Now, if you’ve ever read my blog before, you’ll know I like a good feminist ding-dong as much as the next woman. But there’s a story in the press at the moment that makes me roll my eyes and bang my head lightly on the desk. H&M, the clothing store, is under fire for having computer generated mannequins on their website, with real models’ heads grafted on in Photoshop.
Right, on your marks, get set, and START your indignation! Let’s begin with a righteous plea on behalf of anorexics everywhere, and of young girls pressured into losing weight by unrealistic expectations they learn from the media. All of these are valid points, but in the case of the H&M furore, completely irrelevant. You see, these “mannequins” are not to be found throughout the website, but in a section called “Dressing Room”, where you can scroll through the H&M collection and “dress” a mannequin to see what an outfit will look like. You know those paper dolls we used to have with the outfits with the fold-over tabs you could dress them in? Like that. Now I don’t know a whole heap about coding, but I’m guessing that what they’ve made is very complex, and that, to keep it as simple as possible, it’s important that the clothes are all represented in the same size and in exactly the same pose. You know, just like those paper dolls we used to have where you... well, you get the picture.
The pictures don’t look like real women in any way. No one would be fooled into thinking they were real, and they are not appreciably skinnier than lots of real models I see in magazines or on TV. Yes the computer-generated women are a lot thinner than I am, and probably a lot thinner than most women, but so are the fibreglass mannequins they have in the actual shops, and no one’s feeling victimised by those. When I look at an outfit in H&M’s Dressing Room, I know perfectly well I won’t look like that in those leggings, and I’m guessing most women are able to make that imaginative leap. Nevertheless, it’s fun to see what the leggings might look like with that top. (It’s especially fun if you create heinous, clashing outfits: an evening skirt with a hoodie and ankle boots for example).
I do not believe our daughters (or our sons for that matter) are learning their views on body image and self-image from the H&M website. I think they’re learning them from us, and from each other. Every time we stand in front of the mirror and say, “I’m so fat it’s disgusting!” or we binge on unhealthy food and then berate ourselves, or one of us makes a crack about someone’s weight, or they hear judgmental stuff from friends at school, they learn to judge their bodies and find them wanting. As with so much in the world, the fault lies less with the media than with our response to it. You can’t be with your children 24/7, especially as they get older, but you can instil some healthy attitudes in the way you handle food in the home,
in the way YOU eat, exercise and feel about your own body, and in your attitudes to media images of unrealistic bodies.
And while we’re talking about keeping it real, here’s another thought about unrealistic expectations. With all love and respect to those who post them, if I read another tweet/facebook status that tells me if “I can dream it I can be it”, or that positive thinking will bring me what I want, I’m going to punch someone right in their karma.
It’s not that I’m not positive, I am. I’m relentlessly, tiresomely positive, positively Pollyanna-ish. It’s just that I believe that sitting around thinking positively and dreaming about your wishes will bring you jack shit. Training and education, hard, hard work and paying your dues may get you closer to some dreams, but I’ve got news for you, there are some dreams that some of us will never, ever achieve. For example, I will never be the dancer I dream of becoming. I am 5’10”, big-boned, clumsy and in my early 40s. I could take adult ballet, jazzercise and Zumba classes every day for the rest of my life and I will have very limited success indeed. You just have to look at the awful, feral gladiatorial early stages of X-Factor to know that an awful lot of sad, talentless people should have had a reality slap and never, ever been fobbed off with a clichéd behest to “follow their dreams”.
I had a boyfriend in my early twenties, with whom I had one of those horribly volatile fight-and-make-up relationships. He was infuriating and remains the only person I’ve ever thrown something at. It was massively exacerbated by the fact that I was a drama queen by nature, newly out of drama school and I loved a bit of drama, drama, drama. Are you getting the picture? One night, in the middle of a particularly vicious fight, I wept piteously and screamed at him, “You make me act like a crazy person!”
He looked at me very calmly and said, “I can’t MAKE you do anything.”
And there it is, folks, one of the great lessons of my life. He couldn’t. Nobody can.
If you’re reading this blog, I’m going to hazard a guess that you live in a relatively free society, you can read and have internet access and a computer. Therefore, I’m going to make some assumptions about the type of person you are. I think you’re a bit like me. There are plenty of real victims in the world, and plenty of situations in which you might become a real victim, but let me tell you in most areas of our privileged lives, we are not victims. No one MAKES us do anything. H&M doesn’t MAKE you feel bad about your body, anymore than positive thinking will MAKE me Darcey Bussell. Look in the mirror with clear eyes. Know what you are, what you want to be, what is realistically within the realms of possibility. And then get on with your life.
One monkey, one typewriter, seldom Hamlet.