Why is it assumed that all women want to emulate celebrities? Against the suffocating celebrity-worship culture, Nicky Raynor argues in favour of glorious anonymity, individuality, and a greater variety of female role models.
A while ago I spent an unusual Friday night slumped in front of the television. Unusual, I fear, not because I ordinarily have so crazy a social life it does not afford telly watching, but because I work in a pub most evenings. Anyway, this meant that not only could I catch up on my Sex and the City viewing, but I somehow stumbled upon a documentary on Jordan, You Don’t Even Know Me, aptly scheduled soon after her I’m a Celebrity appearance. All well and good, a couple of glasses of wine into the evening, and with other tempting alternatives fairly scarce, I settled in with a relatively open mind.
My feelings watching the documentary were mixed. While I didn’t necessarily warm to the lady in question, I didn’t feel terribly strongly either way. Yes, I know as a feminist, I should on some level disapprove of all the tit shots and pink thongs; but, you know, each to her own, and she’s obviously not completely stupid/is making lots of money/insert your own defence of her here.
The documentary maker quite clearly did not want us to like Katie Price; in fact, he seemed to want to cast her in almost the worst possible light; the photo shoot for Now with her baby as he battled a raging temperature being one obvious example, though drunken ‘appearances’ where she seemed to do little else but pout, pose and bitch made up numerous others. (I didn’t make it to the end of the documentary, so fill in your own). However, I tried to be fair; I applauded her business sense in investing in property and was faintly pleased that she, like Carrie in SATC, and me (!), couldn’t cook.
It was not the most fascinating piece of television I’ve ever watched, but it was just about tolerable until, a little way into the documentary, when Jordan was preparing for one of her ‘appearances’ at a club, for which, I might add, she often gets paid five figure sums. She was wearing a tight black pelmet and, while applying the finishing touches to herself, she sprayed a shot of perfume between her legs. At least, I think that’s what she did, because it happened very quickly and I wasn’t watching that closely; but before I could say “Page Three” she came out with this outburst:
“I know you”, she said, addressing the camera (these may not have been her exact words, but they are very close). “You’re sitting on the sofa with your boyfriends or husbands, and you’re saying to them, ‘Ooh, look at her! What a tart!’ You’re judging me, and you’re only saying that because you are jealous!” She then added helpfully, “But I only put it up there coz girls get sweaty there”.
Now, Jordan, let’s get some things straight. You do not like to be prejudged yourself (You Don’t Even Know Me!), so do the rest of us a favour:
- I am not sitting here with my boyfriend; I am lying here, on my own.
- I am not calling you a tart, slapper, or anything else. I am merely watching and the only times I have heckled at the TV are to tell you to take that stupid pink clip out of your hair and to applaud, in empathy, your inability to cook.
- I am not, I repeat, NOT, jealous of you. I am begrudgingly admiring of your capital and business sense. I am vaguely irritated by the length of column inches you occupy. I am faintly nauseous when I chance upon you simulating sex with Peter Andre on daytime TV. But, I am not jealous.
Unlike your fans who won tickets to your birthday party, I – and I believe I am not alone – do not covet your celebrity lifestyle and the endless intrusions and compromises that it seems to entail. I do not want your ladmag photo shoots, your famous blabbing ex-boyfriends, or even (!) your breasts. Believe it or not, I like being an unheard-of brunette who gets the chance read a lot and cover up on cold February nights. But nor do I wish you ill, so please do not attack me as I doze here on my bed on a Friday night watching you spray perfume onto your unmentionables.
I was trying to be open minded about Jordan, but she leapt to conclusions about me. I know it was a throwaway comment, but nevertheless it was telling. Why does Jordan think that other women are jealous of her? Because men desire her? Well, her own love life has proved what a burden that can be. Because she is beautiful? She may well be, though it is difficult to see under all the makeup, fake tan, fake hair, and fake breasts. Because she is famous? Perhaps.
