This is not my first time having this conversation so I already know where it is heading.
“Where they tell someone what not to wear.”
“You should go on that.”
My options are laid out in front of me: get angry, tell him off, send him out, get upset.
This is me though, I get asked if I am pregnant at least once a term. (“No, I’m just fat, alright?” I say, with a wink)
“Hey, that’s pretty rude…” I start with.
“No, I mean, you should totally do it. It would be good for you.”
So, I ask the boy why it is important that I look good. He tells me it is so I can get a husband or a boyfriend so that I can have children. After we explore the possibility of adoption as a single woman, he tells me I should look good to feel good about myself.
I said, “I feel good about myself!” while wondering if the past tense would be more appropriate. He gave me the thumbs up.
I am sat here writing about how women are judged on their appearance, and how that is unfair, and ALL I want to do it include a picture of myself looking awesome so that you do not think I am so badly dressed that baby birds fall from nests and flowers wilt as I pass
This is not an isolated incident. A handful children have mentioned the programme by name. That would be fine, children and teenagers are socially gauche at best and downright offensive at worst.
In February, near my birthday, I got my hair cut and wore a new top to school. My colleagues were complimentary and let it “slip” that they had been discussing putting me forward for How To Look Good Naked. I do not have a TV, so I had no idea what the show was like. Having watched it months later, I am suffering from a delayed complex.
The main issue initially for me is not that people are crass and judgemental. I feel offended and defensive. I feel like describing my build and how I dress when not at work, to reassure you that I am quite attractive really. I am sat here writing about how women are judged on their appearance, and how that is unfair, and ALL I want to do it include a picture of myself looking awesome so that you do not think I am so badly dressed that baby birds fall from nests and flowers wilt as I pass.
I feel like chucking out all my clothes, burning them and then burying the ashes. I feel like going to a personal shopper and handing them my credit card.
I feel like the personal shopper would look me up and down, and decide everyone was right – that I cannot dress myself and that it Reflects Badly On Me.
Then I get cross. I get more than cross. It is so massively unfair that male teachers do not field such comments. Or rather, male teachers would have to be so badly dressed that they make eyes bleed to meet the threshold of unacceptability. It is so unfair that I cannot choose my least-sexy clothes for work without being thought to have low self-esteem. It unsettles me that having a masters in astrophysics, being an experienced teacher and consummate professional is not enough at work. I must also be easy on the eye.
It really gets on my nerves that people assume I am single because I dress badly, when my relationship status is because I am still reeling from a horrific previous relationship and am not ready yet, thanks.
The worst thing is that I buy into it a bit, flirting with the idea of dressing stylishly full-time. I think about blow-drying my hair and putting on makeup every day. I think about changing my style for work. Before anyone suggested change, I was happy. I liked looking like an old-style librarian. I liked not wearing the latest fashions. Now, I think about how I could do better
It struck me that the children are only doing as they have been shown. All those nasty magazines and programmes. Shrill women groping chubby women uninvited and telling them that it does not matter that they have a big bum… as long as they wear clothes that disguise it.
The magazines that emphasise any flaw in a woman’s body, even having to invent new flaws as famous women succumb to the pressure and conform.
The celebrities with the unattainable lifestyle of personal trainers, chefs, dressers and fabulous wealth. The photoshopped models.
Women are public property, our bodies must conform, our clothes must be sexy. If we do not comply, it must mean that we have low self-esteem. If we are single and straight, we must want to get married and have children. We must want help on how to dress.
I spoke to some female friends about my experience, mentioned those awful magazines that humiliate female celebrities on an industrial scale and they started a new conversation about how brilliant the magazines were. (These are women who are constantly on diets and seem pretty unhappy most of the time. I am not saying there is definitely a link but I am insinuating it.)
When the emotional reactions subside, I wonder who benefits from this hyper-criticism of women and their appearance. I wonder if dowdy women have always been open to such evaluation of their dress sense, or if it is new. I wonder how much money is made by making women hate their appearance. I wonder if magazines and programmes that contribute to women’s overall dissatisfaction with themselves get any of the profits from clothes and makeup shops. I wonder if their editorial policy is more overtly part of the advertising budget than I thought before.
The worst thing is that I buy into it a bit, flirting with the idea of dressing stylishly full-time. I think about blow-drying my hair and putting on makeup every day. I think about changing my style for work. Before anyone suggested change, I was happy. I liked looking like an old-style librarian. I liked not wearing the latest fashions. Now, I think about how I could do better.
It has got into my head. I am not good enough. I need to buy more stuff to try to be good enough.
It depresses and amazes me how young people have so quickly become vectors for marketing. If I think I am having a hard time, it is powers of 10 times worse for teenaged girls. Peer pressure was always a big deal but now it comes with extra unattainability. The undercurrent of linking worth to wealth and image was always strong, but it must be dragging more girls and women down.
If it worked on me, I would go out and buy some high heels. As a consequence start basing my self-esteem on what clothes I have chosen to wear. I might be happy when I buy new stuff but I will never be content. I will always be a prisoner of other people’s approval
How much of the pay gap is caused by women thinking that they are not good enough to ask for a raise or go for a more responsible role? How much pressure do you need to be perfect, before you lose all sense of perspective and end up hurting yourself at the gym or with a crash diet?
The magazines and programmes sell us an essentially false concept. The idea that you are able to look good to all people at all times. That it is possible, desirable even, to control every factor about your presentation, and win over potential friends and partners. They are selling us our self-worth back. They are pushing the false and damaging belief that control of all factors is not only in our reach but necessary. If only we pay a little bit more. The phrase “retail therapy” is surely the key. The idea that buying lots of nice new things is a cure for malaise. Drug dealers use similar tactics. Drug dealers sell the idea that emotional states can be bought. Drug dealers manipulate the self esteem of their regular customers to keep them hooked.
I understand the economy is important. I understand that clothes and makeup manufacturers would like to make money, I just do not understand how they can live with themselves after orchestrating such misery.
If it worked on me, I would go out and buy some high heels. As a consequence start basing my self-esteem on what clothes I have chosen to wear. I might be happy when I buy new stuff but I will never be content. I will always be a prisoner of other people’s approval.
Surely, the journalists and advertisers are subject to the same manipulation, or do they love a woman who is suffering as a consequence of their actions. How can earning money be a justification for making everyone feel wretched?
I long for the day that women send these nasty magazines packing. Forget Zoo and Nuts; Closer and Heat are my worst enemy. Soft core porn makes men temporarily believe their milder sexual fantasies about women. Hard core criticism-porn makes women believe the worst about themselves and for much longer.
We need them out of our heads.
They are only powerful because they are popular and they are only popular because they are powerful.
I daydream sometimes about a magazine that I would like to read. It would have news, politics, gadgets, science, monthly astronomy star charts instead of astrology, book reviews, fitness ideas and recipes (but not diets!), it would review all genres of films not just rom-coms, it would have new fiction and poetry (and not just the stories about starting relationships).
In my day dream, women buy that type of magazine and the other ones disappear from the shelves. Then women raise their girls to love themselves and care more about their personalities than their presentation. Women stop being so judgemental about each other and themselves. Women can work in a professional role and not be judged on their dress sense… even if it is objectively bad. Women can gain or lose a few pounds without inviting comment.
We need them out of our heads so we can think about how wonderful we really are.
Kelly Draper is a 27-year-old who is slowly realising that having a dress sense that embarrasses 14-year-old boys from Peckham is probably a good thing