Jane C Woods, aged 59 years and 4 weeks. My first selfie!
I might just have mentioned (ahem) that I was in London last week to do a wee slot on BBC’s Woman’s Hour. As well as being a great deal of fun (and it’s fabulous to meet your heroes and realise they are just as lovely as you always hoped), it also gave me an unexpected insight into the world of female celebrity woes.
I confess, I am a mediumly vain sort of person. I brush my hair every morning, sometimes apply make up, but then tend not to look at myself for the rest of the day, truly, even when I go to the bathroom. I’ve even almost grown out of the paranoia about my hair going frizzy in the damp and my teeth catching the flash from cameras, (major obsessions in teens and early adulthood – the time I wasted!)
So when my husband suggested that we could walk from our hotel to the BBC Broadcasting House in the heart of Central London I happily agreed. It was a beautiful autumn morning and only a few minutes walk. Yes, I could feel my hair curling off my head in the dampness but I didn’t care. It was radio!
We arrived, were shown to the green room and met the other contributors. A photographer arrived to take a picture of myself and Dr Nicola Rollock; together we were reviewing the Listeners Week on Woman’s Hour. I did notice that Nicola was immaculately coiffed and ran my fingers somewhat wildly though my hair to lift it’s clinging tendrils off my face, but that was sum total of my efforts. We were taken into a corridor for the pictures, both laughing, and I thought no more about it. Do let us have the photos we gaily called as we returned to the Green Room.
Our session with Dame Jenni Murray was wonderful and flew by in an instant. It was such a joy to be on the show. As the serial came on I asked her if we could take a picture with her. Glancing at it I thought vaguely that my hair had turned white on the way on the studio, but never mind; I had control over who saw this photo (everyone who follows me on Twitter as it happens because I was so pleased to be on the show.) This is it below:
A day or so later I saw the picture the photographer had taken. I honestly think it is the worst picture of me ever taken…to date. No offence to the photographer; she can only work with the material she’s given. And then I saw that it was displayed on the BBC website. I will tell you honestly, dear reader, my first thought was ‘Crikey, I don’t want anyone to see that!‘. My second thought was ‘get over yourself, you talked with Dame Jenni Murray on BBC’s Woman’s Hour!‘
But it has seriously made me think. I occasionally idly flick through celebrity type magazines at the hair dresser. There are a couple which seem to delight in snapping the most unflattering pictures of women that they can, and it’s almost always only women who get the ‘bad hair day’ treatment. For some reason Dawn French seems to be in the frame at the moment (literally). There were a plethora of photos of her in all sorts of unflattering guises, like walking to shops in the rain etc. Photos over which she had no control. I began to understand why sometimes people in the public eye get obsessed with how they look.
For women it is a minefield. I’ve written on it often and on my belief that airbrushed photos should carry a disclaimer saying:
‘This photo has been doctored to show a false image of womanhood, one the advertisers prefer as it means they get to sell more cosmetics, promote slimming clubs etc. This misrepresentation of what real women, including mature women, look like is a significant part of a sexist culture which leads to surveys by Institute of Leadership and Management concluding that one reason women don’t progress into senior posts is a lack of confidence. Plus false female foto syndrome (FFFS just made that up!) contributes to a culture of gender discrimination which has a direct impact on women being under represented at all levels in society!’
From my lofty position of no one giving a fig what I look like, and certainly no paparazzi hanging around outside my house waiting to see me in my (torn) nightie getting in the milk, I can easily say, women should not worry what they look like. But, if if my income depended on it, if I were caught up in the world where women’s looks are paramount and dissected at every turn? I begin to have a glimmer of understanding of how this can erode your confidence on a daily basis. With all the wisdom of being 59 I know I’d rise above it, as does the wonderfully talented Dawn French. But at 29, how would it have affected me then…?
Note to self: be less judgemental, more understanding.
PS Here’s the picture my 29 year old self would probably have not shown you but I’m told this is how I look. And there’s me thinking I was a Joanna Lumley look alike!
PPS The ‘selfie’ at the top is me just a few hours later, (look no white hair) in proud Mum mode off to see last night of New Old Friend’s tour of the Falcon’s Malteser, starring my son and daughter in law! Which was totally brilliant.
You might enjoy reading Should airbrushed women be allowed?
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Posted on December 2nd, 2014 by Jane