It used to be nipples. Nipples were very much the in-thing, the object of endless, microscopic attention from our lady bit-fixated press. Every outfit worn by a woman in the public eye -- whether she was pushing a pram or collecting an Oscar -- was scrutinised for above the waist lawlessness.
Were there dark shadows suggesting brazen bra-lessness? Was there any suggestion of improper protuberance? If so, a wave of maternal advice/fashion counselling/affronted fury was visited upon the offending female celebrity and her misguided stylist.
There were only two possible explanations. Either said celeb wasn't savvy to the perils of flash photography (ie she was stupid, incompetent, not fit for purpose) or she was a shameless attention-seeker desperate for headlines whose shallowness must be punished by the nation's moral guardians running a full-page colour picture of her, captioned ‘Jen ‘nips out' for coffee’. You couldn't escape them; at the peak of nipples, there was at least one ‘Nipplegate' a week.
Other body parts have had their moments of course. There was a period when women's magazines were on high alert for wrinkly knees, triggered by Demi Moore's alleged misery at finding the fifty-something knee-cap impervious to the youth-gifting surgery she had put the rest of her body through. Madonna's increasingly gloved, gnarled hands, a cruel betrayal of her age-defying body, put the spotlight on knuckle skin for a bit. Angelina Jolie's veiny, muscle-bound arms sparked a debate on whether an over-pumped limb detracted from a woman's sexuality.
Right now, as many of you will have already detected, the talk of the town is the sideboob. For those of you who don't follow the Daily Mail women's pages religiously, that's the bit of breast revealed when a woman in a loose-cut dress stands sideways. Hunting for examples of flashed sideboob has become a national sport among fashion journalists. We could go as far as to say that the sideboob has overtaken the cleavage when it comes to the level of frenzied chat over socially acceptable inches exposed. (This week, FYI, Jennifer Lawrence's, semi-clad in Dior, was deemed just on right side of risqué, while Linsey Lohan's more liberated version was generally regarded as desperate).
Watching thigh gap is another current trend. In celebrity-ville, thighs matter. The unwritten rule — never officially acknowledged, but always adhered to — is that if female thighs are visible , even for a second, they must not touch. They must occupy entirely separate zones, in which their rigid tautness can be observed and appreciated. The merest hint of flesh flabby enough to slap, even gently and briefly, against its partner whilst in motion, is enough to send fashion hacks screaming to their word processors in horror. The logic is unarguable; if thighs were made to meet, why would God have invented Spanx?
Other fixations include the underboob — where the bottom of the breasts is exposed by an ill-fitting cropped top; the side-butt, visible when celebs like Gwyneth Paltrow wear dresses with transparent panels at the side, and the butt cleavage, which was previously best known as ‘builders’ bum’, a trend that even men can join in with.
It's all very jolly, this forensic bird-watching. At least it is to the showbiz/fashion writers making a living out of it. One imagines they have a hoot playing the red carpet event drinking game — a gulp for every visible nipple, a sip for each pair of congregating thighs. And then, to the computer, to poke sticks and then kindly suggest a solution; more exercise, less food, a better sense of style.
Fair enough. We all agree that when you opt for stardom — by being good at a sport for instance, or being born with a fantastic singing voice — you're signing up for this kind of scrutiny. And who does it hurt, this fetishistic obsession with female body bits, this reduction of the woman to the sum of her parts? After all, since when did our teenage girls need a sensible diet, a sense of gender equality or any kind of self-esteem?
Where paparazzi train their lenses
Such is the fascination with sideboobs — the area between armpit and ribcage — that online news site the Huffington Post launched a dedicated page to them last year complete with photographs of celebrities taken at the appropriate angle.
Another favourite of the paparazzi and commentators on the female body. It is the bottom part of breasts left exposed by ill-fitting tops with Miley Cyrus being one subject of much derision for daring to bare.
Perhaps the least known body part to be analysed. They are dimples some people have on either side of their lower back and are genetic. Also known as dimples of Venus.
Kate Winslet, Jennifer Lopez and Gwyneth Paltrow have been cited as celebs who flash this body part. It is the flesh between the top of the thigh at the side round to the buttocks and is exposed during the current trend for wearing dresses with transparent side panels.
According to the commentators, when you stand with your feet together there should be a gap between your upper thighs. Why?
