Saturday, 9 August 2008

Typical girls

I have something of an unhealthy addiction to the Daily Mail website. I justify this on the grounds that I need to know its take on current burning political issues, although quite how this necessitates looking at blown-up pics of Posh's bunions or Anne Robinson's bingo wings, I'm not sure.

What's really fascinating is the fact that it's a paper aimed primarily at a female audience, and yet it doesn't seem to like women very much. The underlying political agenda is clear - they love stories about career women coming a cropper: leaving it too late to have babies; turning to drink; husbands leaving them for 23 year olds; or ideally, 'having a career left me fat, broke, infertile, friendless and alone, with only a cat for company'.

On the Femail pages, there's a very clear formula: one story about spotting someone's 'baby bump'; one story about how quickly someone has 'lost her baby weight'; and one story about how a new mother has 'let herself go' (Tamzin Outhwaite today, Ulrika earlier this week - which is usually followed up by an interview in which the new mother proclaims herself very happy with the situation indeed and has a bit of a dig at new mothers who think it's more important to get back into their Alaia and Manolos within seconds of giving birth).

Then there are the weight stories: someone's 'piling on the pounds', someone else is looking 'worringly thin', and someone else with a near-perfect figure has been photographed showing a bit of cellulite. And the age stories: doesn't the 60 year old Helen Mirren look great in her red bikini? But have you seen Lulu's knees? The rest of her may look fanastic, but they're a dead give-away, aren't they? And then of course there are the WAGs, and Sienna Miller's relationships, and fitness video stars (Jade Goody, Sonia from Eastenders) slipping back into their old, fat habits, and Kate Middleton just being Kate Middleton. Lastly, you have the young starlets going off the rails stories - falling drunk out of nightclubs, friends being 'worried' about alleged drug use, Amy Winehouse being Amy Winehouse, Lili Allen not shaving her armpits...

I wonder if the editorial team meetings actually acknowledge this formula. Well we've had Lulu's knees this week, can we get a close-up of Kate Moss' wrinkles for next? Do they have a birth chart on the wall, where they plot who's about to drop and a reminder to check out just how flabby they still are in a couple of weeks time? If they do cellulite one day, do they have to move onto bingo wings the next, and unsightly veins (see Madonna, Angelina, SJP, etc) the day after?

It's very rarely expressed as 'my God, doesn't she look a state'?! It's usually wrapped up in fake concern (friends are increasingly worried about.....), or faux compliments (she's great for her age, but shame about those tell-tale saggy bits which look really bad when you photograph them in bright sunlight) or, isn't it great that she doesn't care about being fat/ being caught without make-up/ dressing like a bag lady/ not having a husband?

Admittedly they do have the occasional picture of Jonathan Ross or Simon Cowell showing off a bit of belly in their swimming shorts, but I don't think women are particularly interested in that.

As ever, I'm not sure where I'm going with this post. I am probably just trying to justify having read all these stories by making a political point out of it. Which is.... That women are women's worst enemy? That this obsession with women's physical appearance and fertility is not 'a good thing'? That feminism still has battles left to fight? Possibly.

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