There’s a little something I’d like to get off my chest.
You might have seen the Facebook wall post: a strip of pictures of 50s posed pin-up girls is juxtaposed with modern movie stars paparazzi-snapped in their bikinis. Marilyn Monroe, windswept in her white swimsuit, smiles up at you. Elizabeth Taylor pouts seductively with a pina colada and Betty Page shows more of a predisposition towards arching her back against inanimate objects than my cat at supper time.
There are more dangerous curves on display than at an F1 track walk through. These are the faces that launched a thousand shipments of lingerie, the crème de la crème of retro sex appeal.
With the corresponding modern images, the picture’s less than perfection. Without the benefit of a stylist and careful selection of their best angle we find that Nicole Ritchie’s got the lollipop look – head outsized for her body.
Keira Knightley’s washboard abs distract somewhat from her stringbean thighs, but Kirsten Dunst’s saggy bikini bottoms make her look like she was washed up by a particularly violent wave. The caption is ‘When did this (Keira and co) become hotter than this (Team Elizabeth Taylor)?’
Now, bar my Bulgarian weightlifter thighs, I’m pretty thin. This means I’ve suffered the indignity that only the cleavage-challenged experience of fitting room assistants saying “I’m afraid we don’t stock anything smaller than an A cup,” while teenagers bound in with their ample selections. (Incidentally, Keira Knightley once cheerfully described her breasts as sitting “like two aspirins on an ironing board,” giving me a whole new reason to warm to her).
Turns out, as messages like this Facebook post keep reminding us, real women have curves. Holy halternecks, I didn’t know I was fake! Thanks for letting me know – I’ll return my membership card at the next Fem101 conference.
Apparently, the only time a woman is supposed to feel good about getting A’s is if they’re on her report card. Well, here’s the thing: I haven’t got a problem with mine and I don’t begrudge you yours. But the minute people start rabbiting on about ‘real women’ I get real…worked up.
Before you jump on the bootylicious bandwagon, it’s not as subversive as you might think to put a pin up glamour model on your wall as the standard of female beauty. Show me a woman with muscles, no makeup, a mastectomy…then we can start a conversation. Don’t give me corsets and suspenders and say you’re Germaine Greer. (Heck, if you still read Germaine Greer that might be half the problem.)
Something that I quite like about living in the 21st Century is that we’re interested in and engaged with diversity. Most of us recognise that our bodies are capable of infinitely varied expressions and a lot of people find a lot of different things hot. Just because you’re not spilling out of a slashed neckline or, conversely, squeezing into a size small doesn’t mean you’re not sexy to someone (and let’s hope that someone includes yourself). I won’t be offended if you prefer big breasts, just like I wouldn’t take it personally if you had a thing for blondes. I will be offended if you start suggesting corresponding value judgements on authenticity, though.
Perhaps we should start looking at female role models not by how they fill a piece of swimwear, but instead what they fill their heads with. After all, Marilyn – with multiple traumatic marriages, drug habits and multiple (eventually successful) suicide attempts – is hardly the gold standard for what I’d find attractive in a potential mate.
Let’s not get onto Liz Taylor’s liaisons. For all Keira Knightley may or may not have contributed to the public discourse, let’s bear in mind that she at least seems to be a successful woman with millions in the bank, no scandals to speak of and a stable relationship. The press love to speculate that she has an eating disorder but, like it or not, some women do spring into the world on whippet legs with about as much body fat as a deboned chicken breast. It happens. Let’s collectively get over it.
Are you into women? Whether you prefer the cup half full or spilling over is A-ok by me. Just don’t tell me I should feel bad for the way my body looks and I’ll return the courtesy. Are you a woman? Don’t make ‘real’ femininity an exclusive club and we’ll all get along just fine.
It’s pretty unlikely that any of us will crack the pin-up nod anytime soon (but hey, if you do, good for you). I get why, in an image-obsessed culture, trying to create a more comfortable discourse around weight is vitally important. But you don’t do it by negating the other side of the scale. You do it by throwing the scale out the window.
Follow Carla Lever on Twitter (@carlalever)
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