But today I read an article that I want to talk about! 'Attracting men is child's play, ladies – just grow up and act your age' by Julie Burchill. Initially I thought, oh good, an article about not having to conform to one standard of beauty, that's pretty great!
Then I read it.
Firstly, hello, heteronormativity! Okay, maybe I should have expected that when the whole article is about attracting men and addressed to "ladies", but honestly, there is a lot more in my life than desperately hoping everything I do will endear me to the guys around me. I get annoyed about that assumption a lot in life though. And the article is about attracting men. I might just be being pedantic.
Okay, so what else?
Well, the whole article, to me, reads like it's a long-winded way of saying 'I'm much smarter than you silly other women because I am not affected by the images in fashion magazines; you shouldn't let yourselves be affected by them either, be more intellectual like me.'
That's really nice for you, that you're coming from a place where you can say that! I guess you're just not like the other hundreds of women who do feel that a lack of representation of their body types in everyday media is a negative thing. (Also, what a nice way of trying to imply that underrepresentation of women of colour is a good thing.) Congratulations on not being a "sad-sack plus-size sob sister." You know, I'm not about to try and get anyone down for having confidence, confidence is a really great thing, but when you write about that confidence in this sort of way:
Whereas – prizing myself for qualities other than my appearance, as one should by the age of 52, unless one is a humourless bore actively seeking future mental health issuesI do have a bit of an issue. I'm not 52. I'm 20. Perhaps I don't have all the grand wisdom of Julie Burchill behind me, but I still feel that the implication that a woman cares about her appearance is a "humourless bore" is a pretty offensive one. (I also find the idea of seeking out mental health issues a bit offensive, but let's not even go there.) I like to think I'm a fairly intelligent person, at least in some areas of my life, but I have almost cripplingly low self-esteem a lot of the time. A lot of it comes from personal issues, I'll admit that, but here are things that don't necessarily help: being constantly told by the media that to look one way is good, another way is unacceptable; fat-shaming but "real women" have curves body-shaming; continuously seeing girls who are younger, thinner, and prettier than me; the constant scrutiny a woman's body and appearance is put under whether she agrees to it or not. You can take pride in being supposedly intellectual enough to rise above it if you like, but you can't get away from the fact women are consistently made to feel that their bodies and their looks are their main and most important commodity. I'm sorry that the society we live in actually has an affect on me and other women, Julie Burchill. How humourless I am.
I'm not saying that the article doesn't have its points. I agree that the message 'men find youth (younger and younger and younger) attractive' is problematic and really quite disturbing, when you think about it. I expect there are plenty of men out there who really do just want "a woman above the age of consent to wash, show up, bring beer and strip naked" (which is oh so encouraging in itself, sure). We aren't directly told these things by men every day though, are we? That's not the message we're generally receiving, and that's my big issue with this article - the valid point it's trying to make is completely lost to me under the holier-than-thou attitude that infuses a lot of the problematic aspects of feminism. Feeling one way doesn't mean you should judge women who feel otherwise. Maybe I'm judging Julie Burchill, but I wanted to work out what it was that was getting under my skin about that article, and there we are. That's what it is.
While I'm here - I'm also not a big fan of the dismissal of models as "anorexic" or "boys".
But if designers want to show their stupid, overpriced clothes on models who look like boys or anorexicsI wasn't aware that body type defined gender, for starters, and I will never be okay with the implication that "thin" = "eating disorder." And it's just another form of shaming women for their bodies and appearance, isn't it? I'm sure Karlie Kloss and Lindsey Wixson work hard to keep in shape, I expect they diet and exercise, and I'm sure their bodies probably will change as they get older, but they were born with that bone structure, you know? Is it their fault they fall naturally within the constructs of what an industry they simply now work for defines beautiful?
One last note. The fashion industry exists to sell clothes. The beauty and cosmetics industry is the one that promotes all those so-called childish features. Yes, there is a link between them, but they're ultimately two different things.