It seems that it’s now impossible for me to go blog surfing without finding a rant about the pressure we’re also supposed to suffer as a consequence of fashion models and famous people looking fabulous. As a 55 year old woman I’m apparently also supposed to be angry about the lack of media representation for women of ‘a certain age’ and the pressure exerted upon me to stay looking younger. Pardon me while I scoff.
Most recently, a friend turning 50 was infuriated by the suggestion that Cate Blanchett may have had cosmetic surgery and botox injections. She was angry that women in the media and entertainment industries weren’t content to age naturally. She saw the actror’s refusal to confirm or deny as ‘an act of betrayal’. Really? I see it as none of my business.
I was also fortunate enough to see and Australian screening of ‘Miss Representation’, a wonderful movie about the distorted ways women are depicted in television, magazines and movies. It’s an inspirational film about how we need to fight back against unrealistic expectations of beauty and how we might overcome the bias against women in the media. The movie made some astute observations about the way female politicians are denigrated and the pressures young people feel. None of it was news to me. This subject has been covered before and while I’d recommend the movie, I still take issue with some of the content. It assumes my self-image will be affected by the media portrayal of women. I just don’t think this is always true.
I’ve never felt intimidated by those that rely upon their appearance to make a living. I’ve always assumed that the life of a high fashion model is a rigorous routine of exercise, dieting, avoiding any form of injury or blemish and constant anxiety over the limited time they’re likely to have a career. I know they suffer disproportionately from anorexia and bulimia.
Think you’ve got a body image problem? Imagine working in an industry where you’ll be ‘styled’ beyond a point where your Mum would recognise you and then ‘enhanced’ using photoshop. Extend your empathy to understanding what it must feel like for these women to constantly have their appearance auditioned and rejected.
The career of a fashion model is notoriously insecure and their working life is short. They might be lucky enough to have a fashionable ‘look’ for a season, only to find that they don’t have the same appeal the following year; the industry has moved on to another ‘look’. They can also expect to be hated by other women and dismissed as a mindless bimbo. Do I envy them? Not one bit.
Have I ever looked at a fashion model and wanted to look that way? Honestly? Never! I’ve always known that they were a tiny percentage of the population, a kind of genetic freak, and that old saying about walking a mile in someone’s shoes, even their ridiculously expensive and crippling designer shoes, holds true. Before I consider envying anyone I always try to imagine what it would be like to have the whole of their life, not just the bit that appeals to me.
How about the glamorous life of an actor? Financial insecurity is also a looming cloud and while a select few do manage to earn huge sums of money, most do not. This is an industry where fame certainly appears to require some talent (although not always) but where clever marketing, public popularity and box office bankability will also impact upon your success. If you’re a television or stage actor the same pressures apply.
If you’re a woman in this industry then your appearance is a significant concern. Venture out to the local shops without makeup, gain a few pounds over Christmas or forget to get that regrowth re-dyed and you can expect to find it reported. I don’t want that life. While you’re involved in a production you can expect to have restrictions placed on your weight range and your ability to make decisions about your own body. Did you know that actors are often legally prevented from restyling their hair!
As an actor you can expect the possibility of a longer working life, if you’re lucky enough to work, provided you continue to attract fans. Popularity is everything and the public are a fickle lot. Arguments about making movies with older women ignore the simple economic imperative that drives this industry. We’ll see more movies with older women when we watch that type of movie in droves. The excitement over the Marigold Hotel franchise was amusing to me. Older actors can actually draw a huge audience, even with their crows feet showing! Why did this surprise anyone? The baby boomers are still a huge audience and we are all at retirement age, or close to it.
If you’re an actor a big part of your job will be the tedium of memorising someone else’s words and the dubious art of pretending to be someone that you’re not. Because you are considered a ‘public figure’ people will be able to take your photo or film you whenever you step out your front door and they’ll be able to express their personal opinions about you in the media, no matter how offensive. If they lie about you there’s legal recourse, but it’s going to be expensive and you might lose fans in the process.
I don’t envy actors. And not envying them means I don’t particularly care what they do to maintain their appearance. I’m very glad that I’ve never worked in an industry where I had to be that obsessive about my face and body.
You can understand why I don’t think that the way these women look has anything to do with my body image or self esteem. I don’t want their lives. I have another issue with the claim that we’re all supposed to suffer under the pressure imposed by the way women are portrayed in the media; Our participation is optional. We are not required to watch TV or movies or to buy magazines. We don’t need to wear makeup every day, adhere to current fashions or spend a fortune on skin care. It’s all a choice. I’d certainly defend the right of any woman to make that choice but please don’t then complain about how you feel intimidated by all the beautiful people. You don’t need to watch any of it.
Cate Blanchett’s choices, and the speculation around them, are just gossip and really none of our business. If it pleases you to have cosmetic enhancement then go right ahead. If you’re feeling the pressure because someone famous has had it done then your money might be better spend talking to someone about why that person’s choices are having so much impact upon how you live your life.