Tales of the City: Men deserve the old soft soap too

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The Independent Online

Dove, the toiletries company, has signed up Rankin, the punishingly cool snapper, to photograph another selection of "unconventional" looking women as part of a new promotion called the Campaign for Real Beauty.

Dove, the toiletries company, has signed up Rankin, the punishingly cool snapper, to photograph another selection of "unconventional" looking women as part of a new promotion called the Campaign for Real Beauty.

There's a charmingly smiley 96-year-old granny called Irene, a size-18 advertising executive called Tabatha, a freckle-faced auctioneer called Leah, a slender theatrical called Esther, a silver-haired single mum called Merlin (Merlin?...) and a dreadlocked shop manager called Alison, who appears to have nothing much wrong, sorry, unconventional, about her beyond the fact that she's 44.

The company says it wants to "inspire debate about conventional ideas of beauty". They're daring us to take a good hard look at these "ordinary" ladies and examine our ignorant prejudices against 1) the old; 2) the plump; 3) the freckly; 4) the flat-chested; 5) the grey-haired; and 6) the, er, fortysomething.

Blimey. Can I bear to look at these shockingly unconventional women without flinching? It's like inspecting the Elephant Man after a night on the absinthe... Well, actually, it's nothing of the sort. The women in these adverts look perfectly, conventionally, appealing and happy, as if they'd never encountered a moment of prejudice about their respective conditions. There's nothing remotely shocking about any of them.

No, I'm more struck, once more, by how indulgent the advertising world is towards female shortcomings, whether real or perceived, and how this indulgence is never extended towards men. I can't imagine a similar commercial working if it featured men who - how shall I put this? - whose beauty was a bit out of the ordinary.

Here is Gordon, a smiling traffic warden of 55 with an enormous beer gut. Here is Tony, 42 and balding, wearing a shirt that always has one button undone directly over his fluffy navel. Here is Eric, 29, with camelia-red hair and, undoubtedly, pubes to match, and a tendency to call everybody "mate". And here's Philip, 79, his weather-beaten face lined like the groin of a Galapagos tortoise because he's smoked Player's Shag all his life. Here's Harold who laughs in a way that distends his nostrils and reveals the thickets of black nose-hair that sprout within. And, lastly, here's Johnny, who has that kind of David Mellor-ish mouth and teeth and seems to promise all kinds of halitotic misery.

Look at them, girls. They are human beings with tender hearts and considerate manners, especially to the fair sex. Can you not see beyond the slight problem of the gut, the baldness, the navel, the barnet, the wrinkles, the hirsute nostril and the dog-breath, and discern the real beauty within? Of course you can't. Because they're only bloody men, and consequently they exist to have their physical defects laughed at by the cruel, scornful sisterhood and its boudoir lapdogs in advertising.

Putting the wind up a dirty David

Speaking of male loveliness, I see that the Accademia gallery in Florence has been grappling with the problem of how to stop Michelangelo's David from becoming covered in smut. For ages, the gallery curators could not work out how the marble youth with the enormous right hand and the cocktail-sausage membrum virile became covered in dirt and grime shortly after being restored and cleaned. They discovered it was dust and dirt particles from the street, spindrifted all over the statue by the gallery's ancient ventilation system.

Their solution is to build a glass cage for David and install a system to blow filtered air up his legs from ground level. Very enterprising. But I can't be the only one to think of another icon of loveliness coping with draughts from below. I wonder how long it will be before someone breaks into the gallery and attaches a white dress, à la Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch, to billow up around David's boyish frame?

Profits of doom

There has been lots of obscure fall-out from the tsunami disaster. Bookings have been a little on the quiet side at the (excellent) Tsunami Japanese restaurant in Clapham North. A favourite topic of conversation in every household has been along the lines of "Isn't it amazing that no animals got killed, because they ran away? They must have some kind of, you know, sixth sense..." The banks who look after the cash for Oxfam, Christian Aid and other charities will make an unexpected fortune from transaction fees. And an Israeli inventor called Meir Gitlis will do well by marketing an earthquake alert device. It's the size of a shoebox, it costs $170 and is an early warning system that features lots of sensitive pendulums: it goes off like a car alarm if it feels a seismic tremor coming. Tall buildings in Tel Aviv apparently now feature the devices in their lifts - one dodgy tremor too many, and the lift will stop working.

I think I'll be sending my $170 to the Disaster Emergency Committee (which has no bank charges). I have my reservations about Mr Gitlis's contraption. Once it has detected a seismic tremor, its alarm apparently gives you "tens of seconds" to reach a place of safety before the major destruction starts. That's great. I could relocate my whole family to Wales in that time. And as for the lifts in the Azrieli Towers - well, if an earthquake hits Tel Aviv while I'm there, I think the last place I want to be is 29 floors up, inside a stalled lift.

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