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

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

Recruitment Genius: Facilities Coordinator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Facilities Coordinator is required to join a...

Recruitment Genius: Project Manager - Software House - PRINCE2, PMP

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A dynamic, customer oriented Pr...

Recruitment Genius: Relationship Sales Advisor

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an inbound relationship...

Recruitment Genius: Electrician - Based in Petersfield

£19600 - £25800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in the South, based in ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A ballot box is emptied by a voting official at the closing of polling stations in Athens, Greece July 5, 2015. Greece voted on Sunday on whether to accept more austerity in exchange for international aid, in a high-stakes referendum likely to determine whether it leaves the euro-currency area after seven years of economic pain.  

Greece debt crisis: Too many Greeks decided the referendum question was 'Do you want to pay more humiliating and unfair taxes?'

Nick Sarris
Supporters of the No vote react after the first results of the referendum at Syntagma square in Athens  

It’s not whether we’re rich or poor, but what we expect that really counts

Ben Chu
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate