the Ideal v the average woman

The ideal woman is a slippery concept: most would baulk at the idea of a model representing the ideal, but some young women probably hanker after their looks and lifestyle. How about a film star? Well, fine but which one? Cameron Diaz or Keira Knightly? One is the acme of tall, bronzed, blonde US good looks, the latter rocks the bendy-toothed kooky UK style.

Looking to the past doesn’t help us either: Marilyn Monroe was gorgeous, but with her ample curves and cushioned hips, bust and tummy she is not today’s sort of star with their toned abs and muscular biceps. The ideal must have long hair though, that’s a given – Ann Hathaway and Jennifer Lawrence had to bear a hail of negativity for having the cheek to go short: the web pages gave both a massive thumbs down for daring to decide on their own hair cut. Blonde is preferable to brown and red probably won’t hack it either. Grey? Nope, that’s one of those ‘signs of ageing’ things that is not tolerated in an ideal woman. Wait until you are over 65 – you can claim your bus pass and freedom from dye jobs. Helen Mirren staged in her grey – would it have been tolerable before she hit pensionable status? I would tend to think not.

The ideal woman has a slightly childish bosom (like models) or a ginormous rack (like glamour models) – she has virtually no body hair and the wide-eyed, blue gaze of an infant. No spots, scars, stretch marks, deformities or disabilities (including glasses) and great teeth.

The average woman meanwhile is 5 foot and 3 inches, weighs about 11 stone and apparently wears a size 16 (according to the UK ONS in 2013). That’s me, I thought when I read that – Mrs. Average. This is what I look like – me photo I don’t think I look obese or especially overweight (although my BMI puts me in the grey area between this categories), I’d maybe put my hand up for being wee bit short and stocky. But this makes me a gross 21 kilos heavier than some of the wee girls on the catwalk. And a good deal shorter. I have grey hair too, but I was a natural brunette, which meant that I have a good deal of visible body hair. Horrors.

I don’t mind an ideal which is achievable, but the image that women are presented with is a fantasy: you might lose enough weight to qualify for a BMI of 16 (which is ‘underweight’) and you can dye your hair, but you can’t grow 4 inches or more at will (Elite models give their height requirements as a minimum of 5 foot 8 inches – Kate Moss was very unusual to be modelling with her relatively diminutive stature of 5’7). To be free of blemishes and body hair is unusual in a grown woman and nearly impossible in a young one. The ideal we see on ads and billboards, on TV and in movies is suffocating and depressing if you have any (even minor) disability or deformity. Take glasses for instance – when was the last time a female lead wore specs – generally a woman wearing spectacles on telly is a ‘brain’ or a geek, not our hero.

To be an average woman, and increasingly the average man, is to stop seeing any image in the media that you can relate to. Love and passion is the preserve of the young and beautiful (Bravo BBC for flouting that with recent TV serious Last Tango in Halifax) and a big boo to every other film and TV producer of romantic drama and/or comedies. Ads are about the young and the pretty or pretty handsome, mainstream fashion is predicated on the notion that you design for young, slim people and then size it up for the fat and old. Just have a wander around your local high street store and look at the photos – are you seeing anyone who looks like you wearing the clothes on sale? No, I didn’t think so. While you’re there, have a peak behind the mannequins on display – most are pegged or pinned to the skinny shape of the dummies. Even the smallest size they have (that you’ll struggle to get into) is too big for the ‘ideal’ mannequins.

And all the time you’re being reprimanded for stuffing your face and getting fat. Dangerously obese and over-weight are regarded as the same in the press and not a day goes by when some article isn’t accompanied by a photo of a woman eating a burger, her head tactfully cut off to spare her blushes. The picture editor might as well write “a fat munter’ underneath. The TV is awash with food porn, and supermarkets sell more ranges of more food products than ever before. Meanwhile, in the background, the diet industry is churning over millions of pounds. And your local gym would burst if all of its members who were guilted in joining on January 2nd actually turned up.

I think that our problem is that we do want a healthy body but we don’t know what that does or looks like anymore. A fairly stocky, but not too fat, fairly short, dark haired body will last just as long as a tall, thin, blonde one and once you’re over 45 who gives a toss how you look, after all – your body is largely a vehicle for your brain to drive around in.

