Susie Rushton: Don't young women realise that outdoorsy is also sexy?

Notebook: Why aren't more women rebelling against the authorised version of beauty?

Share

Young women worry about how they look. This isn't news to anyone who remembers their own adolescent anxiety over spots, fat thighs and why Sally Perkins has better-developed breasts even though she's a year younger – but the extent to which girls are obsessed by "physical perfection" has become alarming.

According to new research, one in four girls aged between 11 and 17 has low self-esteem; unhappiness with physical appearance is one of the most debilitating factors, say the Future Foundation think-tank, which carried out the survey. This miserable lack of self-worth damages career prospects later in life, argues the Future Foundation, which projects that this means the chances of another female prime minister being elected by 2050 have shrunk further.

When the current cohort of teen girls hit their professional peak, there'll be fewer female FTSE 100 CEOs (despite UK and EU regulation forcing the issue) and fewer female Olympic medallists than we might otherwise have had – all because, as adolescents, they were too busy ringing their eyes with Kate-Middleton black eyeliner and calculating how to eat fewer than 1,000 calories a day.

How much credence we should give a study based on interviews with 500 respondents – let alone one commissioned for Dove soap, which has a long-running ad campaign for "real beauty" – may be debatable, but the conclusions sound too true, and too bothersome, to immediately dismiss.

What really strikes me as most regressive is that the female role models who teens – and the rest of us – see in magazines and on TV are almost always so uniformly boring: the same fake tans, the same skinny legs in cut-off shorts, the same platform stilettos and heavily pencilled eyebrows.

My question is: why aren't more young women rebelling against the authorised version of beauty? Teenagers are familiar with the idea of defiance, yet ideas of what's beautiful and stylish and "perfect" seem strangely beyond question. There's nothing wrong with being interested in one's appearance, but why not get creative? Where are today's true style rule-breakers?

This occurred to me when a new book called Tomboy Style, published by Rizzoli, landed on my desk. The insolent younger sister to all those retro-glamour coffee-table tomes that dribble over wasp waists and cantilevered busts from the 1950s, it looks back at the best betrousered women of all time. Katharine Hepburn, Suzi Quatro, Ali McGraw, the 1920s adventuress Osa Johnson and Diane Keaton are here, alongside modern tomboys Janelle Monáe and Tilda Swinton – none of them girls you could imagine lacking in self-esteem.

Outdoorsy spirit and freedom from the received expectations of femininity are profoundly attractive (even to boys) when worn with confidence, and are actually celebrated in fashion media if you look hard enough: American Vogue this month dedicates two spreads to an interview with a rather gorgeous female champion motocross rider, 21-year-old Ashley Fiolek, probably the coolest women it has featured in its pages for years.

The tomboy look doesn't work for, or appeal to, everybody. Yet could it be that a solution to our growing beauty crisis isn't to persuade young women to abandon the looking glass altogether, but to try on a wider variety of styles for size?

Physical appearance isn't just about flesh and bone structure, but attitude and the clothes you choose to wear. It's one aspect of a woman's life, not a precast mask that one wears to fit in.

s.rushton@independent.co.uk

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Whitehall Editor: The spurious Tory endorsement that misfired

Oliver Wright
 

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband hasn’t ‘suddenly’ become a robust leader. He always was

Steve Richards
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence