Wednesday, July 11, 2012

All That's Wrong? No. But Something That's Wrong...

So, a few weeks ago, the headteacher at a private girls' school described a cover of Zoo magazine featuring Kim Kardashian as "all that's wrong with society". She then went on to explain her reasoning on the Guardian's "Comment is Free" page. (To be honest, I wouldn't bother reading the article. Her premise is correct, but as with so much on the Comment is Free site, the reasoning is sloppy.)

Anyway, I considered posting a rant about it at the time, but then decided against.

However, yesterday Amy Childs (apparently of "The Only Way is Essex" 'fame') weighed into the discussion, leaping to the defence of Kardashian. And rather spectacularly managing to shoot her point in the foot by not actually understanding what she was arguing against.

See, the point that the headteacher was making was not "Kim Kardashian is all that's wrong with society", it was "this picture of Kim Kardashian is all that's wrong with society". So, in defending KK (and, by extension, other reality 'stars' like herself), she actually defended her against a charge that had not been made. (Her defence was also incorrect, but I'll get to that.)

Now, as for my original rant...

Clearly, neither Kim Kardashian nor the Zoo cover picture of the same is all that's wrong with society. There is, after all, plenty of blame to go around.

However, the wider point remains valid - Zoo's approach to rating women purely on 'sexiness', and further in boiling that quality down to a number to be rated (which in any case is nothing more than a thinly-veiled excuse for printing pictures of scantily-clad women for their readership to ogle), really is both sexist and demeaning (to all concerned).

But, of course, Zoo is far from alone in this. In fact, our society is soaked in this imagery, and the attitudes that drive it. After all, although I haven't seen Zoo's list, I can confidently predict that it amounts to the standard list of this year's pop stars, reality 'stars', actresses, and soft-porn stars. All of whom are required to do photo-shoots wearing relatively little to drive their careers - Rihanna, for example, is actually a relatively capable singer, but you'd be hard-pressed to spot it given that she's required to spend most of her act looking and acting like a stripper.

(And, of course, the poster child for this is Abi Titmuss, who gave up a career as a nurse in order to become a soft-porn star. For which she was rewarded with money, fame, and more respect than she had had previously. If that doesn't show just how fucked up our priorities are, I don't know what does.)

But let's not think this is all about men, and men's magazines, and men's entertainment. After all, Rihanna is marketed at teenage girls. "The Only Way is Essex" and "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" are made for, and overwhelmingly watched by, women.

And then there's the fashion industry, which appears to be run by men who hate women, which employs almost obscenely thin models who are then required to torture themselves for their 'art'... and which has a business model driven by women. The reason the fashion industry uses stick-thin models is that women are more likely to buy clothes modelled by thin women.

Or the cosmetics industry, which now presents women with an image of beauty that is literally impossible, invites women to recognise that they don't measure up, and then suggests that their products will 'fix' these alleged imperfections. (But then, if the model in the ad is wearing hair extensions, or eyelash inserts, or... why would people buy into these outright lies. And yet they do, which is why they do it.)

Or the diet industry, which again is largely based on lies. "Special K" is advertised to women... and does so using a scantily-clad woman who didn't get that figure simply by eating "Special K". Or, of course, there's the glossy magazines with their weekly "miracle diets" that promise painless, fast weight loss. If they work at all, they're based on deeply unhealthy habits. (Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if I saw the headline "Is the miracle diet we told you about two weeks ago killing you?" Because the answer, quite often, would be 'yes'.)

Fundamentally, these industries have based their entire business model on making women hate themselves. It's deeply unpleasant... and yet women buy into it in disturbing numbers.

(Returning to Zoo and its ilk for the moment, I'm at something of a loss as to what should be done. See, freedom of expression is really important, even speech we don't like. And nobody is being forced to do these shoots - if women choose to do so, they should have that right. So, ultimately, what needs to change is that the women involved will have to stop consenting to their own objectification. I don't like leaving it at that, but alas that's where I think I have to stand.)

Of course, men aren't exempt from attempts to make them hate themselves so they'll buy product. Take a look at the likes of "Men's Health" magazine, and you'll see much the same thing - miracle workout routines to build muscle fast (coupled with cover models who didn't get that way following those routines). And, of course, the advert with David Beckham posing in his underwear, complete with computer-enhanced 'package', is not even a little different from the "Special K" model. It's just taking longer, but we're getting there - more and more boys are developing eating disorders, seeking out cosmetic surgery, and buying all manner of 'product' - basically, falling into exactly the same self-destructive behaviours that the glossy magazine/diet/cosmetic/fashion industries have been driving women to for decades.

Now, as for Amy Childs...

A key part of her defence of Kim Kardashian was that reality stars "aren't doing anyone any harm". (Incidentally, Jordan has used the same argument in the past regarding herself.)

Except that they are. Every time a girl gets herself a boob job rather than an education, every time she aspires to be a talentless zelebrity rather than a teacher (or nurse, or scientist, or astronaut, or...), every time she throws herself at a footballer* rather than having the self-respect to want something better, she is being harmed - especially for the overhwelming majority who don't 'make it' and so don't get to live the life of the rich and famous.

* Not that there's anything wrong with footballers. It's the "throwing herself" part that's the issue.

And Kim Kardashian is particularly destructive, since to Keep Up with her you need to start immensely rich, with at least minor fame in the family. Simply putting out a sex tape isn't enough - without the money and famous name, that just makes you a porn star.

(And, of course,all the above applies equally to boys. Except perhaps the boob job. And the footballer.)

I've gone on too long. But this is an issue that really pisses me off. We've almost completely failed those even just a few years younger than myself. And it's getting worse.

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