The real anti aging scandal

wrinkled lady
Wrinkles: beautiful or banished?

I’m getting to that age now, that age where my skin starts to noticeably change. Partly it’s age, partly years of sleep deprivation and yo yo dieting. The wrinkles that I get from sleeping solely on one side have started to take longer to flatten out in the morning, and my forehead betrays my tendency to worry.

So it was with interest that I recently watched an episode of the BBC “documentary” series Horizon which was about aging and the research behind anti aging. The episode appeared to be sponsored by Unilever, with umpteen experts from Unilever’s research institute. The presenter of this episode was Dr Rozine Ali, a surgeon. While it was great to see an intelligent, professional woman on our screens, it was a shame that she was delivering this misogynistic clap trap, but then aging and anti aging is a woman’s game isn’t it? I’ll have more to say about that later.

Dr Ali explored (with the help of the Unilever experts) different ways in which scientists are looking to reduce the speed and signs of aging. The primary causes of aging were found to be UVA rays from the sun, free radicals from the oxygen around us, and high glucose which attaches to collagen and makes it more brittle. Solutions included a chemical found in coral and other sea creatures which protect them from the sun’s rays near the surface of the water, which may in the future be able to be extracted or synthesised to protect us from harmful UVA rays; a pill with all of our dietary needs to help combat free radicals (it’s that or eat half a kilo of broccoli a day to get the equivalent from food; and advances in glycobiology which looks at the affects of glucose, which might one day come up with an age reversal treatment.

What struck me most about this documentary was that at no point did it ever question why we should care about aging, and have billions of pounds being spent on research into it. You could argue that with increasing life spans anti aging is important. What is the point of increased life spans and better medical interventions just increasing the years spent with decreasing mobility and mental faculties? I completely agree, but this documentary wasn’t about an aging body, it was about an aging skin. I welcome research into how to make our bodies healthier for longer, how to keep our joints working and keep our brains active, so that we can be independent and valuable members of society for longer. But I resent this emphasis on removing all visible signs of getting old, and the more we do it the more we feed into the myth that younger is better. The less we see of real aging the more we revile it and see it as odd. If the media ever celebrates old age, it is only those who look young for their age or who are indulging in youthful activities, staving off old age with botox and belly dancing instead of bridge and biscuits.

Why do we want to avoid looking old so much? There are many reasons, so interrelated that it is hard to tease them apart. The most obvious one is the influence of the media and the beauty industry. With so much of our culture based on visual media, and with the development of HD screens, our screen idols are under increasing pressure to keep the signs of aging at bay. This filters down into those of us in the humdrum world of real life, who forget that the likes of Michelle Pfifer and and Heidi Klum are part of the privileged elite blessed with beauty outside of the ordinary realm, and that we can’t possibly emulate them without excellent genes and a entourage at our disposal.

But that doesn’t explain why we find an aging body so aesthetically displeasing. The beauty industry is a convenient scape goat. Cosmetic companies make their bread and butter from convincing us that we are haggard old slatterns who should hate our bodies. It’s in their interest to point out that not only do we look old, but looking old is Bad. The US anti-aging skin are market is worth $2.3 billion, so they are certainly doing a very good job of it. But as much as I would like to demonise the beauty industry, I don’t think they are the only culprits. Ultimately it is down to our feelings about the elderly and our fear of growing old. In capitalist societies people are valued for their productivity. People who are unproductive are cast into the shadows, placed into homes where they are subject to abuse, or left to die in hospital corridors. Our feelings about the elderly are tied up in our own fears about becoming unproductive, and ultimately our fear of death. East Asian cultures that tend to value calmness and serenity as emotional states, have less negative feelings towards aging, and view their elderly as keepers of tradition and sources of wisdom. Interestingly this corresponds with use of anti aging skin care products. According to Mintel’s Global New Products Database, 46% of total skincare product launches in the UK carried an anti-aging claim from 2009-2011 with France and the US at 47%. China and Japan followed with much lower numbers-27% and 19%, respectively.

beauty advert anti aging
Don’t you dare show your real age

With a world of information just a Google search away, the elderly will become even less valuable, losing their status as the guardians of information, waiting to be passed down through generations. You don’t need to ask your grandparents about your family history any longer, it’s all available on various ancestry websites. And I expect you barely speak to your grandparents any more unless they’ve figured out how to use text or Skype.

