Monthly Archives: July 2013

Face of Radio



Since her appointment as the new panel member of BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, Mishal Husain has already been salivated over by virtually every newspaper reporting on the story. By the male journalists, that is, who felt called upon to discuss this important event.

Astonishingly, this is the first time the Today Programme has had two female presenters on its panel, and one of an ‘ethnic minority’ (unpleasant phrase, implying as it does that white is the universal norm). Yet despite the er, groundbreaking nature of her selection, Husain is still discussed almost entirely in terms of her looks.

Peter Hoggart at the Guardian felt it necessary to note that Husain is “captivatingly intelligent and beautiful” (hey, at least he said she’s intelligent, right?), while his colleague Peter Preston chose the same combination, describing her as “the most luminous of BBC presenters, combining beauty and a keen intelligence”.

The Telegraph helpfully recounted a 2009 clash between Husain and her new Today co-host John Humphrys, when on Celebrity Mastermind he asked her whether she was only employed for her looks, and implied that in 10 years’ time she would be getting the sack.

However, Quentin Letts at (where else?) the Daily Mail trumps them all with his assessment of “Dishy Mishy”: “her gaze is as steamy as a pan of slimmer’s spinach”.

The thing is, you would think that she could escape this kind of appearance judgement on radio. Where no one will see her.

Nope, apparently not.

A Pretty Parody

This may be hilarious, but I do wish that actual, academic feminist books didn’t go and say the same things.

**Feminist Makeup Tutorial**

– courtesy of Tadelesmith at YouTube.

I’m off to find an empowering shade of lipstick…



Seriously though, are there any really good (feminist) justifications for makeup?

The Revenge of Photoshop

Well, here is something marvellous. Thanks to Autumn Whitefield-Madrano at The Beheld, I came across the work of artist Danny Evans at Planet Hiltron, who is performing a public service by turning Photoshop against its masters.


Guess who? Not quite Jack Sparrow…

Evans alters images of celebrities to make them look… not like celebrities, but instead like ordinary people who cannot hire a personal trainer or spend $2000 a week on their hair. Apart from his penchant for styling his victims circa 1985, this reminder of just how much work goes into red carpet beauty is both chilling and delightful.

A while ago I wrote about how few of us could turn down a little retouching on our own images (or selves), but perhaps I should rethink that: Photoshop can be cruel as well as kind, and there is a real danger in people’s images being infinitely changeable – extreme cosmetic surgery seems to grow from this ‘transformative’ and beauty-centric attitude. There is something to be said for the belief that you can be whoever you want to be, but when this is applied to beauty, as it so often is, the only people who seem to gain are the CEOs of L’Oreal and pals.

I would like to end on a lighter note though, in line with Evans’ experiment. After all, the field of beauty is sadly short on laughs.

Which other famous beauties would you like to see receiving the Photoshop Revenge? I vote for Jon Bon Jovi, who looks more like a Ken doll every year.

Game, Set, Mascara

I am cautiously optimistic by the number of people who are expressing their fury at the judgement of female sportswomen purely on their appearance. An almighty furore blew up after BBC Radio 5 Live presenter John Inverdale celebrated Marion Bartoli’s Wimbledon win with the meditation, “Do you think Bartoli’s dad told her when she was little, ‘You’re never going to be a looker, you’ll never be a Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight’?”.

Bartoli Power over pretty: shame that the uniform requires knicker-flashing though.

However, when Tanya Gold at the Guardian took Inverdale to task for this display of mean-spirited idiocy, she still felt the need to add that Bartoli is in fact pretty. And therefore OK after all.

I thought the whole point was that it didn’t matter? That sportswomen are inspiring because their achievements are based on talent, discipline and rigorous training? Perhaps not, when even those defending this ideal feel that the sportswoman in question needs to be validated by prettiness.

This seems like a good place to start in rejecting the focus on sportswomen’s looks: being careful not to reinforce it by mentioning their looks ourselves.

But I would like to mention their makeup. Did anyone else notice a number of sportswomen at Wimbledon and last year’s Olympics appearing to wear makeup to compete? And didn’t this strike you as odd? I certainly wouldn’t want to wear foundation or mascara when my sporting performance is of the utmost importance: not comfortable, and I would worry about it all dripping off my face as I leapt over hurdles or flung a javelin.

And yet some did. Sabine Lisicki was definitely wearing eye makeup in her match against Bartoli.

Rhona Foulis at Progressive Women observes the habit of interviewers to ask sportswomen about their beauty regime (imagine Andy Murray’s response to that). Jessica Ennis responded to such a question:

“I always wear a bit of make-up to compete – foundation, Olay Essentials SPF30 […], eyeliner, mascara and a lip moisturiser. If I feel I look nice it’ll help my performance.”


Daily Mail article which considers Ennis’ beauty regime the only thing worth discussing.

Really? Why? Oh right: Ennis is the “face” of Olay’s Essentials range. I sense a problem here.

As Meli Pennington of Wild Beauty writes, some athletes such as US boxer Marlen Esparza have worn makeup to compete without the influence of sponsorship – though Pennington asks whether this is a kind of ‘audition’ aimed at getting sponsored. Esparza, who is now sponsored by Cover Girl, is quoted as saying, “I think if you look good you feel good, and if you feel good then you fight good.”

I wouldn’t want to reject this argument entirely (actually I do want to, but shouldn’t presume to know what goes on in people’s minds), but I would question the assumption that women need makeup in order to look good. But it does seem useful to mention here that women’s sport receives on average only 0.5% of all UK sports sponsorship. They need the money.

It is not easy to assert how much makeup sportswomen wear while competing, nor why they wear it, but this is a discussion that needs to remain in play. If we accept unquestioningly that sportswomen should make an effort to look pretty, then that assumption will continue to hold for all women, and we really don’t need that.

To finish on a lighter note, the New York Metro has conducted an amusing experiment, to show what men’s sports coverage might look like if it was photographed in the same way as women’s sports. Turns out that recognising people by their buttocks is not so easy.

For more on this see Hadley Freeman at the Guardian on sportsmen’s girlfriends, and Dodai Stewart at Jezebel on the different shapes of athleticism.