Should we be aspiring to look like anyone?

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Women and Equalities Lynne Featherstone has announced plans to organise discussions with representatives from the fashion, media and advertising industries in an effort to combat the negative effect they have on women’s body image.

Her views on the extent to which the media – particularly the airbrushing of photos - affects self-image have been widely reported this week, following her admission to the Sunday Times that she hopes to see airbrushed images labelled with a warning.

The ‘kitemark’ would serve to educate young people that the photography they see in magazines and on billboards is misleading and not representative of ‘real’ human bodies. Said Featherstone at the weekend:

“All women have felt that pressure of having to conform to an unrealistic stereotype, which plagues them their whole life. It is not just the immediate harm; it is something that lasts a lifetime. Young girls are under intense pressure the whole time.”

This is fair enough and it’s admirable that she’s so concerned about the problems so many people – male and female – face as a result of feeling they have to live up to unrealistic expectations. It would be great to see more diverse representation of sizes and body types in the media.

Unfortunately, in her concern she seems to have fallen into the old trap of naming a celebrity she thinks is a great role model looks-wise, which usually serves to replace one standard of approved attractiveness with another.

That role model is Christina Hendricks. Featherstone described the actress as ‘absolutely fabulous’ and claimed that we need ‘more of those role models’ as opposed to seeing only ‘incredibly thin’ women as our inspiration.

It’s classic ‘skinny backlash’ stuff and something newspapers and magazines have been particularly fond of doing in recent years. Worried that women feel bad about their bodies because of stunningly beautiful but very thin models? Why not tell them they should aspire to look like stunningly beautiful but curvy celebrities instead.

This is the trend which has spawned countless newspaper and magazine articles about ‘real women’ - a term usually used to describe women with well proportioned hourglass curves. And the media has certainly pounced on Featherstone’s comments about Hendricks, with a number of articles bearing her picture being published.

Some news sources such as the Daily Mail are claiming that she thinks we should all aspire to be the same dress size as the actress.

Okay then, so what are we supposed to do now if we’re neither runway-thin nor in possession of Hendricks-style curves? Is it too much to ask that people (and newspapers) could stop trying to dictate who we should see as ‘role models’ purely because of their looks or their clothes size and promote messages of self-worth which aren’t related to vital statistics?

As Featherstone’s comments have prompted the inevitable newspaper and radio discussions, plenty of similarly irritated women have vented their frustrations via Twitter. Said @hannahkaty:

“I didn’t realise that a role model for women was solely determined by her clothing size.”

An outraged @BookElfLeeds commented:

“Why don't we have an equalities minister saying ‘right, no more debasing of women down to tits and ass any more’.”

Other reactions from Twitter have shown that many women also feel that although body image is an important issue, it’s not the only problem the equalities minister should be worried about.

As women most of us care about damaging messages relating to body image. I think it would be great if young people were more aware of the extent to which images are airbrushed. What we don’t want is to be patronised and told which celebrities we should be aspiring to look like.

On the positive side of things, some people have highlighted the fact that their children already feel pressured about their size and that this is a prime example of why something needs to be done.

Featherstone has addressed the backlash via her own Twitter account and her blog, reiterating that her comments were taken out of context and saying:

“The last thing we need is to move from one impossible idealised and unobtainable image of the super skinny kind to another impossible and unobtainable image of the curvy kind!”

Too right, Lynne. It’s a pity the tabloids probably won’t have as much to say about that as they did about Christina Hendricks.

This post originally appeared at BitchBuzz. Image via r9M's Flickr.


Anonymous said...

Lets cross the bridge when we come to it............................................................

Amelia said...

I think this is a very important issue, so I found this post quite interesting. I am bloghopping from Cjane's "We're On Our Way Over" post.

This got me thinking, so thank you!

Matthew Smith said...

When I first saw that picture, I thought: is Lynne hallucinating? She may have curves, but her waist is smaller than that of pretty much any woman I've ever seen since watching The 1900 House with all the corsetry back in 2000.

RedHead said...

THANKYOU. I am sick of every bloody womens' magazine under the sun going 'thank God for Christina Hendricks' every time someone mentions fashion, diets, Mad Men, fashion, weight, body image, self-esteem...heck, anything. I did the 'omg she's fab' post on my blog, but then I'm pretty sure I shut up about it after that. It's devaluing the woman as a person and as an actress, turning her into just a body that most of us can't have. In fact, most of us could look like a catwalk model more cheaply and easily than we could look like Christina. Let's stop banging on about her body already and find some new role models. Or assert that we can be our own?

RedHead said...

And yes, I know I'm about four months late to this party. Your blog recommended I read this post. It is wise :)

Hannah Mudge said...

I read somewhere the other day that she has gone on a diet and lost weight because of comments in the press about her size. Don't know whether to believe that but it just sums the whole thing up, really :(


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