Funny how the current trend for vintage can be found in every craft and lifestyle magazine or blog, but few pay homage to the people from whom the 40’s tea dress or Bakelite homewards came. Pin your hair into victory rolls, but don’t dare betray a sign that you remember VE day.

The casual use of cosmetic surgery nowadays is moving the goal posts for everyone. People are congratulated for not looking their age; the chance occurrence of being born with youthful genes conferring them honorary membership of the Bright Young Things, but in every other advert in women’s magazines is the reminder that it can all be taken away should their youthful façade begin to crumble. And this is predominately a women’s issue. There is no female equivalent to the Silver Fox. And while men’s use of cosmetic surgery to combat the aging process is increasing, there isn’t same pressure to defy nature that there is for women.

Anyway, this fractured ramble is essentially a plea to people to stop worrying about visible signs of aging. If we can all stick two fingers up at the beauty industry’s demonisation of old age, we can all just look the way nature intended and stop wasting our money on creams with ridiculous additives like pentapeptides and retinol-A and spend it on better things like yarn, and biscuits, or enormous stag cushions.

Pedlar stag cushion
Pedlar Stag Cushion. Only £165. Well, you can afford it if you just stop buying anti aging creams!

Golden Girls: the new generation of role models


I’ve had a strong dislike of sport for a few years now. Oh, when I was young I made a good pretence of liking football. I supported Chelsea from a young age, and when I was a teenager I used to buy Chelsea Magazine. It helped keep me knowledgeable, with a view to keeping up with the boys’ conversations, specifically one who I fancied liked crazy who also supported Chelsea. But now I’m in my 30s, two kids, and so much going on I just don’t have the time or energy to maintain an interest simply for conversational purposes. In fact my faux interest has turned full circle to active dislike.

I’ve fully embraced my distaste for sport, and can quite often be heard muttering about “inflated pay and under performance”, “bad behaviour of sportsmen” and “breeding ground for aggressive behaviour”. Until recently I thought sport was frivolous, pointless, and a waste of money (I know, this from a girl who gets her kicks from yarn bombing.) Yesterday however, and in fact these past 9 days of London2012 mania, have been a revelation to me: it’s not sport I hate, it’s football.

I watched gripped as Heather Stanning and Helen Glover breezed to the finish line in their boat to grab Team GB’s first gold medal. I could barely suppress the tears watching Jessica Ennis giving the performance of her life last night, clinching the gold for the women’s heptathlon.

I’ve quickly gained skills as a judge for events like the Synchronised Diving, and Artistic Gymnastics, giving the TV the benefit of my wisdom, picked up from the BBC commentators. “Ooh, very little splash, that’ll be a good score”. “Look that that, totally out of synch.”


I’ve marvelled as the country has united in it’s support for TeamGB, and basked in the glow of success, if not the sun. People on Twitter are reporting feelings of joy and humility simply from watching these people compete. Joy and humility are the emotions that I associate with watching major football competitions.

Jessica Ennis Olay Advert
Poster girl for the new generation?



Jessica Ennis: young, attractive, successful; the media made her the poster girl for London2012, and under that immense pressure she delivered. It’s too early for me to count properly, but my rough estimates are that about third of our medal haul so far has come from women. How refreshing for our daughters to see these women as role models. People like Katie Price, Cheryl Cole and anyone from the cast of TOWIE (I couldn’t name a single one) are revered for their looks, what they wear and their diva-like behaviour. Jessica, Victoria Pendalton and Rebecca Adlington are also being lauded for the bodies, but for for what their bodies and do when combined with the drive, the dedication and the grace under pressure from their minds. These are people who have worked single mindedly for years in the pursuit of one goal. They have respected their bodies, and honed their minds to get the maximum from them. And on winning they have thanks everyone from the crowd to their PE teachers. They’ve hugged and congratulated opposing teams. They’ve beamed in pride and shed tears of joy atop the podium.

