Julie Burchill, at her best, is polemic wildfire, shrieking through conventional wisdom, gulping it down and spitting out the cinders. She’s on this superlative form in a Guardian column taking on the recommendation of the “British Fashion Council to the Periodical Publishers Association to, in the words of heat magazine, ‘form a group to curb the use of airbrushed and digitally enhanced pictures.’” This type of deceptively benign sexism is becoming disturbingly ubiquitous. It is the common currency of the vile Dove Campaign For Real Beauty, disingenuous gambits like the fashion campaign featuring an anorexic model (which didn’t mention that her anorexia developed during a emotionally damaging childhood. Unfortunately child abuse just doesn’t get the column inches these days) and demands to ban “underweight” models.
Burchill, god love her, gets right to the molar-grinding heart of the matter: “these new ones … laws, guidelines, suggestions, whatever… portray women as neurotic, looks-obsessed cretins who are likely to collapse in a weeping heap of jelly if they come across proof that any other woman is better-looking than they are… [an] absolute gift to the sort of creepy man who soothes his sad soul by imagining that every woman between the ages of 16 and 61 lives in a permanent self-loathing state.”
The hubbub over “airbrushing” differs only in content – not in character – from arguments stretching back centuries. That women shouldn’t be educated lest the demands of learning prove too much for their tiny minds. That women shouldn’t be encouraged to do exercise because of their delicate constitutions. That women need potions and powders, or hoop skirts and hysterectomies, to alleviate the dangerous burden of femaleness.
This latest twist on the old tale is patently absurd. A media-scourged furore as deeply irrelevant to adult life as are magazine frenzies over such non-issues as celebrity cellulite, streaky fake tans or whether or not so-and-so has worn the same pair of pumps in public twice. Most women have bigger fish to fry; it is anti-feminist to suggest otherwise. And it blossoms into outright misogyny at the point it has reached – where women are presumed to be too soft-headed to read a copy of Glamour without doing themselves serious psychic damage.
Give it a fucking rest. Women’s magazines do have a case to answer, but it’s nothing to do with the quality of Photoshopping on the cover and everything to do with the sexist drivel that riddles their pages. To stop airbrushing but carry on publishing features advising women to “Put A Bun In The Oven“; or to criticise size zero models while running photo spreads whooping about some poor actress’ love handles is beyond hypocrisy. Give me an honest con-artist any day…