Harriet Walker: Save our streets from the pouting, porny Barbies

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Ilike to think I'm impervious to faddish trends these days. I've been a goth, a Wag, a swot and a toff in my time, and I've settled at a stretchy waistband and warm coat sort of stage – yes, I follow fashion, but only if it's black and baggy.

So I'm alarmed to note recent pangs of discontent, a hunger for self-improvement, an obsession with hair extensions, fake tan, cosmetic surgery and bandage dresses – and I can trace them all directly to the lurid magazines I've been reading while laid up in my plaster cast.

I haven't picked up a copy of Heat or OK! in years, not because I have no interest in celebrity culture but because I was worried someone might see. I haven't felt as dissatisfied and full of self-loathing either. Modern life is not exactly strewn with positive female role models, but the most dysmorphic sentiments can be traced straight back to reality TV stars and the glamazon culture they promote.

Forget high fashion, forget so-called misogynistic designers. Magazines with models on their covers sell far less than those which feature Victoria and Coleen; the catwalks are far less obtrusive than they were when Naomi et al bestrode them. Forget also the bony little Hollywood dolls – they're an other-worldly tribe that we just accept are more eternally groomed than us.

No, the new icons are those plucked from obscurity and thrust in our faces, in all their bra-cups-runneth-over glory – and they are more insidious than a mere model could ever be. The Only Way Is Essex has spawned most of them: obsessed with manicures and mastopexy, their style is more porn than practical and, terrifyingly, we're told they exist in the same sphere as the rest of us.The rise of this sort of "celebrity" doesn't just give rise to anorexia and insecurity – it also goes a bit further towards making us hate the every essence of being a woman. Our breasts are not big or pert enough; our skin not silky or hairless enough; the hair we haven't had compulsively waxed off must be supplemented with acrylic ringlets; our clothes must be tiny, and tight.

There's a lot of talk about "real women". Usually the term is invoked to stand for someone ardently self-righteous in their fastidious normality. Those women who think fashion is just another noose around our necks should stop to think: at least buying clothes is better than buying a new nose and some boobs.

Go out on a Friday night and the skimpy clothes are ubiquitous; the false nails, the extensions, the shivering, marbled mahogany hides. Our towns are filling up with pornified Barbies, with walking, talking blow-up dolls. The cult of sex industry glamour, the beauty regime that takes up every waking minute, has become the most insidious aspect of our obsession with celebrity culture.