Here’s what they haven’t done:
Scissor kicked a member of the crowd
Sworn at the referee, team mates or any of the spectators
Deliberately sabotaged an opposing team by kicking, hitting or elbowing them
Got blind drunk and made a spectacle of themselves during a major competition
Raped anyone
Slept with their team mate’s wife
Refused to shake hands with an opposing team member
Been accused of racist abuse of opposing team members

Ashley and Cheryl Cole Lottery Advert
Thou shalt not worship false idols

Do you know what Heather Stanning does when she is not training to be an Olympic Rower? She’s a Captain in the Royal Artillery. Jessica Ennis is a Psychology graduate, and Victoria Pendleton is also a graduate. These are women with brains and brawn, and a drive to succeed.

Now let’s talk money. Team GB athletes are funded mainly by the National Lottery World Class Performance Programme. They get this money in two ways:firstly through their Performance Programme, which pays for coaches, sports psychologists, acclimatisation and other training needs. This is worth around 55k for “Podium Level” athletes. They can also apply for a personal award, which covers their personal living and sporting costs. This ranges from 13k to 28k. Obviously being a world class athlete costs more than that so they have to rely on other sources such as sponsorship, with many athletes having other jobs, to earn money, but also as a stepping stone to life after relatively short careers. There is an earnings cap set at £65,163 above which the athlete’s award will start to be deducted, meaning that once an athlete starts pulling in the sponsorship money, their contribution from the WCPP is reduced.

Estimates vary, but Chelsea footballer John Terry reportedly earns about £150,000 a week. Yeah, look at those noughts.

Maybe now we can get over our eternal disappointment at the performance of our footballers. Isn’t it time that football and footballers stopped dominating sporting coverage. At last we have some real role models gracing our screens and our papers. Real people, real faces, real achievements. And it’s not just me who thinks this; my Twitter timeline was awash with similar sentiments. Most of this in the control of the media, but we can control what we chose to consume, and we can tell them what we want. We want to see more of these hard working and committed young people. We want to see more women in sport. We want to see more interesting sports than a bunch of men kicking around a ball for 90 dull minutes before the penalty shoot out which we will inevitably lose (don’t they train for these things?). The BBC must also be praised for its excellent, comprehensive coverage of the Olympics (bar a few inane presenters, Gary Linekar I’m looking at you). But if we have another all male short list for BBC Sports Personality of the Year I’m cancelling my licence fee. Personally I think Ennis should win it, fortunately it doesn’t matter, because she has already won the biggest prize of her career.

Pink Holiday Blues

I should start this post by warning you that I am quite grumpy. And that is mainly because I hate Bank Holidays. A heinous crime, I know. Bank Holidays are a gift of a day. A day off work, a day to spend as you chose. Well, that is not quite true, as since I’ve had children most days involve early starts and more Peppa Pig than is recommended, which isn’t really of my choosing.

Bank Holidays, for some reason, send me into a state of paralysis. They make me feel like I should Do Stuff, and there is so much stuff that I want to do that I feel overwhelmed. I buckle under the pressure of trying to make the most of this gift of a day. As a result I get almost nothing done, but instead of feeling relaxed and rejuvenated I feel like I haven’t achieved anything, and have wasted a day. This Jubilee weekend means there are two of the damn days, just taunting me with their freedom and possibilities, while smugly knowing that I will do almost nothing of use.

