Friday, 13 February 2009

Jessica's gone all normal - and we don't like it

Is this woman fat? The answer to that question above should be a resounding “ no”, of course. According to reports, Jessica Simpson’s recent weight gain has pushed her dress size to a positively mammoth UK size 10, and provided evidence that she might – once in a while – eat. Hold the phone!

I went more than a little bit nuts when I heard a colleague of mine say “She’s got a bit fat, hasn’t she?”, my feminist high horse now resembling that wooden beast at Troy. But later I had to admit, with some amount of shame, that I’d thought along the same lines when I first saw the photos. It’s clearly wrong, as the woman is categorically NOT fat (anyone unfortunate enough to catch Two Ton Son on More4 recently can testify to this) that I personally or any other should think otherwise, but we do and if you’re really honest you will admit it too.

This always happens when a woman in the public eye goes through any discernible physical alteration. I haven’t bought Heat magazine for years, but when I occasionally go beyond the cover I am always sickened by the levels of hypocrisy contained within. Insincere pleas to certain celebrities to gain weight are featured pages away from features consisting of pointing out sweat patches, ridiculing broken heels or laughing at tan lines. Criticising someone who’s skinny seems to be more acceptable, with intrusive photos under incredibly patronising headlines (“LINDSAY WE’RE WORRIED ABOUT YOU” etc)

Disclaimers like “we think she looks great but…” or “we think she looks much healthier but…” are used by publications like Heat as carte blanche to slate women who aren’t Cheryl Tweedy (modern day slang for “perfect”). Also there is definite sourness to the amount they asset their love of curves and If they thought women looked great as they are, why draw attention to the reasons others might disagree? These kinds of magazines sell copies by drawing attention to flaws in women. The reasons why are complex and various. Naomi Woolf believed media’s treatment of women being a new kind of control with which to manipulate them, this being the natural system of existence for us gals. Navigating such a read is like travelling through a particularly nasty and thorny maze and the end point is a mess of confusion.

So is it any wonder our idea of body image is so ridiculously perverted, with these mixed messages being bandied about by the magazines we have read since our teens? Is it any wonder I thought Jessica was looking a little plump when I am assaulted with more images of Victoria Beckham everyday than I’m presented with my own face in the mirror? The last time Jessica Simpson was featured significantly in the news was when she was flinging herself over a car bonnet in a bikini and heels, and that was presumably normal….Christ. In this topsy turvy world of body image, I’m not sure that we’ll ever be able – as women – to entirely disassociate ourselves from the image promoted in the media as normal. But realising its existence as something abnormal, unreasonable and more importantly – unreal – is surely the first step.

Lastly – don’t buy Heat. It’s crap