Much in evidence during the long hot summer when (mostly) young women’s buttocks were partially revealed under very short shorts. Miley Cyrus again cited as a culprit.
More commonly known as “builder’s bum”, but hardly a fitting title when models like Heidi Klum (top right) inadvertently expose that bit of their bodies.
So what impact does it have? Stephanie Bell asks three local women
MAKE-UP ARTIST OONAGH
Oonagh Boman (46) is a make-up artist at the Oonagh Boman School of Makeup and distributor of Senna Cosmetics. She is married to Leslie Graham (34), her business partner. They live in Lisburn with their two children, Skye (15) and Brad (11). She says:
I think that the media put an unnecessary pressure on women to look good and conform to ‘their' standards of what they consider is the perfect female form.
Young girls are made to feel inferior to these images and ideals — not necessarily through peer pressure but media pressure. I work with young models, beauty pageants and young people and they all seem to have a healthy grasp on what the fashion industry in Northern Ireland finds acceptable. Size 8-10 is considered ideal.
Thankfully girls in this country generally have a sound body image but that's not to say that they are aware of how they look especially when they see media opinion on 'celebrities' and perhaps their icons.
Young girls surfing the internet may see comments and pictures of 'side boobs' and cellulite but in my opinion they would be more concerned of what their favourite pop star has to say or how they are being perceived.
For this reason I feel that females within the music industry have a greater responsibility to young girls in matters of self image and behaviour.
Generally those who criticise others’ body shapes hide behind a desk and are probably overweight and in need of some exercise themselves.
Women are constantly under a lot of pressure to look good, especially after childbirth — I just don't understand anyone who believes they have the right to criticise a woman's body shape at this time of her life.
Thankfully I have always had a good diet and actually enjoy exercising, but I do it to keep healthy rather than to lose weight and certainly don't have any desire to take my body to any extremes in order just to conform.
STYLE EDITOR KATRINA
Katrina Doran (39, left) is editor of online beauty and style magazine Sugafix.com. She lives in Belfast and is married to Peter Forster (40), an administration officer. She says:
If anybody is going to have hang ups about their body then it should be me. I'm constantly surrounded by slim models with flawless skin and fabulous figures but I am sitting here, a happy size 12 with a packet of doughnuts on my desk. I was a lot thinner when I was younger but I think you get to the stage when you are comfortable with your body. I would have to work so hard to be a size 10 and I just don't have the inclination.
Dieting is my idea of hell. I eat pretty healthily but I do have chocolate every day as well as sweets and I will eat cake as often as I can get it. I can look at the models I work with and appreciate their body size but I don't feel any pressure to be like them. I think some aspects of the media have taken it to the extreme, pointing out body flaws in women.
Everyone can do with a bit of photoshopping and who wants to see a model with dark circles under her eyes or a spot on her chin on the cover of a magazine? But to say that it makes young girls want to be like that is just ridiculous.
People like the aspirational thing but running stories saying Beyonce has cellulite is just ridiculous.
I think the media needs to credit women with having more intelligence. I have horrific cellulite on the back of my thighs and there are parts of my body I don't particularly like but I'd rather eat doughnuts than worry about it.”
Glamour model Laura Lacole (24, left) from Holywood says:
Just like a doctor has to go on courses to keep up to date on the latest medical advancements as part of their job, for me, as a glamour model, I do need to keep an eye on my figure as my job is about aesthetic appearance.
On a day-to-day basis though I am really lazy about my beauty regime and its only when I am preparing for a photo shoot that I would glam up, otherwise I just like to hang out in baggy T-shirts.
I have recently done quite a bit of debating on glamour magazines and sticking up for lads mags. I think they give a truer reflection of women than the rest of the media, especially women's magazines who seem obsessed with circling cellulite and pointing out body flaws.
It's really bad for women and for young people to see these articles putting women down and quite often they are pieces which are written by women which is something I just don't get.
People need to take on board the science behind a woman's body shape and the fact that it has to do with anthropology and evolution and markers for fertility which means it is natural for women to have wider hips for child bearing and bigger boobs.
The emphasis on body image is being taken to a ridiculous level.
I was in a city centre shop recently and there were four young teenage school girls in the changing room beside me and they were talking about liposuction and what parts of their body they plan to get it on.
I was flabbergasted and it was hard to stop myself storming in and giving them a lecture.”