Today, though not a Bank Holiday, was a taster of what is to come. Most of our days revolve around Iris’s sleep, which is inconveniently slap bang in the middle of the day. We pottered around this morning, and the plan for the afternoon was to pop out and get comics and magazines all round. I know I have previously reported on my distaste for magazines, but that is reserved women’s fashion and lifestyle glossies. I have succumbed to the lure of Psychologies Magazine, which is actually slightly more intelligent and credible than the usual women’s magazines (incidentally I didn’t buy it today as it didn’t look that interesting this month).

While we were out we popped into the Early Learning Centre to get a birthday present for my nephew. It was in the process of closing down, which is a shame, because as much as I do my shopping online, I usually go into actual shops for the kids toys. Actually, I get most of them at NCT Nearly New Sales, but the rest I often get from the ELC. Admittedly the ELC has gone down in my estimation recently due to its insistence in peddling pink versions of all of its toys, for girls one must assume.

But that was nothing compared to the hideousness that I found whilst queuing for comics for the kids in WHSmiths. Ladies and Gentlemen, pinkification has officially taken over the world:


Clearly the concept of the sea being blue and land being green is too much for girls, whose brains are full of too much sugar and spice and all things nice.

That just was just the pink icing on the cake for this Bank Holiday weekend for me.

“O” no thanks

When you are wondering along the beach with your kids this summer and you see the I-Scream van be sure to take your kids along for a free ice cream? What topping would they like? Raspberry Ripple favoured lube, or Toffee Apple flavoured lube? If you can persuade them to perform an orgasm face then post it on Facebook they could win £200 of Sexy Goodies. Yes, Ann Summers, in its usual pursuit of good taste is taking a tour with an ice cream van, where is is offering free ice cream with flavoured lube. And offering incentives to people to perform sex faces. And when we say people, let’s be honest, it’s women. Ann Summers markets itself towards women.

When I first started writing this post I wrote a few paragraphs to head off any accusations of prudery or being a dried up old prune. But I deleted what I wrote because I really shouldn’t have to list my own sexual proclivities in order to be able to criticise a high street marketing campaign which infantilises an adult activity and encourages the exploitation of women.

Sex is fun, but it is also a serious business with many emotions attached to it. In my younger years I was quite taken with Ann Summers as a shop. I thought that having a shop on the high street where you could pop in and pick up a new vibrator on your way back home was great and enlightened, normalising sex and empowering women. Now my view has completely changed. Instead of normalising sex I think Ann Summers cheapens it, with their tacky underwear, poor quality vibrators and disgusting edible lubricants. Rather than empower women to have control of their own sexuality, it portrays a sexual environment where women feel they should changing their behaviour to please men, whether that is by dressing up, using bondage gear or this BJ strap. Not particularly empowering is it? The mainstreaming of this sort of shop creates expectations of sexually permissive behaviour, women, and even girls, feel they have to live up to the naughty nurse, or saucy air hostess fantasy instead of just enjoying loving, mutually satisfactory sex.

But the very worst thing about this campaign for me is the enticement for girls to win a goody bag full of Ann Summers tat if they just take a picture of themselves making an “O face” i.e. a picture of themselves pretending to orgasm, then posting it to Facebook to be rated. So not only are they to be exploited by posing like a porn star, but they are then to be judged on the quality of their pose. I wonder what makes a good orgasm face? Presumably as close to a porn star as possible, seeing as it likely that the people who will vote on this particular portrait gallery will never have seen a woman orgasm in real life.

I wonder at the women who want to share these sort of pictures with friends, family and strangers. Like my just woken up look, when my sleep wrinkles are trying to unstick themselves (which is sadly taking longer and longer these days), my expression when engaged in orgasm is a sight I would only want to share with my partner. The women and girls who will end up taking part in this Britain’s Got Pornstars competition are a product of today’s society. The media is full of girls who’s only achievements are to have slept with a celebrity, or parade about in skimpy clothes. Like a naughty child who acts up when they realise they only get attention for behaving badly, these girls get the message that they will only be valued for who they sleep with and how they look. So they dress in what they think is the male fantasy, and act out the male sexual fantasy, or whatever it is that will get them the attention they desire.

