Welcome to Wednesday – that no-man’s land where both weekends seem horribly far off. To resurrect the grey cells, here’s a fiendishly difficult puzzle into which to sink your mental molars. The name of the game is ‘Spot the Subtext’, and this week, it’s brought to you courtesy of the Daily Mail.
To start us off, let’s take a small selection of headlines from today’s ‘Femail’ section;
‘Fat Actress No More! Kirstie Alley displays weight loss after squeezing into size 10 dress’
‘Size 10 was a normal size: Cindy Crawford talks about today’s shrinking models’
‘Mrs Thin-eker: Danielle looks more slender than usual as she heads out with husband Gary’
‘Back in a bandage dress: Dannii Minogue shows off her stunning post-baby figure in body con’
‘Abs-olutely fabulous: Mother-of-twins J:Lo shows off her toned stomach in cropped top’
‘Day 2 and Nigella is still covering up on the beach’
‘Once my fat is eliminated I’ll be a flawless diamond: The Apprentice’s Stuart reveals his plan to overhaul brand Baggs’.
Stumped? Gentle reader, let me help you out. They’re all about inner beauty. The complicated splendour that is Woman. Her thoughts, fears, dreams …and midriff.
Not to worry – after all, no-one’s reading this stuff. Maybe a handful of misogynists, hunched over a camp-fire. But that’s it, right?
Er – sort-of. Give or take 2,100,855 (Gross sales Nov 2010).
That’s a lot of stupid men.
Except for one teeny thing, (I’m so channelling Columbo). It’s not just men.
Not only was the Mail the first newspaper to sell a million copies a day, it’s also the only UK paper with a readership of more than 50 per cent women. And whilst it’s tempting to blame the editors or copywriters, they’re not the ones buying the paper. We are.
This is not a diatribe against the Mail. In many ways, it’s one of my favourite papers, if for no other reason than the bonkers health tips that send my mum into weekly meltdown, (‘Beetroot: Nature’s Secret Weapon’ etc). It’s relatively easy to scapegoat one publication, particularly when it’s been described as ‘home of the scare story’. But the Mail is no better or worse than many of its rivals and neither is its take on body image.
The problem is much bigger than one headline. It’s the way that we view ourselves and our bodies. Our attitudes to ageing and gender and celebrity and what it is that gives us value and makes us human. Absolutely, this sort of coverage can be negative and even damaging. But in many cases it just serves to reinforce the lies that are already there.