A few weeks ago, I participated in an amateur theatre production. It was a fabulous experience – a great bunch of people, good script, good production and one of the best parts I’ve ever had the chance to play. This morning, someone posted pictures on facebook. I went through the album eagerly, looking forward to reliving such a positive time, but when I looked at the photos, I could only see one thing. I looked fat.
As I walked my son to school, a little voice in my head spoke with quiet venom. “You looked disgusting in those pictures,” it said “How could you stand on a stage looking like that? You should just hide yourself from public view until you look better.” I was horrified. Who had put those words in my head? I don’t think like that. I am a dyed-in-the-wool feminist of decades’ standing. I know that my value in the world has precisely zilch to do with the way I look. But the voice was there. Is still there.
It doesn’t matter what I have achieved in my life. That I have fulfilled my dearest-held career dream and become a published writer, that I have fabulous friends and family, that I am married to a wonderful feminist man who has never once, in our eight years together, made a negative comment about the way I look. The voice which plagues so, so many women has still wormed its way into my head.
You don’t need me to tell you where that voice comes from – the cover lines on thousands upon thousands of magazines, which you see, whether you buy them or not. The right-hand column of the Daily Mail website. Here are two examples I saw just yesterday. When Elise Andrew who runs “I f*cking love science” on facebook (4.2 million fans), announced she was joining twitter, thousands were amazed she was a woman and made swathes of comments about her appearance. The Daily Mail (I know, I know I shouldn’t read it), ran an article where supermodel Gisele Bundchen “showed off her post baby body” (translation, “went to the beach”). A lovely chap called Paul Lazenby appended the following comment:
“All the British mothers should have this picture put up to see in the maternity wards as inspiration. Fed up off seeing saggy and lifeless new mothers parading around the local baths in bikinis, makes me feel sick. Lose some weight you disgraces.”
I do not want your voice in my head, Paul Lazenby. I do not want any of those voices in my head, or in the heads of any women or young girls trying to make their way in the world. I cannot stem the relentless tide of media, but I can do my own small part. I pledge to think about the way I speak about my own body and others’ bodies. I pledge to write female characters who, while they may wrestle with many problems and issues, are never, ever defined by the way they look. I’m going to keep on being that tiresome feminist harridan in your timeline that comments on sexist advertising (Way to go, Weetabix!) and challenges sexist language. As several commenters on my last blog post said, “Don’t you get tired of this? Don’t you have something better to do?” The answer is yes, and yes. But as long as the Paul Lazenbys of the world are drip-dripping their poisonous voices into my head, I’ll be drip-dripping another voice into the world too. If one day there’s just one girl who hears my voice in her head instead of Paul’s, it will have been worth it.
One monkey, one typewriter, seldom Hamlet.