We as a society need to start proving that we value women as more than just sexual objects. We need to give them more to aspire to than life as “that girl who slept with a footballer then went on Celebrity Big Brother”. Only then can they have confidence in who they really are and have a sexual relationship that they really want, with someone who respects them, and not feel the need to feed into the sordid, misogynistic view of sex that Ann Summers promotes.

I think women being open about sex with each other and with their partners is a good thing. But there is a difference between being open about sex and being public about it. I don’t want to have to explain to my 4 year old why she can’t have an ice cream from the van peddling cheap sexual expectations. By the same token, I think anyone engaging in sex should be mature enough not to need an ice cream van reminiscent of their childhood to explore their sexuality. Finally, I think Ann Summers should really think about what they are asking of the women who they want to pose with their “O face” and realise how demeaning an exploitative it is. Of course women are mostly free to make their own choices and could choose not to, but these choices are not made in a societal vacuum, and we have created a society where people think this sort of behaviour is except able, and even to be expected. I hope anyone with a sense of integrity realises that it isn’t. I implore you to stop shopping in Ann Summers, the shop that thinks a strap with which men can control a women giving him a blow job is acceptable and even empowering. Stop buying the ridiculous magazines and the Daily Mail, which celebrate women as objects of desire or ridicule depending on their face, body or dress. Teach your sons and daughters that sex is wonderful, and should be explored with someone you trust, and not Ann Summers or Facebook.

UPDATE: I can’t embed linky blog hops in WordPress but please take a look at this blog hop at Salt & Caramel for more great posts on this topic.

My first venture into craftivism for the We Believe You campaign

So, fired up by the Mumsnet “We Believe You” campaign I decided to take my first foray into craftivism, using craft to promote a socio-political message. I’ve been thinking about it for a while, but I’ve found it hard to get fired about anything. I mean, I can get faux-fired up about things, and off course there is plenty in the news to get worked up about, but my political knowledge is limited, and world events aren’t often at the top of my priority list.


But when I read about campaigns like the “We Believe You” and am reminded about the awful abuses people I know have faced, the embers start to stir a little.


I knocked a couple of things up in the space of last night and this morning. Now, normally I am in total awe of most of the crafters and artists I read about online, and what they manage to achieve. Today was my day at home with Iris, and because I have been feeling a little under the weather and running on empty my lovely husband spent the past 2 days emptying the laundry basket, cleaning the house, and making lasagne so that I don’t have to do anything except stop the baby from killing herself for two days and the go on the school run. So with that and the help of Peppa Pig I managed to produce a couple of craftivist pieces.


The first one is inspired by the mini protest banners developed by the Craftivist Collective:

More than 80% of women who are raped know their attacker*. Putting these out tonight was a bit of a whim, I drove until I found somewhere to put it. I chose a fence just outside the University campus. I have no research to back this up, but my gut instinct say that University students are pretty vulnerable to sexual attack. Young, sometimes naive adults, with their first taste of freedom, finding their way in the world, coupled with copious amounts of alcohol, close living quarters are almost a perfect storm for sexual exploitation.


Outside the University campus


The next one I fear hasn’t quite met it’s potential…


Laid out flat it looks cool, but I ended up dumping and running with this one. I drove into the nearby city which I rarely go to because I used to live in the nearby town which I ‘naice’ and the city is not. But the city is now closer and I should really get used to that rather than schlepping 6 miles into Naice Town. I parked my car at the station without paying for a ticket as it was 7pm and I thought I’d chance my luck, but already I was nervous. This was a difficult one too as I had no idea where this yarn bomb would fit so I just picked a post that I thought was suitable and got sewing, conscious of the men standing outside the nearby pub. I wonder if I will ever not feel stupid doing this?! But here is is anyway:


Well, if one person reads it and checks out the hash tag then it has served it’s purpose. Maybe I can inspire some other people to give this craftivism thing a crack. The stupid feeling only lasts about 3 minutes!


