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Pleading the Real Case for Real Women

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Fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld has been quoted as saying recently, “No one wants to see curvy women.” He was talking in the context of catwalks and the fashion industry in this instance. Whilst Lagerfeld may be a talented designer of clothes and has made some very successful forays into the world of fragrance, this statement alienates vast swathes of women at one broad and heavy-handed brushstroke.


More worryingly it perpetuates the idea that to be acceptable you have to be skeletal, emaciated, and possibly bulimic in order carry off looking stylish and a la mode. 


This is patently nonsense of course, but it does raise a very interesting question: How can any woman ever gain acceptance of her own body image in an age where all she is presented with is images of ultra-slim and airbrushed perfection?


Women’s magazines don’t help matters either. As a photographer, I am fully aware of the techniques which can be employed to render the ordinary “more attractive.” Putting it bluntly, there are virtually no limits to what can be achieved. Actress Kate Winslet famously complained about the digital retouching that had been done to photographs of her for a cover of GQ magazine. Yes, that’s a magazine that is aimed at the male market, but women’s magazines do not fair any better.


Next time you visit a newsstand and pick up a magazine, take a careful look at the image of the woman on the cover. Do you see any blemishes, lines, uneven skin tones, or even so much as an eyebrow hair slightly out of alignment? The chances are you won’t.


The irony is that many of these magazines claim to be aimed at real women, whilst at the same time, presenting a subliminal message that real women are perfect, ageless, and she’d better be damned skinny to go with it.


The pages themselves are packed with adverts imploring the reader to buy their products to make them look younger, reverse the aging process, smell better (in all areas of the body), change hair color, lose weight, get rid of cellulite, spots, scars, etc. The over-riding message this puts out is a sinister one. It’s saying, whatever you are now, you’re not good enough, come and be improved. It preys on the insecurities the beauty industry itself relies on to generate.


The slightly more terrifying by-product of this is that young girls are now obsessing about their weight and body shape. There have been countless reports, documentaries, and articles about girls on in the first flush of puberty wanting to get breast augmentation, long before their bodies have even reached maturity.


What this speaks to, is a generation of women (and increasingly men) who can never be satisfied with their body, right from the first buds if self-awareness in childhood. 


Let’s just stop the world, get off and have a think about that.


For whose benefit is this exactly? It’s certainly not the vast majority of women who will grow up and spend their lives unhappy with some aspect of themselves which actually is perfectly normal and acceptable.


I’ve spent years photographing both men and women. Ask a man what’s wrong with him and he’ll probably say “er, I could probably lose a few pounds around the middle.” Ask a woman, and you will need to sit down with a cup of coffee. I guarantee you will have finished your drink before she’s finished the list of imperfections she perceives, from the shape of her nose, her mouth, her shoulders, her breasts, hips, legs, and even toes.


The assault on the body image of a woman was not helped by advent of plastic surgery becoming a cosmetic issue rather than necessary surgical procedure. Breast implants have become common-place. As a man, I mourn this rather than celebrate it. I have yet to meet a man who honestly prefers silicon breasts to natural. A small-breasted woman who is comfortable with her body is infinitely preferably to the same woman with implants.


But it’s worse than that. Even a woman’s most intimate areas are now prone to scrutiny. Across the world, the trash cans of beauty salons are filled with waxy clumps of innocent pubic hair, which has committed no other crime other than say, “I am a woman who has reached sexual maturity.” In the last ten years, there has been a worrying trend for a completely bald look to the pudenda, and what is worse, is that nobody is questioning why that should be?


Why should a grown woman now be expected to revert to a pre-adolescent look? The whole point of secondary hair on the body during puberty is to delineate the sexually mature from the immature. It’s nature’s way of saying we shouldn’t be attracted to the pre-adolescent.


But it doesn’t stop there. With pubic hair now being expected to be absent, women are now noticing their labia more. What’s happened as a result? An increase in the market for labiaplasty. Suddenly, the pressures of perfection have dictated that perfectly normal women now want to have the “Playboy” look, which is “neat,” small labia. Which, when you combine with a complete waxing in that area, resembles what? A little girl, that’s what.


And that, is just plain disturbing and creepy.


Build in the concomitant rise in requests for hymen reconstruction and we have surely reached a point where we have to question where it stops?


When is a woman allowed to be a woman? When are we going to start promoting the idea that a healthy self-image is more important than a mission to eradicate media generated notions of imperfection?


None of this if for one minute to suggest that we shouldn’t groom ourselves or look after our body, male or female. There may be those who have a genuine need for cosmetic surgery and I would never advocate removing choice in the matter. Some women genuinely prefer extensive waxing. Personal preference is a different matter however, to media brain-washing.


Surely all of this has to be caged within the boundaries of self-acceptance first without a constant barrage of under-mining messages? Women should be able to grasp and own the notion that we she can be attractive, without endlessly feeling a lack because of a world that constantly suggests that to have any minor flaw is to be ugly and inadequate?


Beauty is multi-faceted. It is not and never has been—and never should be—purely about the external. It starts from within.


Next time you look in the mirror, don’t castigate yourself for what you feel you don’t have; don’t bemoan details that nobody else but you notice. Accept and love who you are, give yourself permission to accept yourself. You do that, and others will accept you too, because your whole outlook on life will change. You will feel and appear more attractive as a result.


I would like therefore, for women to question the cookie cutter they are being forced to adapt to. And reject it.


As a man, as a lover of women, as a father of a daughter, I am sick and tired of being expected to tolerate a society where at least 50 percent of the population is being fed a constant drip feed of poisonous images of the unattainable, which leads to nothing but misery and a lack of fulfilment.


Unless we start to promote wholeness as human beings as being the priority, we are creating a monster more devastating to the psyche than anything Dr. Frankenstein could ever have dreamed up in his laboratory.


I would therefore like to celebrate real women and I would invite women to do the same. As you are, unairbrushed, unmodified by the scalpel, happy and accepting of yourselves.

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