Out of the frying pan: why Lynne Featherstone needs to rethink her tactics

christina hendricks, joan holloway, mad men, coat dress

Ahh, Christina Hendricks. Regular readers will know how I feel about this woman. She is my greatest ever girl crush, the woman I would like to emulate in every way, and my personal ideal of feminine perfection. If images don’t do it for you, just watch a couple of episodes of Mad Men – hell, just watch a couple of scenes – and catch a whiff of her presence. You can’t help but appreciate this woman’s charm(s).

I’m sure many Brits will have read over the past couple of days about equalities minister Lynne Featherstone’s suggestion that we tackle young women’s body issues head on. She is appealing for a ban of size zero photoshoots, which I approve of. She is appealing for images in magazines and on TV to be kitemarked against airbrushing, and for them to feature a disclosure wherever airbrushing has taken place, which I approve of. And she is suggesting that every woman aspire to look like Christina, with a healthy hourglass figure.

Talk about chucking the baby out with the bathwater!

Seriously, ladies, we are never going to really get on top of women’s body issues until we accept that there is no ideal, no perfection, that is not personal. Attraction is always directly affected by personal tastes. It is true that the cultural “leaders” of any era have influence over the widely accepted abstract of “beauty”, but at the end of the day they hold no sway over day-to-day life and relationships, and they won’t stop me thinking certain curvy or petite or big-bottomed or flat-chested women of my acquaintance to be absolute stunners. The old “eye of the beholder” proverb holds true.

More to the point, Christina Hendricks is an hourglass. Do you know how few women are actual, real, living hourglass shapes? How many women’s busts and hips balance exactly while their waist hits that 70% target of perfection? The last time the hourglass was in fashion women near-crippled themselves in corsetry and girdling, tightening their lacing and reshaping their bodies until their internal organs began to shift position! Does that sound healthy to you?

We’re British – as a nation we’re regularly recognised as pear shaped. This, is actually just as healthy a shape to be – as extra fat is carried on the thighs and bottom and therefore not around the organs – but isn’t acknowledged as quite so aesthetically pleasing. And call me naive, but I cannot imagine any young girl stuffing her face in order to attain Hendricks’ thighs…

Yet I can imagine them yearning for a boob job to try to attain that helium-balloon bust. I can imagine young girls in their teens breaking their hearts over their under-developed breasts, begging their parents for cosmetic surgery to move one step closer to hourglass perfection. That is a scary, scary thought.

(My GOD that woman’s cleavage is practically supernatural in it’s immensity.)

The point is that the focus should not be on an appearance of perfection, an ideal to aim for, but a goal of good health. Replacing one apparently impossible ideal with another is not going to fix women’s body issues, issues which, in their extreme form, are generally not even that closely linked to attaining physical perfection in the first place, but to far more complex psychological complications. What we should be doing is celebrating our bodies whatever their shape, and looking at improving them where our abilities are limited by, for example, obesity. We should be awed by what our bodies can do, the astonishing things they can accomplish, the unbelievable way they heal, how we can use them to express ourselves. They’re darned amazing things when you look at them that way!


18 thoughts on “Out of the frying pan: why Lynne Featherstone needs to rethink her tactics

  1. A very relevant point well made. I find it abhorrent that women “should” aspire to any particular figure shape; surely the best figure shape for any woman is her own shape, at a healthy weight.

  2. Excellent post. There is no point talking down one ideal just to build up a replacement in its place. The real mantra, as you say, ought to be able the fact that everyone is beautiful. Happily, sexily, naturally beautiful.

  3. Nothing gets you going like bad manners or women’s figures and you always present excellent posts on both subjects!xxx

  4. Excellent post, Caroline. I think she probably means well, but it’s such a shame that she’s chosen to go about it in such a ham-fisted way. I mean, today she was describing thin women as “stick insects” on her blog – such an offensive and unnecessary choice of words!

    I love Christina Hendricks too: I think she’s absolutely gorgeous, but the thing is, I could never look like her in a million years, because the precious few curves I have are all on my behind and thighs, making me more of a pear shape than anything else (I mostly describe myself as “teenage boy-shaped”). I’d need implants to get even close to hourglass, and so would many other women I know, both big and small.

    The only thing I disagree with is the banning of “size 0” women from photoshoots. I buy a lot of clothes in the US, and find that “size 0” is roughly equivalent to a UK 6. People who are that size need to buy clothes too, so I think it would be unfair for them to be totally marginalised: what I would really like to see instead would be people of ALL sizes being represented in fashion (and by that I mean short people too!) rather than some sizes being banned and some held up as the ideal. I think that’s just of wishful thinking though, unfortunately…

    (Oh, and I totally agree on the airbrushing. Now THAT’S an idea I could get behind!)

    • Hey – welcome back!

      I think she means well too – but she’s ill-informed and in a position of responsibility, and can’t afford to be blundering about discussing stick insects and hourglasses. 🙂

      I did wonder whether anyone would raise the size zero issue, and I do see your point. I suppose the term “size zero” has become representative rather than literal to me – not having ever seen a size zero item of clothing I have no point of reference beyond the unhealthily skinny models who are highlighted as size zero in magazines. From my perspective, size zero and, say 5’11 can’t possibly be healthy.