*Investigating and detecting recorded offences of rape. Home Office, 2007




You’re not going out dressed like that

So, for those of you who read my blog just for the craft you might want to skip this post. This is where I get a bit serious, but I am not going to apologise because this is important to me, and what is the point in having people’s ears (or eyes) and not using it for good.


1 in 4 women have experienced rape or attempted rape. How many women are in your house? How many female friends and family do you have? Think about that statistic 1 in 4 women have experienced rape or attempted rape.


So, there are so many issues that I could tell you about rape, about how in no other crime is the victim grilled about what they were wearing during the crime, what their sexual predilections are. I could remind you that last year the Coalition started talking about anonymity for men accused of rape, when there is no evidence that false allegations of rape are higher than for any other crime. But for those of you who are concerned for those men at the mercy of all these women out there they have The False Rape Society advising them how to avoid being falsely accused of rape, including avoiding sex with young girls who may want to hide it from their parents, group sex with just one woman several men and sex with a woman who has a husband or boyfriend. Now, I’d like to reiterate those warnings to men, but not because you may get accused of rape, but because they are morally repugnant.


But I am going to skate over those issues, serious as they are. I am joining Mumsnet’s “We believe you campaign” to try and bust some common rape myths some of which I have copied here:


MYTH: Women provoke rape by their appearance or their behaviour

It’s never your fault.  No woman ‘asks to be raped’ or ‘deserves what she gets’ – only the rapist is responsible for the rape.

REALITY: Dressing attractively, or flirting, is never an invitation to rape. Rape is not a ‘crime of passion’ – it is an expression of power and control.

No woman ‘asks to be raped’ or ‘deserves what she gets’ – only the rapist is responsible for the rape.  Rape happens to all types of women, from the very young to the very old – physical appearance is irrelevant.

There is no ‘typical rape victim’. There is only one common factor in all rapes, and that is the rapist. So when someone says to you “You’re not going out dressed like that” it should be because they have toilet roll stuck to the bottom of their shoe, or are wearing a Jedward t-shirt.


MYTH: Women are most likely to be raped by a stranger, outside, in dark alleyways


REALITY: More than 80% of women who are raped know their attacker; 53% of perpetrators of serious sexual assaults are current partners or ex-partners.

In fact, over two-thirds of rapes take place in the victim’s home, the suspect’s home or the victim/suspect’s shared home. This myth can mean that women who are raped in these circumstances don’t identify their experience as rape, and therefore don’t report it.

It also puts blames the victim, and limits women’s freedom of movement by implying that rape can be prevented by avoiding certain places.


The exemption for rape in marriage was only abolished in England and Wales in 1991. Until then being married held an ‘implied consent’ to sex. This isn’t meant to scaremonger people to be be afraid of their friends and family. It is meant to stop women having to be afraid of every stranger they pass in the stress.


Now, I am lucky enough to have never been the victim of rape or any kind of physical sexual assault, but I know people who have, and I am the mother of daughters so I want to show my support to this campaign and get people thinking a bit more about the facts and realities surrounding this awful crime.


I want you to know, I Believe You.


Women: know your place

First let me preface this post with the admission that I used to be a complete magazine junkie. Since my grandma used to send me Fast Forward in the post when I was younger I have devoured magazines. I worked in a newsagents for  a couple of years when I was younger too which gave me even greater access to all the latest magazines, Mizz, More, J17, 19, Cosmo, Company, Elle, Eve, Marie Claire, Vanity Fair, Easy Living, Red. I’ve dabbled in them all. I’d even occasionally be tempted by Woman and Home, but that just made me feel really old. And yes, I am ashamed to admit my habit stretched to Heat, Closer, and other gratuitous tabloid type magazines. Mine and DH’s favourite pre-children weekend activity was to go to the newsagents and pick up stacks of weekend papers and magazines and spend the weekend lazing around reading them.

