Monthly Archives: November 2013



If the experts at Glamour, Grazia, Cosmo et al. are right, then us ladies are only ready to leave the house and inflict ourselves upon the world when the following ‘body parts’ are correctly assembled:

  • Locks or alternatively mane (if you’re feeling fierce)
  • Pins
  • Talons
  • Tootsies
  • Peepers
  • Pout

As I understand it, the construction of these parts is meant to result in Angelina Jolie. However, the image I am left with is the lovechild of Rapunzel and a lion, with needles for legs, flashing hawk-like talons. Aspiration is not what I feel.

While it must be difficult for magazine writers to avoid repetition when endlessly discussing how to perfect eyes, lips, nails, legs and hair, the constant use of words like pins is not only a patronising attempt to create a linguistic community (despite the fact that none of their readers ever use those words), it also does some disturbing work in objectifying women’s bodies.

Pins are sharp objects, talons and manes belong to animals, and peepers sound like something a stalker might use. What all these terms have in common is a lack of humanity and a forced sense of frivolity, not to mention a complete failure to resonate with the way women think and talk about their bodies.

That’s not to say magazine language has no influence, however. A lot of attention is paid to the visual side of objectification, with important discussions around the way images of women’s bodies are cropped, dismembered and photoshopped into idealised body parts. But the language of beauty is just as alienating, working to make our bodies seem like haphazard collections of objects that don’t belong to us.

It’s strange that this formula continues to dominate women’s magazines even in an era when women writing blogs, journalism, novels and tweets are showing that we neither read nor write that way. Our lips are made for talking, not pouting, and if the magazines could realise this they might finally be able to speak to us.

Let’s Rip into Ripper Street

I will have to confess now that I only watched the first episode of the BBC’s Victorian crime drama Ripper Street, but I’m fairly confident that my criticisms will stand for episodes two and three. And for the first series that I also missed.

I know, questionable grounds to hold an opinion, but please don’t make me watch them all.


BBC/Tiger Aspect (

Frankly, I’m astonished that they made a second series, but apparently not everyone is so bothered by the following small niggles:

  • The female characters are all prostitutes
  • Except for one loving wife
  • But they’re all hot totty with very few lines
  • The men get to be dashing and complicated(ish), like actual real people
  • The only non-beautiful character is actually THE ELEPHANT MAN
  • None of this is as fun as it sounds, so that’s no justification

It’s pretty boring to have to cover those points yet again, since they apply to almost all TV and films, like, ever made and have been pointed out quite a number of times. But if the BBC haven’t yet noticed that this is a problem requiring action, then I guess it does need to be said.

After all, it wouldn’t have been that hard to develop some female characters who bear some resemblance to human beings, especially since women actually were people in the Victorian era, who had a whole variety of thoughts, conversations, roles and wardrobes, despite the best efforts of history and pop culture to convince us that they were all either tightly corseted wives or tightly corseted whores. It is no longer convincing to represent women in this ridiculous cartoon way, whatever period the TV drama/film/book is set in, because we know that women. are. people.

Matthew Macfadyen, you have been Mr Darcy. If Jane Austen could write proper female characters in 1813, why are we still not getting it?

The Logic of Stupid Poor People

A great perspective on the market value of beauty/self-presentation from Tressie McMillan Cottom…


We hates us some poor people. First, they insist on being poor when it is so easy to not be poor. They do things like buy expensive designer belts and $2500 luxury handbags.

Screen shot 2013-10-29 at 12.11.13 PMTo be fair, this isn’t about Eroll Louis. His is a belief held by many people, including lots of black people, poor people, formerly poor people, etc. It is, I suspect, an honest expression of incredulity. If you are poor, why do you spend money on useless status symbols like handbags and belts and clothes and shoes and televisions and cars?

One thing I’ve learned is that one person’s illogical belief is another person’s survival skill. And nothing is more logical than trying to survive.

My family is a classic black American migration family. We have rural Southern roots, moved north and almost all have returned. I grew up watching my great-grandmother, and later my…

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The Beautiful Author

When talking about the beauty of people, we tend to discuss those people as passive objects to be looked at. Of course, this issue of objectification is at the heart of many feminist critiques of (usually feminine) beauty. That’s why it’s interesting to think about the beauty of people who are actively working in a sphere that has nothing to do with beauty, and how those people are affected by being judged beautiful. And how beauty is affected by its connection with them.

The beautiful author is a good example of this, and Zadie Smith is a good example in particular.

Zadie Smith


Writing is not a very public activity, except in the Monty Python sketch in which a running commentary is given on Thomas Hardy writing his new novel in front of a West Country crowd – it’s funny because it’s absurd, and also because watching someone write is incredibly boring.

However, watching someone beautiful write seems to be a different matter. Zadie Smith was heralded as the voice of her generation when her first novel, White Teeth, was published in 2000. Her good looks did not go unnoticed: some said her beauty helped publicise her novel, and some said it prevented her being taken seriously as a writer. I guess that both are true. The point is that her beauty mattered.

In this interview with Christopher Bollen at Interview Magazine, Smith is (of course) asked about the huge success and attention garnered by her first novel, though Bollen stops short of asking her directly about her looks (the Daily Mail, however, is more than happy to focus on this, and the comments below the line do not inspire much faith in humanity). Smith has some interesting answers that suggest a need to separate her public, visible self and her self on the page:

“I just can’t get used to the idea of being somebody unreal in people’s minds. I can’t live my life like that. And it’s just anathema to being a writer. But in another way, what it’s about for me is being good on the page.”

The problem for Smith is that being famous and beautiful creates an image that captures people’s attention, but ultimately has nothing behind it (see ‘Kim Kardashian’), and that is a real problem for a writer – or anyone trying to actually do something. Zadie Smith is transformed by her beauty and a horde of photographers and journalists into an exciting picture (that happens to be holding a book that she wrote). It must be difficult when that book sells millions: is it the words or the body that sold it?

Probably the words, I reckon. Because – and I think this is a good thing – the image of Beautiful Zadie is so empty and irrelevant that no one would bother to actually buy and read a book based on that alone. Beauty might get in the way of sensible discussion of a writer and their work, but I’m not sure it gets in the way of the work itself, or not so much. But it remains a problem that human beauty is seen as so superficial and vacuous that those qualities are imposed on the beautiful person. However, if they keep writing, or whatever it is that they are actively doing, then hopefully we will all get bored of looking at them. The moral of this is obvious: models are not, er, role models. There is no reason why beauty can’t have substance, but this still needs proving in the world of Instagram and Britain’s Next Top Model.

Companion piece: a previous post on the Ugly Philosopher.

A Hairy Issue


If Natalia Vodianova can do it… (

People are very angry on Twitter. Of course they are. But today one of the things they are angry about is #NoShaveNovember.

Apparently this was created so that men could go a month without bothering to shave, but now those pesky feminists have hijacked it as an excuse not to shave their disgusting lady hair.

I know, how dare they? The objections to ladies getting involved with #NoShaveNovember go something like this:

  • Ew, gross
  • #NoShaveNovember is for guys
  • No one wants to shag a hairy woman
  • I wouldn’t want to shag you, so you all better keep shaving
  • Ew, gross
  • Ew, gross

And some of these come from ladies.

What I find strange is how angry people get by the mere idea of women not shaving legs and armpits – getting so worked up by hypothetical hair. Why should they care about the hair of people they will never meet? Besides, anyone who has been in a long-term relationship is probably aware that a bit of lady fuzz really doesn’t matter. In that sense, many of us are more progressive in this matter than would appear on Twitter.

However, those who don’t mind their boyfriend encountering their leg hair are unlikely to display this hair in public, precisely because they would get the kind of reactions noted above. It seems that we have a collective image of all women as sexily hair-free, and we feel the need to maintain this image even while being less bothered by it in our personal lives. We know it’s an ideal, and an unrealistic one, but we can’t quite let it go. Why not?

Perhaps our understanding of beauty, sexiness and gender are fundamentally challenged by the prospect of luscious lady hair. This would be disappointing and slightly dull – I mean, as if those huge concepts can be defined by body hair. But what this possibility does show up is that our ideas of beauty, sexiness and gender are built on some very silly and untrue foundations. We do know that beauty is more than hairless legs. So let’s shake those foundations a bit, we’re already halfway there.

I’m off to start some arguments on Twitter. Do join me.


Beautiful Money

Jane Austen

Bridgeman Art Library at

Please no. Not Jane. I am sad to report (or re-report from the Guardian) that despite the victory of getting Jane Austen on the £10 note, as the only woman to grace our filthy lucre, she has been retouched. Predictably, perhaps.

I can’t really say it better than Tanya Gold at the Guardian, who succinctly voices how utterly terrible and ridiculous this is. Do we have to have another Twitter campaign? I don’t know if I could stand it.