Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Real Women Week: Cecelia Ahern and Realistic Role Models

This week I'm doing a couple of posts on 'real women' - see Monday's post for my discussion of the phrase itself!

I was watching TV last week and the Irish author Cecelia Ahern was being interviewed. I haven't read any of her books yet and had no prior opinion of her.

Cecelia had just had her hair cut quite short, and it looked good. The interviewer asked her about it and she said 'Well, I'm not a natural blonde - which maybe a shock-horror moment for some of you! - and I dyed my hair so much that it got really damaged and I had to cut it off.'

I had two thoughts.

One was, I'm very glad I don't dye my hair. I have absurdly sticky-out ears and having to go for a pixie-cut would equal fashion suicide for me, not to mention cold ears (I have a theory that no blood reaches them because they are so far from my head).

My second thought was, well done to her for saying it!

I have a bit of a bugbear about celebrities who present unrealistic standards for women. Some years ago, a perfume ad featured a shot of Victoria Beckham from behind. Several sources alleged that the image was digitally enhanced to make Victoria's butt look curvier than it is, and looking at the photograph compared to candid shots taken of her, it certainly seems likely.

I don't know if it's true or not - I hope it isn't - but if it is, then it's the kind of thing that makes me really angry.

Some people are born beautiful, and that's great for them. But for most women, famous or otherwise, life is a constant struggle with what we perceive as our own inherent mediocrity. We dye our hair, we wear makeup, we buy clothes to hide our 'faults', we wear loose-fitting trousers because of our 'thunder thighs' . . . some of us get cosmetic injections of surgery.

And virtually no one is perfect.

Which is why the Victoria Beckham Arsegate thing annoys me so much, if it is indeed true. VB is extremely skinny. Like all physical characteristics, skinniness can be very beautiful or very ugly, so I'm not making any comment on that fact. But I feel that celebrities have a responsibility to present the downsides of how they look too - or rather, the reality of how they look. It is incredibly unlikely that someone could maintain a figure as slim as VB's and still have a round, curvaceous butt. It's possible, but I have never seen it in real life. I carry all my weight on my butt and even mine gets smaller when I lose weight.

When I hear of things like that, I picture a teenage girl who hates her body, looking at TV ads and thinking 'my waist looks like hers, but why is my stupid butt so flat??' or 'My butt looks like hers, but why do I have this stupid belly to go with it?' Because, sweetheart, life does that and the media is lying to you. It's hard to gain or lose fat in a focused way, especially for those of us who don't have personal trainers and our own chefs.

Which is why I applaud Cecelia Ahern. She has lovely hair. It's a very nice colour. But she just told the whole country (or at least the ones who watch TV at 8.10 am) that if you want hair that colour and you decide to dye your hair to get it, you may face the consequence that it gets damaged. She was honest about what lay behind the - very attractive - image that she projects.

Every time someone is honest about their looks, we move a step closer to accepting women as they are. We don't have to be perfect - we need to be OK with being as we are!


  1. It sounds like she is very comfortable with herself. The very highly paid advertising agencies, want that feeling to be the exception rather than the norm. One of their primary jobs, is to prey on the insecurity of people, who feel they must look better, to be complete.
    I agree, people need to know who they are and be able to accept it.

  2. I'll admit, when Cecelia Ahern's first book came out I was incredibly jealous. I made a lot of poor presumptions about her due to her age and her family. I'm not saying I don't still wish I had her success, but she's writing stuff people love and fair play to her.

    Now I've got something else to respect about her. *Especially* because of her age, it's great that someone like her, who many Irish women of all ages will read, can be honest about her appearance.

  3. I'm not familiar with her work, but I'll have to remedy that.

    It sounds from what you say that she's far more happy with her life. Contrast that with Ms. Beckham, who always strikes me as thoroughly miserable.


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