But even at the height of my addiction the gorging of the magazines would inevitably be followed by that slightly nauseous feeling. I’d keep ploughing through, even when I’d had my fill, like being at an all-you-can-eat restaurant where you are so full, but you want to get your money’s worth so you plough through yet another plate of noodles and stir fry chicken. Somehow though, I managed to break the habit. I’m not sure which came first, finances or children, but I realised that I wasn’t getting anything out out of the magazines. I was reading the same old articles, sometimes even seeing the same pictures, and spending a small fortune. I also found as I got more into reading Mumsnet and blogs I didn’t need magazines. Online I get beauty tips, real fashion ideas, I learned about other people’s families and careers. I get news and opinions, humour and reality. Most of all I get community and interaction.

This weekend I succumbed to the draw of the magazine again. However this time my motives were more mercenary. Inspired by a thread on Mumsnet I checked out the glossy mags for the freebies and picked up Marie Claire: £3.70 with a free full sized Neal’s Yard Remedies Rose Moisturiser; and Glamour: £2 with a free 100ml tube of Percy and Reed Hair Mask. I thought I’d have a flick, for old time’s sake. As I flicked I got more and more frustrated and cross, and after firing off a couple of indignant Tweets that were duly ignored I thought I would distil my grievances into a blog post.

So I flicked. And I flicked. And I flicked and I flicked. And 38 pages of adverts and publishing credits later I got to my first page of content in Marie Claire: Best High St Buys, some lovely looking women in some seriously unflattering and disgusting outfits. 6 pages of more ads and there is a page on the Marie Claire Runway Launch Party, a new magazine that Marie Claire is launching. Because that’s what we need, more trees felled for a vacuous, narcissistic, masochistic, misogynistic industry. Another 6 pages and it’s the letters page. Surprisingly none of the letters are asking why the reader bothered to fork out money on this crap. More adverts and women in ridiculous outfits, then there is the spread on the 1950’s housewife look. The geometric prints and tailored styles are gorgeous actually, but the spread shows the model in various poses, alone by the pool, alone drinking cocktails, alone sitting in various retro chairs. I don’t know if the model is a good actress but she is certainly pulling off that lonely housewife look; a woman who’s only occupation in life was to bear children and have dinner on the table. Maybe modelling is also a lonely business.

Picture courtesy of Anne Taintor

The 1950s is fairly unique in that it is the only era that is ever used to qualify the word housewife. I think that is because the 1950s epitomises housewifeliness. The decades before were marred by World Wars, and few people’s sole job was to look after the home. Women took in evacuees, they worked the fields and the factories. Before the wars the rich women had servants to do housewifely work like cleaning and cooking and looking after the children, while poorer housewives were literally on their hands and knees scrubbing, mangling, cooking, growing veg, while older siblings tended to the younger ones. This vision of the housewife is not nearly quite as romantic and involves fewer cute outfits than the 1950s, and almost no pastel cake stands. The 1950s saw the rise of domestic appliances, which in theory saved the time of housewives and saved them from manual labour, but in reality just raised standards and in fact barely dented the time spent on housework.

But enough talk of frivolities, back to the serious topic of Marie Claire, where on page 167 Christian Louboutin tells us the 10 shoes every woman should have in her wardrobe. He “knows best” apparently. In case you were uninformed as I was, some of the shoes you must own  include a high heeled peep-toe nude shoe, an evening boot (which presumably can’t double as the Classic Boot at no.8, or the ankle boot at no.9), and finally at no.10 The Uber Heel. For this shoe Mr Louboutin recommends one of his own which stands at a towering 16cm. It shows toe cleavage, which is supposed to remind people (I assume by “people” he means men) of the boob cleavage and the arse cleavage. Now his shoe – the Daffodil it is called – is perfect, not because of the toe cleavage but because if you are bored “you can stare deeply into the crystals for hours!” Yes, that is really what it [he] said. Put down your Proust girls, stop bothering your pretty head about world affairs, or coming up with ideas for female domination; stare at the shiny, shiny shoes instead.

