The Painted Mask of Ugly Perfection*

Ben Cohen - I would

Ben Cohen – I would

The media, society and body fascism

I was prompted to write this blog after listening to a discussion on a radio show.  It concerned a comic masquerading as a newspaper, The Daily Mail, fat-shaming former England rugby player, Ben Cohen.

In a somewhat catty article, Mail ‘journalist’ (I use the term loosely, dears) Jemma Buckley, amidst terms like “beefy” and “portly”, commented on pics of Ben during his holiday in Miami, stating “it would appear that Ben Cohen has been making the most of his retirement from the sports field”, “The former England star looked out of shape”, carrying a few more pounds than he’s used to”, and evenPerhaps the 36-year-old has indulged in one too many romantic meals with reported girlfriend Kristina Rihanoff”.

Saucer of milk for Ms Buckley.

Oh please.  So Ben has put on a few pounds, but know what?  He still looks great, he still has a physique many men would kill to have, and he is still damned sexy with it.  Okay, he’s not my type – I’m more fond of androgynous pretty boys (whom some would claim I ‘collect’ on social media, but I think that’s uncharitable), but even then, I certainly wouldn’t kick him out of bed in a hurry – and I doubt many of my readers would either.  If anything he looks better carrying a little more weight in my opinion.

The discussion on the radio was extremely interesting as it was traumatic to listen to, as it exposed that fat-shaming, and other abuse based upon bodily appearance are on the increase.  There was a call from one woman who said she was 6′ 8″ tall and with a broad-shouldered and sturdy frame and large hands, saying that she had suffered verbal abuse being called “homo” and “tranny”.  The poor woman is not even transgender – she’s cishet.

Probably the most disturbing aspect of this phenomena is that it is now affecting children, and we are not talking just teens either.  My heart went out to one grandfather who called in and was obviously in tears as he told how he noticed his 8-year-old grandson was continually sucking in his stomach, and when questioned it turned out the little chap, who apparently still has a bit of his baby fat, was being bullied at school for being fat.  We have a saying in Scotland, “Fools and bairns speak at the cross whit they hear by the ingleside.”, so I am immediately going to lay the blame for that one not just upon the bullies, but upon their parents, who if they are not actually bringing up little bigots (which I assume they are), they are certainly doing nothing to discourage it.

I reserved my rage for one – male – doctor who was interviewed on the show and who stated “This has been a problem with girls and women for a long time.  The last thing we need is to add men into the equation.”

So wrong.  So very, very, wrong.  Firstly, the said doctor seems to be suggesting that if it is a female phenomena, then that is okay, but woe betide it should ever become a male issue.  Secondly, perhaps because there have been serious problems with women suffering abuse due to image, then if it takes it affecting men for society to take notice, perhaps that is precisely what is needed for action to finally be taken.

It is 37 years since Fat is a Feminist Issue by psychotherapist Susie Orbach was first published, in which she taught women to be happy with their bodies, no matter what shape they are.  In the intervening years, not only has society apparently learned little to nothing, if anything, things appear to be getting worse.  And one shudders to think just how many women have died in the pursuit of the ‘perfect’ body, or the ‘bikini figure’.

How the hell are we still so judgemental in 2015?  As one who can recall Twiggy in her anorexic heyday, I would have thought we were past that long ago.  But no, we are now all expected to have the perfect image.

I have big problems with that term ‘perfect’.  Firstly, I would like those who speak of it to define ‘perfect’, because what may be perfect for some is far from perfect for others.  Secondly, ‘perfect’ human beings for me immediately conjures up images of the Nazi ideal of a tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed “master race”.  And I’m not being sensational here.  Any society which judges people for their image, is only a step away from excluding those who do not adhere to the set “perfect” image.  It is yet one more form of discrimination, and like all discrimination, deserves to be condemned and consigned to the dustbin of history.  I like to refer to it as ‘body fascism’.

It would be oh so easy to take the hyper-feminist view of blaming men and only men for this, but it simply is not the case.  Certainly the media must take a great deal of the blame, not only for telling women they must be slim, and posting pictures of models and celebrities who look, in their opinion, perfect.  But women must take some of the blame too.  Increasingly it is women writing the articles in rubbish magazines aimed at the female market, and of course, women read them, see the pics, read the crap articles and attempt to appear like the women in the magazines.

