Upon catching half an hour of Bridget Jones’ diary as I was drifting off to sleep the other night, I got to thinking about my own ‘Bridget-esque’ grapples with womanhood. I read the book in my early teens, and remember naively empathising wholeheartedly with the despair at having a ‘bottom the size of Brazil’, one you could park a bike in, needing to lose twenty pounds etc. I also remember it coming as a bit of a shock when, as an adult, I realised that my fellow ‘fatty’ weighed in at about 9 1/2 stone ( I’m not sure Zellweger ever did, but that’s beside the point).
‘WHAT A WHOPPER!’ I hear you cry. ‘I’m surprised she could fit in the seat on the planehome!’ and so on and so forth.
I recently found my own half-arsed attempts at keeping diaries from the age of about 13, written in the style of Bridget, with my weight and the date at the top. For the two weeks in January they inevitably lasted, they tell strikingly similar tales; unsuccessful attempts to flirt with entirely unsuitable, profoundly pale and spotty, boys, and a crushing desire to lose weight. ‘If I’m ever going to get a decent boyfriend, I’m going to have to lose at LEAST a stone’, my scrawly handwriting wailed, melodramatically.
My weight at the time? Eight and a half stone. I’d probably have to cut off a leg to get to that weight these days, but that’s what my young, hormone-addled, brain thought was the key to my future romantic success.
I look at Bridget Jones now and I hope that she’s a fairly outdated caricature of life as a woman. I fear, however, that the Bridget-esque worries and feelings I had as a teenager just about scratch the surface of what girls have to put up with today. So here’s why I’d hate to be a teenage girl in 2011, and why young people in general deserve a pat on the back just for getting through it.
They’re all at it. Whether you’re looking at a celebrity magazine, a newspaper ad for a mobile phone, a billboard, a couture-sporting super model – all the make-up in Essex couldn’t achieve the look you’re seeing. It’s all thanks to the advertising industry’s sharpest tool – the airbrush.
Girls grow up surrounded by freakishly ‘perfect’ looking women. Their skin is dewy, silky, and has no pimples – no distinguishing features at all, strangely enough. No hairy arms, spots, knobbly knees or dodgy scars from the time they tried to do a backflip wearing roller blades. They’re never fat, or even look like our own mothers, aunties or neighbours, perhaps with a bit of a wobbly belly or glittery pink stretch marks from being awesome and giving birth to us.
No. Because that doesn’t make any money. Even the ads in teen mags are airbrushed, because, hey! They’ve got pocket-money to spend, and pore-clogging foundation won’t sell itself, will it?
If it wasn’t enough that the ads we do see are generally completely unrepresentative of what real people look like, advertising is now everywhere. TV, billboards, bus stops, train stations, your mobile phone, supermarkets, buses, and just about every webpage we look at is positively brimming with it. ‘Hey! You on the tube! Look at my waist with a tape measure around it! These pills make the numbers go down!’
It’s human nature to compare ourselves to others around us. I’m fairly certain that every single one of us does it. If my experience is anything to go by, we start doing it when we’re a teenager, and it takes a lot of time and work to stop doing it and love ourselves for what we are.
Being bombarded from all angles by adverts that essentially tell girls ‘This is what you should look like! Buy this and you can look just like this too, you deserve it – you’re worth it!’ can only make the process of accepting who we are even more like running through knee-deep mud.
Gone are the days when you could give a guy a quick flash or send a cheeky polaroid. So much as a sniff of nipple these days and within half an hour you’re in this week’s top viewed on YouTube and headlining caughtwithyournipsout.tumblr.com.
Smartphone douchebags, you’re only ruining it for yourselves.
I traversed the trickiest of my teenage years during the years of dial-up internet. Thankfully for me, this meant that most of my sexual experiences were conducted with people who were either equally as clueless about sex, or only a little bit less clueless, than I was. Better still, it meant that those with a bit of a clue were at least very patient – you have to be to wait an hour for a 30 second grainy clip of some Germans doing it against a fridge.
Today, thanks to broadband, laptops, and a whole host of other technological advances, those sexual experiences have the added bonus of both parties being able to access hardcore porn at breakneck speed. Undoubtedly, porn has influenced contemporary sexuality on a significant scale, and sexual ‘norms’ have changed.
The humble pubic hair – for example – has been essentially obliterated; waxed, shaved, plucked, epilated, and lasered out of sight. All that remains to prove its existence is the occasional ‘nostalgic’ porn film pulled from a VHS and put online to cater for the older generation.
God help the teenage girl who’s missed this memo and commits the crime of not having a vajayjay that resembles a freshly-plucked chicken.
It was hard enough trying to learn the right way to doit without a clue where to start. I can’t imagine how hard it is to get someone to understand that doing it doggy style while having your hair pulled and squalling like a banshee isn’t the most inviting idea for a first-timer. Besides, no amount of surround sound will stop your parents hearing that over Emmerdale.
These are just a handful of the reasons I’m glad I’m not a teenage girl in 2011. If I hadn’t ranted enough, I’d mention society’s widespread acceptance of plasticising yourself or injecting yourself with poison in pursuit of looking like a blow-up doll. I’d mention the press’ fascination with creating female role-models famous for little more than taking their clothes off to reveal their own plastic bodies and their unrelenting desire to make money above all else. (Katie Price – I’m looking at YOU). And I’d mention my frustration at the fashion industry’s refusal to admit it has a role to play in ensuring those it employs to act as embassadors for its products are healthy. To name but a few.
I don’t think I’d be so frustrated if I didn’t know that a recent survey by UWE’s Centre for Appearance Research showed that 31% of women they surveyed had negative thoughts about their appearance several times a day. It also showed that 79% of the women surveyed reported that they would like to lose weight, despite the fact that 78.37% were actually within the underweight or “normal” weight ranges.
And 39% of the women surveyed reported that if money wasn’t a concern they would have cosmetic surgery to alter their appearance. Of the 39% who said they would have cosmetic surgery, 76% desired multiple surgical procedures.
A further 26% of the women surveyed were willing to sacrifice at least one of the following:
· £5000 from their annual salary (13%)
· A promotion at work (8%)
· Achieving a first class honours degree (6%)
· Spending time with their partner (9%)
· Spending time with their family (7%)
· Spending time with their friends (9%)
· Their health (7%)
The women who completed this survey had an average age of 24 – that’s a year older than me.
What will these figures look like in ten years’ time?