Look girls - shiny shoes - ahhhh!

Now there are so many things wrong with this I don’t know where to start. Don’t get me wrong, I love shoes, tall ones, shiny ones, comfy ones, red ones, classic Mary Janes, and a good ol’ ballet pump. But I resent being told what shoes I and all women should be wearing by a man, and a man with an agenda at that. Of course he’s telling women they absolutely must have three different types of boot as a minimum, he bloody sells them for a living! But the real kick in the fanjo for me is that he is telling me I am not a true woman without 16cm heel. You know, no-one is telling men they need to risk their necks, backs, bunions and basically torture their feet into submission all for a bit of toe cleavage! Marie Claire, you are facilitating this misogynistic bollocks.

Now, let’s have a look at the adverts in this magazine. Obviously there is the plethora of designer brands flogging ugly, over priced clothes, and perfume. I don’t understand this craze of scrubbing away our natural smells which aid in bonding with our partners and children, and replacing them with synthetic copies of natural smells. Oh, and in case you were in any doubt that you smell, lady, there is an advert for breath freshener. My hair, the adverts tell me, is either too straight, or not straight enough. But it is ok, I can buy various products to counter whichever aspect at being a woman my hair is failing at. I am also reminded that my skin should be soft and wrinkle free. There are also products for this that I must buy.

But the real gems are the adverts for various cleaning products in this magazine; dishwasher tablets, washing detergent, fabric softener. A gentle reminder, women, not to neglect your domestic duties. But, don’t worry, I’m sure your husbands are being subjected to similar adverts as they flick through GQ and Men’s Health magazines.

What did I expect, you could ask me? Well, perhaps not much given that the Executive Director and Deputy Director of Marie Claire International are both men. But this is the 21st Century and I expect a little bit more than this. I’m not the only one. There is a whole marvellous blog called Glossed Over which highlights the crap spewing from these magazines.

When not angrily reading these magazines this weekend, I have also been reading a book I picked up in a charity shop yesterday called Strong Minded Women & Other Lost Voices from 19th Century England, an anthology of writings, by both men and women, from the 19th Century. I am barely a few pages in, but the first chapter is devoted to Woman’s Mission. One writer, Sarah Lewis, who wrote a book called Woman’s Mission, puts forward her argument thus: men are clearly inferior to women. They cannot keep their tempers, they are profligate and they are selfish. It is a failing in their education. It is our job as Good Women to quietly influence our husbands and sons. We are morally superior to men, even if we cannot equal them in social and political status. So we must quietly, and selflessly do God’s bidding; influencing the men, though we must be sure not to do it a way that they will notice.

Harriet Taylor Mill, in The Emancipation of Women, vociferously repudiates this view, stating that it very much suits men for women to be mere appendages to men. “It is agreeable to them that men should live for their own sake, women for the sake of men; and the qualities and conduct in subjects which are agreeable to rules, they succeed for a long time in making the subjects themselves consider as their appropriate virtues…” Lewis’s pro-female but anti-feminist stance just did the men’s work for them. Yes, we know we are better than men, so let us just suffer in silence in a goodly way, which makes us even more selfless and morally superior.

And yet nearly 200 years on from Lewis’s work we are still doing men’s work for them in repressing ourselves and creating virtuous, smooth, wrinkle-free, uber heeled women who believe they are better than men but are powerless to do anything about it. And while a woman trapped in an abusive marriage, or a young vulnerable teenager may be powerless, YOU MARIE CLAIRE are not. And not just Marie Claire, the media all over. You have unlimited power, you have the ear of women young and old, and you choose to waste it on instructing them on the must have shoes or how to mask their natural beauty with aspirational cosmetics. Shame on you. And shame on me for buying them just for the products that I feel I need in order to smooth soft skin and shiny hair. I will not have my young daughters influenced in the same way that I have been for the last 20 years. My love affair with magazines has been over for a long time. This last fling just reminded me how disgusting and disgusted they make me feel.