Scrolling through the usual swathes of newsletters and junk mail in my inbox last week, I stopped to have a quick glance at an e-mail with an appealing title from a well-known ‘women’s’ magazine (received, no doubt, due to my relentless lunchbreak competition-entering):
“241 tips to help you feel fabulous!”
It popped up on my virtual radar on a gloomy October Wednesday – when the only fabulous element of my life was a fabulously angry-looking boil on my forehead – and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who welcomed its breezy, optimistic opening gambit. And 241 tips! 241! That much fabulous is dangerous!
You can imagine my disappointment, then, when I opened it and saw this:
Far from an inspirational page full of tips to feel fabulous, we’re presented with a whole host of reasons we’re not good enough. 241 ways we can try even harder to conform to social norms about the way women are supposed to look.
60 tips to look younger. Because god forbid you actually look your own age. It’s de-rigeur to be de-wrinkled, de-bagged, de-greyed and devoid of almost all facial movement. If you’ve still got enough snarl left to ward off even the most obnoxious of chuggers, you’re not trying hard enough.
‘Linda, are you constipated?’
‘No, love, I’m positively furious’
Clicking through to the page, it links me to a never-ending slideshow of exorbitantly over-priced beauty products, cleverly restricted to one-per-page for maximum ad views. Concealer for those dark circles, powder to blend in the concealer, a facial peel in a tube, eye cream made from goats tears and whipped despair – and so on and so forth.
16 tips to look sexy. ‘It’s all about attitude, feeling confident and comfortable in your skin…’ ok, I can sort of get on board with that; ‘…So learn a few hot new beauty secrets right for you!’
So close, but yet so far. I’m not even sure that last sentence makes any sense, but I’m willing to let the perpetual pedant in me take a break – just this once. What’s particularly infuriating about this one is the ‘I’m on your side, chica!’ bullshit. It’s immediately followed by – surprise, surprise – another slideshow of suitably expensive (and therefore, clearly effective!) sure-fire ways to feel confident and comfortable in your own skin.
Yoga retreats? Full body massages? Cognitive behavioural therapy? Er, no. £72 individual false lashes and a £20 eye shimmer in ‘wheat’, to really boost that positive mental attitude – just try not to think about the credit card bills, ok?
50 diet tips
But what’s a girl to do if that chemical peel, eye-bag concealer, and working your way through 100 different hairstyles in the time between having: a job/social life/ family/partner/dog/annoying mother/a bathroom to clean/meals to cook for yourself/the realisation that your glasses are on your face when you’ve ‘lost’ them – just doesn’t give you that fabulous feeling?
Of course – get yourself on a diet, fatty! The usual suspects are all here: eat your greens (steamed, not fried), pop some supplements , stop telling yourself you’re big boned or have a thyroid problem, and stop eating your problems – but my favourite has to be this:
‘Copying the habits of slim people is a good way to reinforce the messages that help is out when we need to make good food choices. When you have to make a food/portion/exercise choice, ask yourself, “What would ……. do?’
Because, obviously, all slim people are a beacon of health and discipline. And none of us have at least one friend we love who is gorgeous and slim and lovely, but who eats bacon sarnies like there’s no tomorrow and thinks Zumba’s a type of sanitary towel.
At best, this is stupid, but at worst it’s encouraging you to find idols on which to base your future happiness, obsessively comparing yourself to them and berating yourself if you ‘slip up’ and eat toast with butter – the horror!
Do you buy it?
I stopped reading these kinds of magazines about 5 years ago because they bored me. After picking one up a few months ago for the free gift on the front (sucker, I know), I now don’t read them because they depress me, patronise me, and make me angry – all at the same time. I call them ‘women’s’ magazines with inverted commas, because they’re not really written for us; they’re written to make money for the executives and shareholders of various multi-national companies by making sure we ceaselessly strive to buy the products that promise they can help us to be ‘better’ versions of ourselves.
Yes, there may be a few token articles about human trafficking, domestic violence, or ‘how to get a pay rise’, but beneath that, the messages are pretty much the same as they’ve always been. Except now there are more adverts, and adverts cleverly disguised as articles written by ‘girls like you, for girls like you!’
Buy these products and you’ll be more attractive to the opposite sex.
You must work hard to look good if you want to keep a man.
Dress this way if you want to be taken seriously at work.
Your success as a woman depends on the way you look.
If you really want to feel fabulous (and this is a message to myself as much as anyone else) stop taking the airbrushed adverts and barrage of ‘quick fix’ tips at face value. Stop spending your money on overpriced products that promise to make you beautiful, and start working on feeling fabulous from the inside out.
Be healthy, be a good friend, give back to society, spend more time with the people you love, work hard at things you’re passionate about, give praise where it’s due, and stop being so damn hard on yourself. We are all human. We all age, eat cake, skip the gym (from February onwards), get smile lines eventually, look like shit in the morning, leave the house with hair we know shouldn’t have been allowed to fester for another day, and occasionally go to work looking like we’ve fallen through a jumble sale.
It doesn’t stop us from being intelligent, good at what we do, and just plain fabulous.
Women have face-lifts in a society in which women without them appear to vanish from sight. Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth (highly recommended).