her body, was what I should aspire for?

The women on the cover above all appear to have been photographed without their knowledge, and whatever their own feelings with regards to their own bodies, they look happy in the moment. The photos are unstaged, un-airbrushed, and actually, Now magazine, what I think they show is 21 versions of normal. How dare Now think they have the right to make anyone feel less than they are, by slapping irresponsible taglines over intrusive pictures and zooming in at the merest hint of un-taut skin.

In the ever-contradictory world of the weekly glossy, the latest edition comes with the headline “Screw the Diet!” and three more women, in their swimsuits, talking about how they’re happy to be carrying a bit of extra weight.

Is it wishful thinking to hope that, at some point in the 21st century perhaps, women will be judged on something other than their waistline?

“Think Not I Am What I Appear”

Against better judgement I have started watching the current series of I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here. I’m not here to defend this choice, as tempting as that is, but to write about some significant points that the show – in less than a week on air – has raised about appearance, achievement, and the media’s approach to the female body.

Rebecca Adlington is one of this year’s contestants, and a personal hero. When I was younger (I’m talking 14/15) it was my dream to be an Olympic swimmer. I blame some incredibly slow twitch muscles for my failure to succeed (if you can’t join them – blame your genes!), but would like to think I have a small inkling of the sacrifice and dedication it takes to make it to the starting block of an Olympic race, let alone finish with a medal.

That is why it has been particularly heartbreaking to witness, despite all her achievements, Rebecca’s deep insecurities. Earlier this week she was reduced to tears by what began as a discussion of Miss Universe winner Amy Willerton’s life as a model/beauty queen. Rebecca acknowledged in the privacy of the camp’s ‘diary room’ that she had spent almost her entire life dedicated to making her body perform in the most active sense of the word. Wiping away tears, she admitted, “It’s making me very, very insecure that I have to look [a certain way]. For me, I was an athlete.”

Would a male athlete have been reduced to tears in the jungle, comparing himself unfavourably to a male model? A large part of perfect bodyRebecca’s reaction stems from her own self-esteem (or lack thereof), but this has been compounded by the ideals of femininity presented in the media, coupled with targeted attacks on her Twitter account. The likes of Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, and Sir Chris Hoy do not have to put up with relentless messages that tell them their thighs are too big, or that their ears stick out too much.

Men’s achievements are still taken more seriously in some quarters (I stress – in some quarters); the spectacle of the race is entertainment enough. The topic of outfits is another discussion entirely, but consider all the ridiculous commentary surrounding the women’s volleyball during London 2012. Women are expected to be able to perform and present an appealing aesthetic. In fact, it probably doesn’t matter if she comes last in her race, as long as she looks good doing it.

Really taking the biscuit has been the subsequent coverage of Rebecca’s upset. *Certain* media outlets – I am referring to the ones that perpetuate the idea of what constitutes female beauty and belittle any who fail to achieve it – have taken this golden opportunity to partake in their own favourite sport. That is, pitting women against each other. Yay! There’s a fun pastime, right there: highlighting women’s ‘flaws’ and ‘mistakes’ and then sitting back to watch as they tear each other apart.

The same paper that took such glee in reporting on the supposed “showdown” – it was a tetchy discussion! – between Amy and Rebecca, posted another article (for want of a better word) a day later blatantly squaring them off. There is a table of comparison and everything. You can have a look here if you have the stomach for it.

The tone is deliberately skewed to make those in the comments (oh god, the world of internet comments) pick a side. The same paper that has been salivating over pictures of Amy in her bikini since before the show even began has decided that women should hate her, because she represents an industry that makes women hate themselves. Amy is obviously beautiful: slim, tanned, long hair, the works, and she knows this. I mean, you don’t win Miss Universe and still question your own attractiveness. But why should knowledge of her own beauty be a Bad Thing?

In the bizarre world of tabloids, Rebecca’s pre-existing insecurities have been used to black mark Amy. The thought process is that tea“real women” (a phrase that deserves to be trapped in an eternal bush-tucker trial) must devalue Amy in order to empower all the women (probably, sadly, a majority) like Rebecca made to feel that they are not good enough because they cannot fit into a pair of size 8 jeans.

How, how, is this in any way a viable form of female empowerment?! Instead of dismissing Amy’s successes – pitted against a gold medalist I’m sure most of us would feel our achievements pale in comparison – why not celebrate both for rising to the top in their respective fields, no matter what your opinion of their respective career paths? By fueling these petty rivalries and playing on women’s self-doubt these media sites manage to distract from the real issues facing women both in the public eye and in ‘normal life’.

There was another significant moment during the week, which involved fellow camp mate Matthew Wright and a women’s swimsuit. For those who know anything about I’m a Celebrity…, Myleene Klass and the white bikini is folklore. Basically, by the simple act of showering under the camp waterfall everyday in a certain two-piece, former Popstars winner Myleene was able to successfully reboot her career upon leaving the jungle.

The “subject” of ladies in swimsuits has been turned into an annual competition; another classic divide and conquer tactic. Matthew, a television presenter and newspaper journalist, took the chance to poke fun at the tabloids’ barely contained excitement over who would provide the “Myleene Moment”, by donning the famous white bikini and taking the role himself.

It was funny, it was ridiculous, but it also made a point. The roles in the jungle are much more tightly defined for the female contestants than for the men. As fun as the show may be, I’m a Celebrity… is not immune to the frequent reality series’ pitfall that sees women compared and judged, not for what they can accomplish and overcome, but how they present themselves.

Sadly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, Matthew’s joke (that I understood as poking fun at the sort of showbiz commentary he once wrote) has been misconstrued by some articles as his attempt to mock “attention-seeking” female camp mates. How reassuring to know that women will always be responsible for their own bad press.