And of course, they never are going to look like them.  Not unless they have the financial acumen, and the access to resources such as the same personal trainers, hairdressers, beauticians and that most useless section of society, image coaches, as the celebrities employ.  And that is before they even have to splash out on cosmetics, clothes and jewellery which are well beyond the pocket of the average woman.  But even then, they are still not going to look like the models in the magazines for one simple reason – the photographs are tweaked, and always have been.  It used to be a matter of time-consuming and careful airbrushing of actual photographs.  Nowadays models can be made to look even more ‘perfect’ at the press of a few keys with software such as Photoshop.  So women attempting to look like the models are attempting to achieve the impossible.

“Ah, but Xandra,” I hear you say, “women wouldn’t do that if it were not expected of them by men.”  Really?  Think so?  Certainly there is some aspect it of that.  However, I reckon those of us who are genderqueer crossdressers and M to F trans are in a unique position to comment upon that.  How many genderqueer / trans women do themselves up and dress in pretty and / or sexy clothing to attract a partner or to please men?  Not many to none is my guess.  I highly suspect that most, if not all, like me do so for their own self-esteem and to feel good within themselves.  And you will probably find that cisgender women dress nice and do themselves up pretty for exactly the same reasons.  Even if they do get caught in the image trap, I sincerely doubt they are doing it for men.  Anyone who thinks that is but a step away from the claim that women get raped for dressing provocatively.  I would like to hear your opinions on this, sisters –  be you cis, genderqueer, or trans.

In 2004 the cosmetics manufacturer, Unilever, launched the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty after interviews with women revealed that only 4% of themselves considered themselves beautiful.  They then launched a series of billboard adverts showing regular women, not models, in plain white underwear.  Not one of the models was a day under 30, they were all shapes and sizes, some were quite curvy, the photos were unretouched – and they were all gorgeous.  The campaign was an enormous success in teaching women that all shapes and appearances are beautiful.  And while Unilever has been rightly condemned for also producing skin-lightening products and producing sexist adverts, the Dove campaign continues to educate women – and men – around the world.

Dove Real Beauty

Dove Real Beauty

I tell you dears, either as Xandra or my male alter-ego, I would happily bed any of these women.  And if some skinny supermodel is about, she make herself useful by fixing some coffee – assuming she has the brains to accomplish such a task (yes, dears, I can be catty too).

It is worth bearing in mind that not one single person on the face of this planet has a perfect body, or perfect appearance.  Everybody is critical of themselves in one way or another.  Some may have a few pounds (I’m no sylph myself) more than their body mass index, some may be short, tall, have freckles, a mole, boobs or a willy they are unhappy with the size of.  Some may have to wear glasses, some may have teeth which are far from perfect, some may suffer skin complaints.  Show me the person who claims to have the ‘perfect’ body, and I’ll show you a complete egomaniac, and I’ll look carefully and find something which does not fit in with the ‘perfect’ image.

And besides which, what is the point in having a gorgeous body and looks when you are ugly inside?  I would much rather have a regular person with a few obvious blemishes and treats others with kindness, than some arrogant Adonis or painted doll who is completely up themselves and judgemental of others.

And everyone is blonde, and everyone is beautiful.
And when blonde and beautiful are multiplied,

they become so dull and dutiful.
And when faced with dull and dutiful,
they let of a warning flare;
a battle-khaki personality,
wearing red underwear.
(The Beautiful South, Rotterdam)

I am not for one moment saying that nobody, female or male, should not diet or work to make the best of themselves if they want.  Everybody who does so however, needs to be sure they are doing it for themselves, not because of pressure put on them by others, and most certainly not because the media tells them they have to.  Certainly do not do it for catty cows like Jemma Buckley.

Above all, make sure you do it healthily.  There have been a number of cases recently of women dying through taking slimming pills, not to mention deaths through eating disorders continue to be a problem decades after they should have ceased to be through.   Frankly, when it comes to deaths or even severe illness through ‘image problems’ none is one case too many.


*Line from Berketex Bribe by the punk band, Crass.

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2 thoughts on “The Painted Mask of Ugly Perfection*

    • The case of Elouise Parry is indeed tragic, and the sale of DNP and other such pills online is highly alarming.

      I will agree with you that people dieting to the point of harm are bullying themselves, but then you have to look deeper, at what the root causes fo that are, and I would suggest that it still comes back to what society expects people to look like, and that in turn is fed by the media. Who then is the bully?

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