Let me make it clear from the outset that I am not going to write about Samantha Brick, the woman who wrote in a newspaper last week on "why women hate me for being beautiful", and provoked the fury of a nation. I'm not going to rate her looks, her personality or her mental health (and anyone who feels the need to do so as a result of reading this column, please provide photos of yourself and a note from your psychotherapist so that we can all see what makes you such a perfect judge). But what I would like to talk about is who benefits from this bizarre news event. I want to ask, because seeing so many otherwise smart, feisty people being sucked into its vortex has made me want to cry.
There are sections of the media whose unwritten tagline has always been: "Women: we hate ourselves". But I know some of the thousands of people who commented on the website of the paper where all this started, and they would not usually touch that paper with tongs. So who did they think was profiting from their anger, with the increased web traffic, advertising revenue and picture sales it caused? Right-thinking women everywhere? Or the very clever people who own the paper?
What really makes me angry is not a woman who thinks she's gorgeous, nor a paper that paid her to say so and gave readers something to talk about, but that the week's events are just a tiny part of a massive industry that makes billions of pounds out of making people feel crap about themselves. Let's be honest: it's mostly men doing the profiting, and mostly women feeling crap. And the worse we feel, the likelier it is that we seem to beg for more.
Maybe you think this sounds like paranoia. In which case, you must believe that the diet industry really wants us to get thin, stay thin, and live happily ever after. But it doesn't; it wants us caught up in a never-ending spiral of fad diets, buying its products and services until we die. And guess what: cosmetic surgeons have no interest in telling patients that they are perfectly pretty as they are and don't need to spend thousands of pounds on bigger boobs.
All of this is reinforced by women's magazines, in which images of women are stretched and airbrushed until they look superhuman, and those who buy and read them feel ugly and freakish in comparison. Which is great, because then come the adverts for things that promise to make us look thinner, smoother, better and younger – though they cost a fortune and don't work. You can't even log on to Facebook, if you are female, without "targeted" adverts telling you to lose two stone in four weeks. First of all, nobody should lose two stone in four weeks unless they are seriously ill. And second, do they really think that all women are so boring and narrow-minded? A male friend who posts similar messages to mine on the site (about gardening, DIY, nothing special) receives targeted ads for discounted sheds and local pumpkin festivals.
We are so blind now to this being done to us that we even let it happen to our children, too. In any toy shop, in the aisles that are pink and clearly marked for girls, there are vanity mirrors and make-up labelled as "suitable for girls aged 3+". In what way is it suitable to set children of three upon this route? And who is making all the money out of it? Not many girls.
This is not some plea for special victim status for poor, silly women, who are being manipulated by nasty men. Because, aside from the three- year-olds, we are doing this to ourselves. It's as if all the women in the Western world are suffering from Stockholm syndrome, and have fallen in love with the people who persuade us that we're ugly, arrogant, stupid, weak and morally repugnant, and then ask for our money. Last week, the public's rage against one woman became indistinguishable from the poison of a system that tells these things to all women. It's bad enough paying people to make us hate ourselves, but for pity's sake, we don't have to do their jobs for them, too.
Brilliant, cool and likeable – that's a rarity for television
I am somewhat in awe of Dr Alice Roberts, the anatomist, osteoarchaeologist and anthropologist, paleopathology's answer to Professor Brian Cox, who presented BBC2's Woolly Mammoth: Secrets from the Ice last week. Dr Alice is the pinnacle of a recent telly phenomenon in which science geeks have all become totally cool – an evolutionary process that began with secret crushes on Judith Hann on Tomorrow's World back in 1974, and was only noticed by the wider media last year when Brian Cox climbed out of the primordial sea and stood handsomely on a mountain, pointing at things. Dr Alice stands on glaciers, pointing at things, which just gives her the edge.
Just as exciting as Dr Alice is the classical historian Bettany Hughes, who also points at things – though more often pyramids – and whose new Divine Women series on BBC2 starts this Wednesday. Both of these academics have the rare talent of making their subjects seem the most fascinating on earth, which seems to be exactly what television was made for.
Coincidentally, both also disprove the hypothesis that it is impossible to be a good-looking woman without every other woman in the world hating you.
They're children, not gods...
A new term has been coined by Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, to describe children who are "waited on hand and foot" by overindulgent parents and so grow up without any manners. Dr Bousted calls them "Little Buddhas", and says that "they expect to get what they want immediately and do not understand that there are other children in the class".
I see this phenomenon most often on public transport, where indignant parents fuss until a fare-paying adult gives their seat to a thankless child. When I was small, I had to stand up for adults, so this is Not Fair! And Little Buddhas were called Spoilt Little Brats and sent to bed with no dinner.
The benefits of crowd control
Would you let an audience of 50 complete strangers make a life-changing decision for you? That's the premise behind Channel 4's new reality programme idea The Audience, and I have to say, I think it might work. Most of the bad decisions I have made in my life would have been blindingly obvious to a bunch of strangers, and perhaps, being strangers, and numbering 50, they could have forced me to see the error of my ways just by sheer persistence and strength of numbers.
These days, I try to make a policy of never giving advice, because it is seldom asked for or appreciated. But good advice, when sought, can be invaluable. That's only good advice and only when sought, Twitter people. Telling a complete stranger that she's ugly and mental is not really helpful to anyone.
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