Too thin, too fat – body shaming of all shapes and sizes was the order of the day for female stars last week. Tanya Gold asks why...
A woman’s body is never entirely her own. Throughout her life, from Disney Princess to hot teenager to mother to sexless crone, she is required to conform to a series of stereotypes. Control a woman’s appearance and you control her. It makes nonsense of the fashionable – and ludicrous – claim that feminism is over because it is no longer needed. There is always something left to remind you. Forget fighting the old feminist battles in every generation. Every week, every day, every hour women must fight to be themselves, and to thrive as themselves.
This month, Adele took time out from promoting her album 25 to discuss her body because, as a woman, her body is the most important thing about her, even if she has built her emotional identity with music. Say – or even notice, or care – that she used to be fat, and no longer is, and you have completely missed the point of her.
‘I’ve always been asked questions about my body and my weight and my size and my style and stuff like that,’ she told a journalist. ‘It’s a little bit annoying that men don’t get asked that question as much.’
She is being subtle; Adele has been fat-shamed in print for years. It was the first thing people noticed about her; and the first thing they asked about. I hope this is not why she has lost weight. I think it is. The Adele who gasped and sweated and sang, gustily – the Adele who looked exactly like herself – is gone.
Meanwhile, Cheryl Fernandez-Versini was recently thin-shamed by Alan Sugar, who tweeted (moronically, as if staring at a dog he wasn’t sure of), ‘Catching up on X Factor. Cheryl is now too thin.’ Too thin for what? For Sugar’s taste in legs? Cheryl is used to this obsessive interest in her body and has said, politely, in the manner of Adele, ‘It’s nice that people are concerned, but honestly there’s no cause for concern. You can see I am completely and utterly well and happy.’ She’s also said, ‘There is nothing I can hear about myself that I have not already heard.’ The ennui in that sentence is appalling.
The tragedy is that both these women are, among other things, incandescently beautiful. And that is the point. There is no perfect way to be a woman and, if you can bully lovely women with an ￼￼ever-changing ideal of perfection, where does it end? With obsessive self-criticism? A life of dieting and self-reproach? TV news anchors pouring with make-up, defending their costumes on Twitter? A new head – for every woman in the world?
And so to X Factor host Caroline Flack, who was told – again on Twitter, the online playground – that she was unattractive. She defended herself and said, ‘The vile comments about my weight and just all-round look are quite shocking.’ She added pitifully, ‘Have never said I’m the prettiest or thinnest or even anything special...’
The awful truth is that Caroline, like Adele and Cheryl, is one of the fortunate ones. It is unlikely that she will be on television in 10 years. She will be deemed ‘too old’, and who wants to look at an old woman whose sexual currency, for obvious reasons, is zero because she has gone through the menopause? I cannot bear to think of the great actresses, journalists and entertainers whose careers will never flourish, or will end too soon, because they were not perfect enough for the cold, appraising eyes of TV culture; for Alan Sugar, a lord of the realm and as ugly a man as I have ever seen.
Across the world, in lands of burqas and bikinis, the story is always the same. It is not about beauty; it never was. It is about idiocy and control.