A typical example of how modern society has betrayed young potential feminists

A response to Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's article 'Today’s young women have betrayed feminism'

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The Independent Online

Note: Mel Taylor is not the author's real name

I grew up in a small village, on the outskirts of a small town in Devon.

My family is a pretty average family: three kids and two very hard working parents. My dad is a builder and my mum is a teaching assistant and mobile hairdresser (she has always has two jobs). They buy The Sun every day. Mostly for my mum who loves reading ‘Dear Deidre’ and doing the crossword when she gets home from work at 10pm. As family legend has it, my name was taken from a Page 3 model.

I had always assumed that my family was totally normal up until the age of around 14. It was at this point that I was first introduced to range of extraordinary foods that I had never even heard of. Exploding from my friends fridges were tubs of hummus and guacamole, slices of salami, jars of olives, brown paper bags full of passion fruit and jugs of freshly squeezed orange juice. Whenever I asked what something was my friends would laugh and say, “well, what do you eat?” so I just stopped asking. In fact, I stopped speaking about my family all together unless it was a lie. For example “no, my parents never smoke in the house. That would be disgusting!” and “oh yeah, the newspaper you read really does say a lot about you. My parents read The Independent.”

Feeling abnormal about the distinct difference in class, to fit in I started to buy make-up and magazines with my lunch money, encouraged by the continuous cycle of television adverts sandwiched between "Sweet Valley High" and "Party of Five". Skipping lunch would help me to lose weight anyway. Finally, I dumped my old friends because they didn’t fit in with my new ‘prettier’ friends.

At this age my two greatest sources of self-loathing were my breasts and my body hair. My breasts hung to the side instead of being pert and round. They also had stretch marks all over them - which none of the Page 3 models had. But Page 3 models were just normal girls with normal breasts, weren’t they? I knew that my mum and her friends had stretch marks because they had been pregnant and so the only reasonable explanation was that I must have got them because I was too fat. I had already given up eating lunch so I decided to stop eating breakfast as well.

The second was the soft, thick layer of brown body hair that covered me from top to toe. I realise now that this was probably made worse by starvation and lack of proper nutrition. The first person to point it out to me was a male friend from primary school that suggested I should "shave my moustache". Humiliated, I desperately looked through my magazines and realised that none of the models or actresses had any facial hair, in fact, they didn't seem to have any body hair at all. I spent hours in the bathroom with tub after tub of hair removal cream. Spreading it like a magical serum all over my legs, my bum, my lower back, my arms, my stomach and my face. It smelt and it stung and it caused rashes. But nothing could be as bad as being hairy, could it? This is what I continued to tell myself for years. Every girl I knew at sixth-form went for bikini waxes; we even ridiculed girls that didn't (behind their backs).

I modeled myself on Bridget Jones and Carrie from Sex in the City. Not bad role models some might say - independent women who have good careers. But for me they just normalised the self-hatred that I felt. They made it okay to loathe myself because of the way that I looked and to spend hours trying to improve every last inch of body so that a man would desire me. I pretended to be someone that I wasn’t. I pretended to fit in and to enjoy the shallow, vacuous culture of celebrity, cheerleading and shopping. But it was never me. I felt empty and angry.

As soon as alcohol was introduced into the mix I completely lost it. My girlfriends and I would have "Lambrini” parties where we would drink the sugary sparkling wine from martini glasses and smoke. We would talk about all of our sexual experiences and laugh about them as though they had been fun.

The slow process of rebuilding myself has ultimately been sped-up by learning about feminism at university. So in response to Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, I believe that it is not the younger generation that has betrayed feminism, but culture which has betrayed the younger generation. I could just as easily ask the older generation of feminists why they let it get this bad? Because I don't think you had to cope with the same constant stream of beauty product advertisements, celebrity culture, sexualised images of women on TV and objectification by almost every media outlet. But I won’t. Because we are all working towards the same thing: freeing every woman from the shackles of objectification.

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