I don’t want to turn this into a personal rant about Jordan; I realise that she is an extreme example. My anger is more directed against the phenomenon of celebrity in our culture which would suggest all women want to be and look like Celebrity Woman i.e. thin, large breasted, and in the public eye. You only have to glance at women’s glossies for that to seem to be the case. In fact, I no longer buy women’s glossies as I am sick at the very sight of C.W. in all her air-brushed perfection on the covers; an air-brushed perfection that, as has been said a million times, has contributed to almost all teenage girls hating their bodies and one in five of them suffering from eating disorders. I am tired of being told How to Dress like Kate, or How to Have Hair like Jennifer’s; I want to dress like me, and have hair like mine.
I wish more women’s glossies catered for those of us who don’t want to be C.W., or look like her, or eat like her, or dress like her. How many of those fallen-from-grace tabloid stories do people have to read before they learn, amazingly, that celebrity is not everything? Fame is fickle; as it makes you, so it destroys you, and the women at which the cameras of Hello! flash are not radiant goddesses of light, but as needy, grumpy, dysfunctional and boringly human as the rest of us.
They too get spots, greasy hair and struggle with their weight. The ‘perfection’ is an illusion maintained by stylists, dieticians, personal trainers, hairdressers, and, yes, air-brushing. True, many of them do have thinner thighs and larger bank accounts than the rest of us, but at what cost to personal space and freedom? So many women, like those fans of Jordan’s, are being lured by a mirage. As the number of applicants to reality shows reveals, there is still a huge number of people who yearn and yearn to climb Fame Mountain -who want celebrity for the sake of celebrity – and then, when they get to the top, realise that it is not where they want to be at all. Look up ‘famous’ in the Demon’s Dictionary and you will find the definition ‘conspicuously miserable’.
I realise that all women are different and that our aspirations and ambitions vary greatly from individual to individual. Nor, of course, do I want dictate what those aspirations should be. However, I do object to the constant barrage of propaganda from the media that tries to tell me what I should aspire to and envy, and to the complete lack of variety these ‘aspirational’ magazines offer. If you read one, you’ve read them all. The message is always the same: get thin, get pretty, get laid.
In this exciting odyssey, C.W. is held up as an incentive; she did it, so can you! Glossies love Jennifer Aniston because this girl-next-door had a nose job, lost the weight, got famous, and eventually bagged Brad Pitt. What else could any girl want from life? I happen to like Jennifer Aniston; I think she’s quite a funny lady, but why not focus on, for example, Lisa Kudrow, who is just as talented a comedy actress (but not as thin or as married to Brad Pitt)? Aniston provides us with a real life Cinderella story; she got rescued from dull obscurity by losing weight and bagging a handsome prince. And I thought this was the 21st century.
Conversely, it is so rare that we find truly talented women writers, politicians, artists, scientists, historians, explorers or inventors held up as inspirational role models. Perhaps they are not seen as aesthetically pleasing, and yet I, for one, would welcome a change from the insipid fake-tanned blandness to which we are normally treated. Other less gender specific ‘interest’ magazines have no qualms about putting gnarled old (male) rockers or politicians on the covers, so why do women’s glossies need something pink and pretty? It seems rather patronising to me.
Moreover, if we were given more of a variety of female role models, and if women were not so valued by how they look (they grace the covers of both men’s and women’s mags!), teenage girls may focus on improving their brains as much as their bodies. I realise that I am not the first person to say this sort of thing; indeed, it has been said more eloquently by Germaine Greer, so give me an article on How to Write like Germaine! That I might read!
We have freedoms that our mothers and grandmothers did not enjoy; it doesn’t matter that we can’t cook; we’re not expected to. The Sex and the City girls are able to earn high salaries, then spend said salaries on shoes and cocktails. Jordan can conspicuously earn her millions by posing without her clothes on, nor does she feel ashamed of doing so. But I’ll say it again: variety is good, let’s celebrate it. We do not all aspire to be Jordans, or even Carries or Jennifers. So, give us more choice; give us a wider range of role models.
I have spent the evening lying around my flat in anonymous peace while Jordan, who is on the cover of every tacky celeb magazine this week, prances on my TV screen telling me I’m jealous of her. Poor love.