Victoria Beckham And The Myth Of The Miserable Woman
By Vicky Spratt Posted on 10 Sep 2018
Imagine, for a moment, that you’re Victoria Beckham. Your marriage is your brand and there is speculation that things aren’t so great. So, obviously, the only thing to do is…a Vogue cover, without your husband and, when it’s set to be released, make sure you’re papped looking sexy yet relaxed aboard Sir Elton John’s super yacht.
And then, as if that wasn’t enough juggling in your already very busy schedule as a mother, icon and business owner, you also perform a satirical skit for a spoof video about your Vogue shoot in which you play the role of a diva to prove to everyone that you are actually totally down to earth and, actually, pretty hilarious and, above all, still able to make fun of yourself because your fame is founded on your role in a pop group despite the fact that you can’t sing.
I don’t know about you but I’m exhausted just thinking about it all.
Is it any wonder that Beckham says that the treadmill is her true happy place because she can ‘literally just be left alone’? If I was expected to be all things to all people it would probably be mine too.
We know Victoria is funny. We’ve all seen Spice World, so why does she have to keep doing this stuff? Was a Vogue cover with her kids not enough, did we really need her to appear in a satirical short film wearing a latex catsuit as well?
Sadly, the answer, of course, is yes.
We do this to all women. Women are told to ‘smile’ because ‘it’s not that bad’ and be humorous in everything we do. We aren’t allowed to be unhappy or even expressionless in public. A woman looking ‘miserable’ offends society at large, it makes people uncomfortable.
If we are not smiling or making disarming jokes, we are not working hard to make other people feel comfortable and this makes them worry about what else is on our minds…world domination, obviously.
When I was at school, I had a teacher who said I ‘wore my thoughts on my face’. He would constantly bang on about how ‘unimpressed’ I looked in his lessons. He even went as far as to tell my mum about it at parents’ evening. ‘What the hell does he want from me’ I remember thinking. Looking back, I think he wanted me to make him feel like he was doing a good job. But, the truth is, I was more concerned with getting through my history GCSE than pandering to his insecurity and cracking a smile every time he made a bad joke about Stalin to make him feel good. Anyway, his jokes weren’t even funny.
From a young age, women are told to smile at everything. ‘Smile and say thank you’ when someone does something nice for you, ‘smile and politely tell them to go away’ when someone harasses you in the street. We are under constant pressure to please others, regardless of whether we ourselves may be sad, angry or, simply, just thinking about something else.
Since the Spice Girls, Victoria Beckham has found herself responding to the world’s longest ever recorded call to ‘CHEER UP LOVE’. No matter what she achieves or how she might actually be feeling, the world has long been preoccupied with the fact that she doesn’t walk around with a permanent megawatt smile 24/7.
In order to pre-empt the tabloids calling her out for looking ‘miserable’ or ‘pouty’, Victoria Beckham probably feels she has to constantly prove that she’s not a humourless husk at every opportunity. Victoria Beckham is basically the Mona Lisa of the celebrity world - thousands of hours, column inches and Twitter posts have been devoted to trying to work out why she doesn’t smile more.
Unlike Mona Lisa, Victoria Beckham can speak. She has told us, over and over again, that she doesn’t always smile in public because years of being photographed and criticised have made her feel uncomfortable. She has joked in her Instagram stories. She has appeared on talk shows and talked about that fact that her scowl is now more famous than her. But it all seems to fall on deaf ears.
So much so that last year she even made and wore a T-shirt which read ‘fashion stole my smile’. But even that wasn’t enough to stop her being trolled for ‘looking miserable’ earlier this year at the Royal Wedding.
No matter what she does - VB’s resting bitch face (aka completely normal expression) somehow manages to anger people more than, say, the fact that certain members of the royal family appeared to be laughing during preacher Michael Curry’s sermon.
And so, here we are. She, like so many other famous women, has been typecast and is henceforth condemned to prove that the ‘real her’ is nothing like the caricature. Just as Sad Jen has to keep telling us she’s ‘actually fine’, miserable Victoria has to keep coming out as a comedian.
Credit where credit is due - I don’t think many women who are constantly being told they’d ‘be so much prettier’ if they just smiled once in a while would keep coming back with the humour that Beckham does. And, in fairness, I do think she is funny.
But - the concern about Victoria Beckham’s smile or lack thereof has everything to do with gender and absolutely nothing to do with concern about whether she is happy or not. The expectation that any woman is somehow lesser because they aren’t wandering around with Vaseline slathered gums is deeply problematic. And, beyond the world of celebrity, it has serious implications. Studies show that women academics are rated more harshly by their students when it comes to their demeanour - whether they are ‘smiling enough or deemed ‘too outspoken’ are factors in their approval ratings.
In fact, there’s even a name for the emotional labour women are expected to perform by remembering to smile - ‘smile work’ . It is defined by experts on gender in education as ‘a culturally imposed strategy women use to fit into’ spaces ‘with a tradition of male dominance’.
Smiling is symbolic. Women’s smiles are so much more than expressions of joy - a smiling woman is not threatening, a smiling woman is submissive. A smiling woman is not listening to what you’re saying and thinking critically about it, she’s just in awe of your very existence. Full stop.
The policing of Victoria Beckham’s smile, her sense of humour and her demeanour is an extension of the attempts to control women in our society as a whole. A smiling woman is open to you, she is here to listen and care for your needs. When women appear closed off, it makes people uncomfortable, on some deep primal level, it makes them worry that they will be neglected.
Whatever the true state of Victoria Beckham’s marriage - she clearly feels she needs to keep performing for us in a way that her husband does not. When it comes to her own PR and that of her relationship she’s doing all of the public emotional work. But - she’s an icon with a global empire, it shouldn’t matter whether she’s smiling and joking around or not
Keep up to date with all the Fashion & Beauty news, click here to subscribe to Grazia on Great Magazines and have the latest issue delivered to your door every month.