Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Deception, Manipulation and Women

It’s heartbreaking to see young women convinced there’s something repulsive about their own bodies

In our society, adult female bodies are treated like mistakes that continually need correcting. It’s too small, it’s too hairy, it’s the wrong shape, it’s the wrong colour. We’re seen to be badly designed somehow, needing extra stuff to make them okay. Being unhappy about your body is often presented as one of the essential personality traits of women, IF we believe what society tells us!!! We just instinctively hate our bodies, and, we are brought up to believe that’s normal.

Take Bridget Jones and her ilk. Women who are obsessed with how they look, the size of their butt, and convinced they are the wrong shape are an absolute staple of women’s fiction, and Bridget is hailed as representing ‘everywoman’. Of course Bridget is humorous, and exaggerates the obsessiveness to comic effect; but the fact is there is so much truth to it.

It’s almost seen as an essential part of the female experience. If I was to say, if asked, that I’m completely happy with my body and wouldn’t want to change it, I’d be viewed as arrogant. Who does she think she is? What’s the question female celebrities are usually asked in interviews? ‘If you could change any part of your body, what would it be?’ If you think there’s something wrong with your body, change it. If your lips aren’t the right shape, fake it. If your hair is the wrong colour, dye it. If your skin isn’t matte enough or glossy enough or good enough, change it. If your eyelashes are too thin, change it. If your body isn’t good enough, get something done.

Girls who’ve been brought up on the idea that our bodies can be altered at a whim by make-up and everything else, think of cosmetic surgery as the next logical step. I’m not saying that if you wear lipstick you will eventually have a boob job. Of course not!

I’m aware I may sound really radical here, on the one hand I refute the concept that there is an unchangeable standard of beauty and it’s only natural and right that women should try to attain it. But on the other, I’m not suggesting there is anything wrong with having a fashionable hair cut, being interested in trendy clothes, or being bright and colourful. And I can’t deny the fact that makeovers are just - well - fun! Nevertheless, I think that women are seen, far more than men, as changeable creatures.

Nothing demonstrates more clearly that women are seen as changeable creatures than the makeover. The traditional before and after shots; the gasps when the ‘new’ woman is brought out ‘you look amamzing!’, the fact of how completely different they look surely says something about how femininity is a construction. Ever noticed that men who have makeovers don’t look as different as the women tend to do? Does this mean that women are essentially, inherently, blank canvases to be filled in and altered by fashion stylists, make-up artists - or plastic surgeons? I’d like to think not!

There are many, many examples of the makeover factor, and of women being encouraged to change themselves to fit in with what other people think they should be. The coolest character gets made over and is instantly more acceptable and attractive.

At the end of the film The Breakfast Club, the coolest female character who dresses in black, sulks and peers out from under her duffle coat through thick black eyeliner, gets made over and is instantly more attractive and acceptable to the other characters. She’s forced into white, preppy clothes - and gets to wear make-up, which instantly makes her look far better, of course, and allows her to get the guy. In Grease, Sandy only gets to be popular when she rejects her uncool look and fakes it as a raunchy leather-clad wild-child. How many times have we seen that tired plot line?

Many times, in stories like Cinderella and My Fair Lady, updated for modern times by Miss Congeniality, in which Sandra Bullock plays an ‘unladylike’ FBI agent who gets to work undercover as a beauty queen. The trailers showed a male colleague shouting at her ‘Don’t worry - no-one thinks of ya that way.’ Presumably, when she emerges swaying in a tight pink dress, hair gleaming, they darn well do.

So, breast surgery is just a type of makeover for girls who want to ‘look normal’. Nevertheless, some women have claimed that getting a boob job is a feminist act. All the women who get breast enlargements will claim they are doing for themselves, not for anyone else, they’re doing it to empower themselves. Of course they are doing it for themselves. Who else would they be doing it for? But the fact is, they’re doing it so they’ll be happy with their own body, in a breast obsessed society. I find it hard to believe that if they lived in a remote society and had never heard of cosmetic surgery, they’d somehow have an inherent, deep-seated unhappiness with the size of their breasts and want to make them bigger!

What do I think is behind the plastic surgery, weight loss, and fashion industries? I think it is the underlying expectation that women hate their bodies, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. An expectation created to manipulate and use women for their greedy monetary gains and nothing else! Is it really any wonder!?!? The idea that women are changeable, able to make ourselves over in a few hours, or by a team of make-up artists and hair-stylists, or indeed, by a few days spent having plastic surgery, add that to a culture obsessed with a part of the female body - the breast at the moment, there you have it.