Monday, 26 April 2010

A Brave New Girl

I started thinking about perfection this week when a friend noticed that I say ‘Perfect!’ a lot [seriously you have no idea - Ramping]. ‘That would be perfect!’ ‘You’re perfect – thank you’, ‘It’s been a perfect day’, ‘Having coffee with her was perfect’, and so on, ad nauseam (apparently).
Now if I was living some sort of charmed life, wafting about looking flawless (rather than tired, slightly hungover and a bit dishevelled), fragrant with exactly the right amount of Gucci Rush (rather than putting on so much I smell, in the words of Janis Ian, ‘like a baby prostitute’), being gracious and clever and witty (rather than grumpy and needy and inane) then, truly, ‘perfect’ would be the, um, perfect adjective. But alas, in reality, perfection constantly eludes me.

I put myself under a lot of pressure to be perfect. Maybe it’s in my genes, maybe it’s the Protestant work ethic I grew up with. Or maybe it’s something of a cultural imperative. Who (and especially what woman) doesn’t, at some level, think our bodies/work/homes/relationships/sermons/G&Ts should be perfect?

One woman who is excruciatingly familiar with the pressure to be perfect is Britney Spears, who ‘bravely’ published photos of herself before and after airbrushing. See how perfect she isn’t?

Britney has enormous power as a symbol and story for most women my age. Since the Baby One More Time video started preventing the boys we hung out with from standing up, we’ve watched her grow up in celebrity parallel to ourselves, going through (some of) the same sort of things: the boy you’re dating kissing and telling, losing your virginity instead of doing the proper evangelical thing, one-night-stands, marriage, babies, breakups, going through the sort of craziness we all do in our twenties (but to the nth degree and under scrutiny I can’t imagine), weight loss, weight gain, booze, drugs, being popular, being alone, having controlling parents...

I've always liked her music. I have a playlist on my ipod of songs that make me feel sexy (however superficially) and make me want to dance, and there is a lot of Britney on there. If you track the themes of her songs, even right back to the the early stuff, there is a good stream of feisty lyrics, stories of having your own fun, avoiding being overprotected, being outrageous, becoming your own woman, being brave, screwing instead of being screwed, being a bitch. But it’s always made me sort of anxious, because these songs aren’t written by her. So whose story is it? When do you become what is projected onto you? When is it healthy, and actually empowering, and when does it make you want to shave all your hair off you’re so distressed? When are you being objectified, and colluding in your objectification?

Britney looks phenomenal in the un-airbrushed photos. And even if it’s cynical (look how hot I am in real life now! Buy my record!) it’s good to see how completely ridiculous advertising is. Because, and I suspect this is true for loads of women, I’m not very good at looking and ads and remembering they’re fake, they’re unrealistic, and real people (even celebrities) actually have KNEES. When was the last time you saw knees? Apparently famous women don’t have to bend their legs. (Perhaps, like Mariah Carey, they 'don't do stairs'.) And it’s important to remind ourselves that even someone as gorgeous as Britney must be airbrushed in ads, because attractive as she is, she’s still not hot enough.

So we get to add this to the story of B. She hasn’t got a perfect body, but she’s ok with showing us her cellulite. And no matter why she’s really doing it, maybe I can add a bit more honesty into my narrative – the one I tell myself, and the one I reveal to others. Because it turns out that people quite like honesty, and vulnerability can be attractive. I’ve been surprised recently at how much admitting I’m not perfect has been good for my friendships.

So excuse me while I put on my bikini, go outside, and show everyone my knees.

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