      But if we’re including a full range of heights as well as sizes, then there are bound to be some more petite size zeros amongst them, and if they are healthy-looking and petite like yourself, then all the better!

      I think the key here is balance of range. I would not wish to see unhealthily overweight people represented either – I don’t think Beth Ditto, for example, is a good role model for anyone, as her body confidence over-shadows the fact that she is harming herself and her chances of a long, healthy, pain-free life.

      I really do think the focus should be on health and on optimising the already impressive functions out bodies undertake daily.


      • Totally agree – at the end of the day, dress size is totally irrelevant, all that matters is that people are healthy at whatever size they are. And I think all of this discussion can only be a good thing – almost all of the commentary I’ve read on the Lynne Featherstone thing has been people saying “Er, wait a minute, women come in lots of different shapes” (and this was even from the Daily Mail readers!) so who knows, maybe if we keep saying it enough, the message will eventually sink through!

        (I notice that Lynne Featherstone has now edited her blog post and replaced “stick insects” with “ultra-thin”, so at least she seems to have got the message, although I wish she had addressed it rather than just trying to make it look like she didn’t say it.)

  5. re “I can imagine young girls in their teens breaking their hearts over their under-developed breasts”

    it was a while before I could accept that my time was up and they weren’t getting any bigger.
    Young women don’t need any more pressure than they already put on themselves.

    • Exactly so. I have learned to love my A cups – as I carry more weight than other people they’re still a decent handful, but are the first things to go when I lose weight. It’s all about making the most of what you have really – and then beginning to actually appreciate it!

  6. Totally agree – but I did not suggest that people should aspire to be like Christina Hendricks – that was the journalist’s suggestion who interviewed me. I did say she was fabulous though – and I also said Marilyn Monroe was fabulous too. But if you go to my blog you will see my rebuttal.

    • Thanks for clarifying Lynne – the newspapers do like to sensationalise, I know. Marilyn Monroe is (unsurprisingly) a favourite of mine too – but then so is Audrey Hepburn, who would most cetainly be demonised by the media today for her slim frame. Beauty is completely unrelated to body shape, and the sooner we can make this understood, the better.

  7. Another excellent post, thank you.
    I don’t think its even about weight as much as girth. The Aus Federal Govt runs a campaign encouraging everyone to ensure thier waist measures less than 80 cm for women and 90 cm (I think) for men, regardless of weight/shape/age. [It does vary a little for ethnicity but not much.]

    • yes, this is what I was saying about carrying weight healthily around the hips/thighs/bottom rather than unhealthily around the stomach where it can strangle organs. It does all come down to health at the end of the day.

  8. It should be about healthy bodies not the perfect image. Over the past 8 months, I’ve seen many changes to my body. My breast is now scarred from the surgery…my hair has fallen completely out and I’ve had to face the woman in the mirror. At first I felt so completely unattractive because of the images placed before me on television and in magazines. I would get angry at shampoo and makeup commercials because that’s all superficial. It is who you are that makes you attractive not how you look. My body had taken the poison from the chemotherapy and radiation and has healed. The world would still see me as overweight and far from their idea of a perfect shape but after being the fat girl for 44 years, I’ve finally accepted my body and embraced the woman I’ve become…and that is a wonderful thing!

    • Lisa – so glad you commented, I was just thinking of you last night, thinking I must stop by your blog and see how you were getting on.

      What you’ve been through and the way you’ve come through it – not to mention the fact that you can turn to a body that has caused such pain and anguish and embrace it – speaks volumes about the amazing woman you are. Your strength overwhelms me.

      So very glad that you’re doing so well!

  9. I almost veer towards thinking that body shape and size should be ignored entirely – especially clothes sizes, totally impossible and frequently infuriating – and it should purely be about exercise. I know too many people who never get their backsides off the sofa, but they remain an “acceptable” size 8/10/12/14 while I look like I bought up all the Buy One Get One Free Fray Bentos’ pies from Tesco, when in fact I make a real effort to exercise regularly (and believe me, if you haven’t exercised regularly before, you feel like a new person for it.)

    It would be nice to see nearly all body types represented in the media. I will never be a size 8, but I know people can be and there’s nothing wrong with it. Granted, skin and bones will never be something I aspire to (it doesn’t feel nice to cuddle) but we need to cater for more people when it comes to the media, I think.

    • Hi hon,

      Have edited your comment to include your correction – hence your second comment has disappeared!

      Agree completely – it often comes down to metabolism, body type, bone structure, etc… I know teeny tiny people who eat PILES more than I do, never exercise and never gain weight. Equally I have active friends who eat like birds and are a similar weight to me, or bigger. After a few days away with a friend once she very pointedly looked me over and said, “You don’t eat much, do you?!” She sounded confused…

      I really want to write a post looking at the concept of “beauty” through history. The women we hail as celebrity beauties now would have been shunned as plain in the 1700s, when the celebrated look combined soft, round faces with delicate features and fair skin, and cellulite was a sign of wealth and good breeding. That’s just an example, but when I have time I’ll have to look into doing the research…


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