Aspiring girl geek to bitch in one proposal…

A week or so ago, I submitted a very general proposal to 4IP in response to their Body Image brief. I suspect that the idea I submitted was too vague, but here is some of the thought from the proposal and post-proposal discussions with friends.

For too long, body image has been separated from female identity. We have countless programmes on different types of makeovers, but what happens when the cameras are switched off, the “experts” disappear & women have to achieve this “new look” in the context of their hectic lives? Body image may also be symptomatic of bigger issues such as professional confidence, health problems, loneliness or life changes such as starting a family. Body image needs to be more than a makeover, women need a solution that is sustainable over time.

A while back I read a book called “The Game” by Neil Strauss. For most ladies, it won’t be a nice read, but it’s an interesting one. In this book, Strauss references various techniques to pick-up women, including one called “Peacocking”. Peacocking is “dressing to stand out, or to have an item of clothing or an accessory that looks interesting” and though the world has acknowledged it seems more important for women to look good, I’m wondering if there’s as much mileage for women to look interesting…to “peacock”. This is important for several reasons:

1) It allows a woman to dress within her personality…. to dress within an identify… to form an identity
2) It allows a woman to create her own physical ideal (to be the best that she can be), rather than becoming a poor compromise towards someone else’s physical ideal
3) It creates diversity, we can celebrate difference
4) It’s accessible to all women

If you go to any city centre in the UK from London to Aberdeen, on a Saturday night, you’re pretty much certain to find scantily clad girls staggering around in heels: British girls have a reputation for wearing very little clothing. I’m not making a judgement, when I went out in my mid to late teens, I also wore some outrageously short skirts, but it was because I thought they made me more attractive and would somehow get me some male attention. The skirts did get attention, but in fact it turned out to be the sort of focus I was never comfortable receiving.

Whilst I’ve always been a healthy weight, sometimes my figure has wandered over to the plumper side of slim. That’s not a put-down, it’s true. I hope it’s also fair to say that most of the time I’ve been aware of the extra padding and in general (more so with age) have dressed with some sort of style. I cringe for girls, much bigger than me, who squeeze themselves into tiny outfits only to spill out in every direction. This isn’t bitchiness. These girls look awful and it’s no great step for feminism for these girls to flaunt their flesh in this way, occasionally with skirts so short it’s possible to see everything. Surely some parts can be left to an imagination? This isn’t a rant about the clothes that women of different sizes should and shouldn’t wear, but it’s profoundly sad that so many British girls believe, this is the way to command male (and female?) attention.

I’ve not long finished reading “Memoirs of a Geisha”, which provoked a great deal of day dreaming about body image, because body image for a geisha was embedded in a training that went beyond physical appearance. I appreciate that it’s a fictitious story, but there was something fascinating in women developing the art of commanding attention, the art of conversation and the art of engaging. Whilst women have travelled a long way since the 50s, there’s something terribly mutant about how the pursuit of liberty and equality has somehow trampled over a desire to be elegant.

The pursuit of elegance has much more longevity than the pursuit of physical perfection. If we all get BOTOX, dye our hair, diet, get plastic surgery… what we’ll end up with is a generation of women who have nothing else to comment on, but their reflection in the mirror. I was out with friends last night, including a female Polish friend and I was somewhat surprised, (if not every so slightly horrified) to hear about the lengths that she’ll go to to keep a perfect face. This friend looks incredibly glamourous every time I see her and puts me to shame as I rock up in boots and leggings, with nothing but moisturiser and some eyeliner on my face. Even though I accept the arguments for cosmetic work abroad, I’d rather spend the same money going mountain biking, or on a canoe, run and bike challenge or cycling in Mongolia (Gaud –  I miss that holiday!). There are things that I would love to change about my body, but what’s the point? Surgery for short-term gain will only have to be adjusted as the body sags and shrink-wraps with age and even the women who have the time and money to chase the continuous adjustments end up looking a little odd as they approach their golden years.

When discussing the 4IP brief with a friend, she pointed out her focus on sport:

“The body is an incredible machine that can achieve so much. To feel the purpose of the body was, for me, the start of changing how I thought about my body. I started running and my body was, for the moments when I was achieving something, not about what looked bad, but about how far I could go, how fast I could go.”
With a marathon a week today, I have much sympathy with this viewpoint and though people keep asking about my time, in all honesty I just want to finish! This is a big deal for me… I hated sport at school, I’m not a natural or regular runner; the marathon will hurt. Nothing will be easy about the challenge. However, this didn’t stop me signing up for the marathon, as part of my Big 5 Challenge for Breakthrough Breast Cancer and I’m a firm believer that life is too damn short for you to not push or test your boundaries. Sure we’re getting older, but we’ll never be this young again either (have said this many times before).

The same friend has also done a lot of her own research into women and sport, pointing out that there should be…

“Particular focus on the 25-85 age group. These women missed out on the new education policies brought into school from 2000 onwards, and women’s participation diminishes more greatly with age than men’s does.
Sport is important because of:
  • The improvement to health, well-being and confidence that it gives is unrivaled.
  • It improves sociability as well as the above factors
  • It improves mental well-being
  • It can be a factor in reducing cancer and heart disease rates
Women’s charities often focus on the ‘victim’, I think sport brings an opportunity to focus on women before they become victims, to do something that benefits the lives of women, rather than ‘rescues’ them.
  • Women do roughly 17% less sport than men (ie 56% of men take part in some sport, and only 39% of women) and participate far less in exercise.
  • 25% of women in Scotland are obese.
  • 74% of scottish mothers take no exercise
  • The is a perception of a ‘macho’ culture and that sport is not seen as something for women

Sport is also the most sustainable way to address body confidence and improve physical appearance. In a small online survey that I sent round on Facebook, 40% of my female friends said that that the part of their body they liked most were their eyes and 40% said that the part of the body they liked least was their tummy. I don’t like my tummy much either, but I have seen small improvements in my figure through cycling and running. Most women will have to work for a slimmer tummy, but at least this goal is accessible… it’s not like wishing for longer legs or bigger breasts.

There was a depressing article in The Huffington Post which pointed to some research indicating women are actually getting unhappier.

“Though women begin their lives more fulfilled than men, as they age, they gradually become less happy. Men, in contrast, get happier as they get older.”

Apparently it’s a trend identified across a range of developed countries, with no obvious explanation. Women have won many of the rights traditionally monopolised by men, it’s just that when we access and activate such rights, we still have to ensure we’re waxed, polished and made-up to ensure we get the attention we deserve. Even Emma McGrattan, Senior Vice President of Engineering at Ingres Corporation, took a lot of flack about her appearance, when a PR storm gathered around some throwaway comments she made on gender differences in coding. The fact that physical appearance was brought in as a last resort by some male bloggers to insult the woman is incredibly sad, given her professional success and credibility.

Something has gone horribly wrong when we let those magazines, which tell us when Jordan is having her period or who’s lost their baby weight the fastest, govern our views on body confidence. I’m not arguing that physical appearance for women doesn’t matter, we all find our heads turned in the presence of beauty. This meandering train of thought is more to drive home the view that there are lots of different ways to be beautiful and that’s not meant to sound cheesy… if women are to matter in the world, we need to be interested (and be interesting) in it.

And in the time I’ve been writing this, another female friend sent me this link: