I was born in the 70’s  right in the middle of the second wave of feminism when women all over the world were fighting for political and cultural equality. As the eldest child in an all girl family in Thatcher’s England I can’t say that I really noticed. My mum stayed home with us while dad worked but I recognised that that had more to do with the fact that in those days most peoples mums stayed home, like it or not, especially when dad earned good money. I was encouraged to set my sights high and follow whatever dreams I could think of.  I remember telling my mum that I wanted to be a nurse and (nothing against nurses) she told me to aim higher – be a doctor and that was that! I studied science, climbed trees with my sisters, played with barbies and lego in equal measure and learned the names of all of the bones in the human body. 

While I grew up, the F word grew stronger but I wasn’t listening.

It wasn’t that I didn’t hear or feel it, I just always believed that I was different, that I would rule the world and that thousands of years of socially constructed inequality was going to break my stride.  That was until recently.

While researching for my book I have been reading lots of fascinating stuff on the subject of beauty and the funny thing is, the deeper I look, the more the ‘f’ word raises its head.   It may have something to do with me reaching a ‘certain age’,  that ‘age’ being the one when I should be thinking seriously about botox, boob lifts or permanent hair removal if the magazines are to be believed.  It may also have something to do with the fact that I now have two daughters of my own to guide, daughters that are thrust into womanhood before they can even pronounce puberty let alone understand it. However, it is more likely that I am just getting that sinking feeling that standards are slipping, the gap is widening and the future is not all rosy!

So, it was when my review of “Living Dolls” got picked up the “feminist review” blog that I realized what had happened. I had found my inner feminist and have become vocal! It’s a funny feeling really as I have and will always see myself as a people-ist rather than someone who shouts mainly about women. I have known more than my fair share of narrow-minded and jerky men but have also known some rather annoying and bigoted women. On the other hand some of my best friends are men (including my husband of course) and some of  the most inspiring people to have entered my life have been women.  I still believe in rights for everyone but doesn’t everyone?

Even stranger than my ‘realization’ is the reaction that I get from friends when I mention what I have been reading or thinking.  Maybe this is what coming out feels like…….  For a minute there I felt a bit odd, like people were looking through and around me for a clue that would help them to fit me into this new pigeon hole: “aha,  well we knew that something was happening when you turned up to dinner in your Birkenstocks”  or  “We knew that something was happening when you didn’t wear full make-up to the gym”.  It’s all a bit weird until THEY realise that you are still human.

Women my age just don’t seem to want to think about this stuff any more. I don’t know why exactly but being a feminist in 2010 is a bit like being a hippie at a rave party. It looks all-natural and free-loved up but it’s not, well, not unless you have the right combination to crack the Davinci code.  We stick out like a sore thumb and are just getting in the way of a good knees up. Nobody can understand what the fuss is about!

So, what does the F word mean to me?

For me it is all about beauty and that is not trivial.

  • The beauty that comes from being free to choose how to dress without fear of discrimination.
  • The beauty that unfolds as we grow older.
  • The beauty that comes from experiencing all that life has to offer.
  • The beauty that glows from within when we embrace our true self.
  • The beauty of love and friendship.

In writing this blog I am struck time and time again by a common thread,  a bitter aftertaste that lingers after reading about the latest round of celebs without make-up OR  sexy underwear for kids OR  must have cosmetic surgery.  Much of what goes on in the beauty world is not as empowering as the ‘girl power’ generation likes to think.  Yes, the world has opened up to us and yes we can have it all but ONLY if we look good – even when pregnant (Yummy Mummy pressure hits) and especially when over the age of 50.  I am not against this move to outer perfection but along with the gloss comes the vacuum and pardon the pun – it sucks.

The vacuum that is supporting this perfect beauty veneer is situate between our ears. We have decided to hit the delete button on the ‘F’ word while we carry on partying. After all, we won the right to control our fertility, are able to get whatever job we choose and can vote whichever way we want. We can stay home and bake cupcakes or run a multi-million dollar company and retain our femininity all the way. Can’t we?

I am starting to see how un-equitable the global beauty market can be and the scary thing is that it doesn’t take much picking to uncover the truth. I’m not one for bra burning (carbon footprint issues) and I have never chained myself up to anything but I think that the time is right for an intellectual revolution.   It’s time to stop paying beauty equality lip service and get back to basics:

  • Why should women have to look like porn stars to be ‘beautiful?
  • What is wrong with a few wrinkles and a bit of middle-aged spread?
  • Can’t women become mummies without having to look ‘yummy’ for anyone other than their partners?
  • Can we stop writing about our political women’s hair doo’s or toned bodies and start writing more about their work?

I still believe that these are people issues as much as feminist issues but in the multi-billion dollar beauty world it is women that remain the prime focus so it’s there that we need to start making changes.  There is nothing wrong with looking great, embracing youthfulness and sculpting our own beauty veneers but before we can do this freely we must understand our relationship with the status quo. 

So, as my quest to understand our relationship with both absolute beauty and beauty ‘capital’ continues I encourage you to jump on board, take a deep breath and say out loud “I’m a feminist and I’m beautiful’. Just keep your bra on!