Wednesday, 22 October 2014

On Putting your Best Face forward

'If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say nothing at all'

Thumper said it. And if I can't trust the advice of a large-eyed, animated rabbit, then quite frankly who can I trust? 

Unfortunately, Thumper lived in a simple world. His best friend was a deer and he skated on icy ponds on his tummy. True, there was always the slight fear of IMMINENT DEATH at the hands of callous hunters or starvation*. But he never had to make a living in the rough, tough world of digital journalism. And, come to think of it, he wasn't a human. Humans have an instinctive feeling that nasty sells. Short term, it's easier to tear holes in something than to add more bricks. Partly because you don't have to find the cement first. 

And here's a nice example of the kind of thing that would make Thumper blush. So that you don't have to click on over, and hand more wood to the nasty firestarters, there follows a brief synopsis. Basically, there's a lady on Youtube making videos. Mostly, these videos are about putting on make-up but she talks about some other things too. The lady in question (Zoella) has gained lots of success with her Youtube videos and now does other things too (including writing books and putting her name to a beauty range). This is grand. Since I mostly watch videos of cats jumping into boxes and the Strange Charm song on Youtube, I can't say I'm overly familiar with her work but it makes lots of people happy and does so with a minimal amount of Jeremy Clarkson. With that in mind, I'm a fan. Or at least generally well-disposed to her. The lady who wrote the article linked above is not a fan. She's not blowing hot and cold, she's not even tepid. She does NOT approve of Zoella's smoky-eye tutorials, or in fact her large eyes full stop. She is very cross about the fact that Zoella has said that young girls should worry less about the way they look and then shown them how to put on lipstick. Instead of lipstick, why not lectures on feminism?

But she misses a few key points. There's nothing wrong with wearing make-up, no matter what you keep in your nethers. But no-one should be pressured into wearing make-up, regardless of nether-and -gender-status. Just like there's nothing wrong with playing World of Warcraft, but no-one should be chained to a computer and forced to choose an avatar. There's nothing wrong with surfboarding, but any activity which involves a wetsuit should be strictly voluntary. There's nothing wrong with wearing high heels, but I will not be held responsible for my actions if I'm essentially forced to walk about on tiptoe all day. Different pain thresholds, and different strokes for different folks.

The application of different coloured goos to your face doesn't change what's inside your skull, it just makes your face a bit more colourful. If you want to paint the world in general, and your face specifically with glitter, that's fine. What's on my face (glitter, eyeliner, strawberry jam) does not make a spot of difference to what comes out of my mouth. Apart from the occasional 'Oh crap, I've laughed my eyeliner off again' or 'But I don't even eat strawberry jam!'.

Wanting to share the things that make us happy: that's what makes us human. Posting videos about how you do your make up is not analogous to going out on midnight guerilla raids with mac lipsticks. People do not wake up in the morning, dazed and confused and with a beautiful scarlet lip that makes their eyes pop. There is no breaking and entering involved, not even into people's heads. They're just videos.

I love me a good feminist chat / rant / role model. But, let's be honest, if the only thing we talk about is feminism then things will become very boring very quickly. Feminism is not just endless self-referential talk but also people going out in the world and being successful on their own terms. It's as least as productive to use the mirror to perfect your contouring as it is to talk to yourself in the mirror about hot political potatoes. Both are valid ways to spend your time. You keep on doing you. Glitter is optional but sparkle is mandatory bay-bay!

*Bambi, on reflection, was quite a hard-hitting cute-creatures romp.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

On Beauty Pt. One (or You're all beautiful but it doesn't matter)

In many ways, I hail Christina Aguilera as a modern day bard comparable, say, to the merchants' wife in Chaucer's Tales.

'If you wanna be with me, baybee there's a price to pay, I'm a genie in a bottle, you gotta rub me the right way.'

If you can't see the genius inherent in those lyrics, then you have never heard of the concept of relativity. Or One Direction.

No-one is perfect though. That's why my spirit animal contains a little bit of many people. A smidge of Dolly Parton. A splash of Douglas Adams. A soupcon of Cilla from the Singing Kettle. And Christina has a lot of wisdom hidden inside her assless chaps* but she can't always be right.

'You are beautiful, in every single way. Words can't bring you down'

It's a lovely, if somewhat trite statement. Words can bring me down, actually Xtina. Like the words 'Get off the roof, you are not Dick Van Dyke and this is not sodding Mary Poppins'. But my major issue with it is that it's not right. Oh, it's true, fair enough it's true. You ARE beautiful. Have you seen the way your nose wrinkles, and the curve of your neck and the graceful arch of your foot? The deep puddles of your pupils, the quirk at the side of your mouth, the shiny exuberant fluffiness of your hair? You are beautiful, it's true. But beauty is not truth. And it's not right, because you're so much more. 

Christina, you neglected to mention that it doesn't matter that you're beautiful. We all have this pressing need to appeal visually to everyone around us. And it takes up so much brain space. I recently read this list of thoughts that every 20-something girl apparently has on a daily basis. Go read if you want, though I should warn you, this list will not change your life. Although it might alert you, as it did me, that you are not a twenty-something girl. This came as something of a relief, if I'm honest, allowing me to get properly into my role as 60-something Giant Tortoise, ANYWAY, fully 11 thoughts, that's a third of the list, are dedicated to how fat she is, how many calories are in a thing, or how her hair looks. Let's imagine for a moment that this girl is some sort of technical-psychic wizard and that a goodly portion of people do think like this. People walking around with a third of their brains dedicated to how they look, And these aren't happy fuzzy thoughts either. A huge whack of them are angry, hateful thoughts. The sort of thing that we wouldn't even say to our worst enemy. Because none of us look as good as we want to. As a teenager, in fact, I systematically categorised everything that was wrong with the way I looked. At the end of the autopsy, I was left with one thing that I liked about my appearance. That would be my eyelashes. And I still coat them in mascara, because even my very favourite thing about me wasn't good enough. 

Then I realised that we don't have to live our lives in front of the mirror, or the selfie camera on our phones. We can recognize that we're beautiful, but we're actually also worth a whole lot more than what is written on our faces. That's not you in the mirror. That's a you compressed into two dimensions, with all the spices taken out. And you STILL look good, but why would you judge yourself on a dish without the seasoning?

 And just think of what we could do with all of those thirds of brains! Enough squishy grey matter to build a new Eiffel Tower! Enough neurons to light a path to the moon! Enough thoughts to light up lives and faces everywhere. 

I'll leave you with the words of Diana Vreeland, words that make my soul sing. This is what I want to say to every girl (and every boy too) that comes into this world to do the best they can. But she said it first, and she said it better, so here you go: 

"You don't owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don't owe it to your mother, you don't owe it to your children, you don't owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked 'female'."

Hey Christina, I've got a theme for your comeback song...

*in itself irrefutable proof of wisdom. Anyone who can keep a whole persona tied together with thin bits of leather is clearly some sort of conjurer. Derren Brown eat your well-tailored suit out.