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Criticising Ruth is easy when it's not your bottom being plastered over the billboards

The TV star should be applauded, not attacked, for deciding against showing off her wobbly bits, writes Gail Walker

More power to Ruth Langsford's (presumably fully covered) elbow in ducking out of a photoshoot with her fellow Loose Women presenters and contributors as part of the show's new Body Battles campaign.

Coleen Nolan, Stacey Solomon, Katie Price, Janet Street-Porter, Andrea McLean, Nadia Sawalha, Linda Robson, Saira Khan and Jane Moore, all stripped down to their underwear. (Well, possibly not their real everyday smalls as they were all more or less donning black and a couple looked like they were wearing swimsuits).

The unairbrushed photo - shot by Bryan Adams (yes, that one) - will be on billboards and buses throughout the land.

Ruth, who is of course married to Eamonn Holmes, issued a statement about her non-appearance in the picture. A spokesperson said: "Ruth was unable to take part in the shoot. However, she thinks it's a wonderful campaign and fully supports it."

But that didn't stop the usual internet backlash and implications that Ruth was little more than a crazy body fascist. "Shame on you Ruth. Well done to the others," one online commentator lashed out.

Anything which stops women being morbidly ashamed of their bodies or any feature that is less than supermodel-perfect is 'a good thing'.

But it is still a matter of choice as to whether or not anyone wishes to make that fairly obvious point by stripping to their underwear.

In fact, the whole 'going natural' trope is a bit played out now. Ever since the original WI Calendar Girls appeal and the Dove 'real women' advertising campaign, there has been quite a bit of 'virtue signalling' in the women's cosmetics and 'beauty' industry. It's alright, apparently, not to be 20 anymore. Even 20-year-old models look less glamorous without make-up, just as older women do …

What that's about, of course, is not that cosmetic companies want you to ditch your unguents and go nude, but that they realise that there are whole generations of ladies now who are just as greedy for their marketplace of oils and creams and lotions that will, sad to say, keep the bloom upon the rose, if not eternally, then at least until 11pm.

Nothing wrong with that either. For some of us, it's a new car, or a set of clubs or a 60-inch flat screen; for others Touche Eclat, knee-high boots or a series of spa treatments. Whatever it takes to ease the inner occasional introvert's vulnerability.

All of that, however, is in private. That's because we are ordinary.

But let's face it, the Loose Women presenters aren't - despite protestations - 'ordinary' women at all. One's a glamour model (who is overdressed in the LW shoot), one is a young singer, another is a former weather girl, another an actress and TV presenter.

Even the eldest of the crowd - Linda Robson, Coleen Nolan and Janet Street-Porter - have, as an actress, a singer and TV presenter respectively, spent more or less their whole lives in the media glare.

That's not to downplay the Body Battle idea - but just to say that it's only worth two cheers. Maybe we could raise a third if the panel wasn't composed of women who weren't so 'televisual' in the first place.

There is something incredibly ironic that the same popular culture which so often makes women feel ashamed of their bodies in the first place can ridicule a woman for cowardice in not showing her wobbly bits to counteract it.

Even sadder is that many women are only too glad to collude in that shaming because, well, they just don't like Ruth Langsford or who she's married to or what her politics are or whatever. The vile female trolls who felt themselves somehow permitted to abuse Margaret Thatcher as a "witch" when she died, feel that their hatred of women who are attractive and 'well turned-out' is sanctioned in the name of this 'equality' under the photographer's lamps.

Mind you, the dark 'other side' of the beauty wars, as every single person who attended a girls' schools knows, is that there has always been a serious resentment against those who just 'looked good'.

For many, that pent-up loathing came to equate cosmetics with class and 'beauty' with oppression. To be authentic, you had to be plain - though in fact just because you're wearing lipstick doesn't mean you're less good at your job. Whatever about beauty, there has always been plenty of authenticity about.

Just as there is such a thing as modesty and shyness and natural diffidence, there are also such things as husbands and children and mothers and sisters. Maybe Ruth just didn't want to mortify her family. Maybe her 15-year-old son, in time-honoured fashion, cautioned his mother against any such photoshoot.

It is all very well critics huffing and puffing about Ruth not being brave and not setting the right example, but her critics are very unlikely to find their derrières in middle age plastered over the papers and billboards in their undies. It is easy to be an armchair iconoclast when it's not your bits everybody will be gawping at and talking about.

Besides, it is not as though Ruth has shied away from the problems women face in this area. In the past she has shared her own experience of body issues, confessing to being three-and-a-half stone overweight after giving birth to her son Jack. "Nobody tells you that your tummy doesn't go down straight after you give birth," she said. "It was like jellies. It kind of moved on its own."

Alas, now, the 'real women' trope, in the case of Langford, has already become just another stick with which to beat women. Or another way for celebrities to pleasure their own egos. 'Look at me. I'm just like you. Ain't I wonderful …'

And in some ways, it still ghettoises women. You either have to be 'sexy' a la Kim Kardashian, with her rumoured boob jobs and butt lift procedures, or 'brave' or 'real' or 'fearless', like those many who just have to thole their cellulite. You can take your pick but you have to be available for the camera. You can't hold anything back - apart from what can be hidden by lacy knickers and bra. Your body is still public property.

And that is exactly what it shouldn't be. What a woman does with her body is her business - and if she wants to keep it under wraps and refuses to exploit it for money, or fame or ersatz righteousness, then they should be applauded.

Sometimes putting it away can be a bit of a revolutionary act.

So Ruth, ignore the backbiters and the trolls. It is none of our business what you look like under your clothes.

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