I’m not an advocate for being fat – having been quite chubby I tend to prefer to be a wee bit less buxom – easier on the joints and less of a pain in the arse if you want to buy pants from M&S, but I don’t think our wholesale worship of an unobtainable ideal is in anyway a good thing. Let’s have people on telly because they’re talented, witty, smart or funny. Let’s see clothes advertised on the sort of people who might actually wear them. Let us see more images of older, greyer, browner less perfect people smiling and being happy knowing they have a fit and comfortable body to rock about in. And let’s talk sensibly, without value judgements, about how to obtain that healthy body.

I suspect that if we could bin the BMI (which should be a useful guide but is used a clumsy stick to beat chunky people with), chuck the our nonsensical ideals of physical beauty in favour of admirable functionality, and love the skin we’re in, I would guess that it would be easier to manage our current issues around obesity. Self-hatred, contempt and scorn are not the basic building blocks of a healthy society.

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I really really really hate UKIP

Here’s a funny thing, where I’m currently living, those who were born and bred here make up around 18% of the official population, in the UK immigrants make up around 13% – question, which country is talking about being swamped? Which nation is considering kicking out the ‘migrants’ and worrying about the loss of ‘their’ culture and ‘their’ country? Clue, it’s not my sunny home in the middle east.

I’m living in a fabulous country, which is not perfect and not ideal by any means, but I’ve been here on and off for the last 20 or so years and in that time I’ve seen it grow from a slightly odd ex-pat backwater to an exciting modern city.

Some parts of it have remained unchanged: you can still take an abra across the creek and buy spices from shops redolent of rose petals and coriander, you can still watch camel racing and have a rich black, fragrant coffee in a shop surrounded by men and women wearing local dress and hear the call to prayer in the golden evenings. But you can also rely on the government to plan the public transport system, keep it cheap and effective (and government owned, not for profit), where beautiful parks and beaches are available free or nearly free and the price of some foods and essentials is monitored and kept to reasonable rates by the government. The utilities are owned and planned by the state too. When the ruling family have been criticised for its treatment of migrant workers, improvements have been made and if they are abused (and they are) it’s more usually by those who recruit them overseas, than by those who they work for here.

Again, it’s not perfect but it seems to be improving and growing all the time and I have a great deal of respect for those who run the country. Don’t believe all the claptrap that you read in the western press – the gutter red tops and UK media are not inclined to talk up a state that is a. planned, b. successful and (possibly crucially) c. Islamic.

In the UK, which is beginning to look moribund beyond belief, we have a government that seems to exist almost entirely for the benefit of those who hold the vast majority of the wealth – privatisation is almost complete and social welfare and common benefit are being rolled back as British people defend the right to be vile to one another in the cause of defending ‘their’ country and ‘their’ culture.

We have developed a nasty tendency to hunt for people to blame on our own streets, while those that keep us impoverished, hide in plain sight in their yachts, high class shops and gated mansions.

And where is the salvation? UKIP apparently, lauded by the public and press alike, given hours of public broadcasting time, accorded ‘revolutionary’ status by people in the left-wing press who should know better, and headed up by a guy who tells us he’s breaking the mould – despite being from the class who designed the mould and made a fortune charging people to use it. God.

It’s a party of ‘fruitcakes’ which has brought racists and xenophobes out of the woodwork. I used to wonder how it had become ‘ok’ to be a bigot, now I watch helplessly as people talk about ‘them’ taking ‘our’ jobs while denying they’re a ‘racist’ when they clearly are. It’s not ‘racist’ to talk about immigration we hear, but in that case why are some people saying that people of African descent should go ‘home’ and that those who follow Islam and were born and brought up in the UK are no longer ‘local’ people.

My temporary home has welcomed people from all parts of the world – not out of charity of course, but because a growing economy needs a work force and migrancy brings economic benefits. I do not feel that I am here under sufferance and there is nobody in the local press talking about ‘them’ and sneering at our beliefs and habits, inferring criminality and encouraging paranoia. The local culture remains strong and visible, including that most essential component – hospitality.

In the UK we seem to imagine that we simultaneously live in a country that is going to the dogs, but that is the land of milk and honey, irresistible to migrants (who only want to abuse our generosity). We don’t seem to be able to understand that if we enjoy thinking about ourselves as civilised world leaders that we need to have civilised values. Tolerance and a belief in the value of looking after all our citizens for example, welcoming in those who need shelter and help is another, providing an inclusive and respectful society perhaps. Hospitality is another value that we seem to be forgetting.

I am proud of my adopted country, and a little ashamed of the place of my birth.