Nivea Beauty + skinny women in fiction + little girls in Child Of Our Time = a big mess of bilious body image
Lindsey Dryden writes...
This week I've been mostly being goaded into a state of infuriation by cosmetic advertising and skinny women in best-selling books, and then feeling completely vindicated by well-timed research that absolutely supports my concerns and predictions! Which is nice.
According to Nivea, one of the world's leading cosmetics companies, beauty is 'love', 'life', 'care', 'confidence' and - oh! Who'd have thought it? Nivea!
Their lovingly-crafted new 'Beauty Is...' campaign features a variety of pretty women in barely-there makeup skipping their way through life while babies kiss them, handsome men gaze wistfully after them, and joggers trip and fall in their wake (good-naturedly, of course), so captivated are they by said women's beauty. *Retch* *Hurl*
The range of models used in the ads is pretty broad; white, black, Asian, young, mature, long-haired, short-haired, blonde, brunette and red-headed, and refreshingly, there's even what appear to be a couple of lady gardeners (I can but hope!). But there's one problem. All of the women are thin. There's not a muffin-top, nor a gently-overflowing hip in sight, let alone a plus size figure, or even an inch to pinch.
This is of course the same Nivea that gave Dawn French an 'Inner Beauty' award, which ostensibly meant 'we think she's really cool', but actually meant 'we think she's kind of fat and disgusting, but we can score plus-size-positive points here and avoid those nasty accusations that we're encouraging girls to lust after thinness'.
Of course what they don't mention in their delightful attempt to re-brand beauty, is that Beauty Is... a really clever way to make you feel crap about yourself, offer you products that'll help you feel less crap (because you'll look less crap), and make you spend your hard-earned money. But of course we all know that already. Beautiful!
Between watching vomit-inducing adverts, I've also been reading Kate Mosse's new book, Sepulchre, the follow-up to her best-selling, Richard & Judy Book Club-recommended Labyrinth. I'm a big fan of what Kate Mosse (no, not the supermodel one; the literature one) has achieved, from setting up the Orange Prize for Fiction to choosing a husband who took her name when they married, but I've never been dazzled by her writing. It's easy and predictable (perfect for a long train journey) but I'm no fiction expert, so it doesn't particularly matter what I think of the writing. What I do take issue with, though, is the fetishising of skinny women's bodies in the book:
'...She undid her unruly copper hair, letting it fall loose to her slender waist...'
'She imagined her slim arms in various evening gloves...'
'Despite her thin and lithe appearance, Meredith loved food.'
The very thin (and no doubt lithe) Kate Mosse has already explained that the character Meredith borrows some of her own qualities, and there's nothing wrong with that.
But skinniness isn't just appreciated in this book. It's fetishised, idolized, and even key to a character's likability and success (a matronly woman, similar in age to Sepulchre's heroines, but considerably wider in girth, has managed to lose her claim on the country estate, and only pops up occasionally to offer unexpected kindness. No central storyline or innate good nature for her!).
On and on Mosse goes, delighting in her heroines' tiny waists, skinny wrists, delicate throats, and near weightlessness. As I turn page after page of skinny-fixation, I can't help but shudder that one of the UK's bestselling commercial fiction authors is presenting so narrow, and so hyper-idealized, a body image.
Now, I'm just as unlikely as you to radically change my beliefs and ideas simply because of what I read or see on TV; but a slow, seeping implication that my existing body is at best imperfect and at worst horrifying will surely have some effect on my confidence and self-perception eventually?
Well, that's exactly what's happening to children in the UK, according to Professor Robert Winston, and The Children's Society.
Wednesday night's Child Of Our Time on BBC1 was a totally mesmerizing exploration of gender roles amongst the children, now aged 7, that the series has followed since they were born. And it wasn't just mesmerizing; it was shocking.
When shown pictures of little girls of various sizes, from skinny to tubby, all the girls compared themselves with a child far heavier than they actually were, and picked the thinnest bodies as their ideal size. Worse still, they felt that the skinniest girl would be the most popular, and the fattest wouldn't have any friends at all. One little girl admitted,
Later, when asked to pick what qualities they'd most like to have as a person, all the girls chose 'healthy' and 'kind' (while all the boys but one went for 'rich'!). Asked what she'd pick if she could only choose one of those qualities, one girl innocently unleashed the most shocking opinion of all:
Excuse the histrionics, but these children are 7 years old. SEVEN. I rest my case.