Belfast Telegraph

Monday 20 October 2014

Lily Allen is right to despise this culture of attacking women over their bodies

Fighting back: Lily Allen has hit out at those who pick on women

Lily Allen is worried about her future self. She predicted this week that her 2050 equivalent would probably be a 'horrible, acerbic, vile creature'. Because by then, she feared, she would be so ensconced in a culture which summons its energy and confidence from publicly mocking other women's flaws that verbally bullying a third party might be the closest she would get to bonding with a friend.

Lily was drawing attention to the popular habit of finding jubilation, or at least, personal assuagement, in the wobbly bits/acne/romantic heartbreak/visible bra straps of celebrity women.

She referred specifically to the Daily Mail's infamous 'sidebar of shame' – whose high profile victims are, she estimates, 90% female – but was anxious about how the trend has spilled over into popular culture, the office and the school playground.

Which is why she frets for future versions of herself; girls who have grown up being encouraged to weigh up members of their own gender, and take pleasure in finding them wanting.

I understand Lily's concerns. Especially as, like her, I have a young daughter who, at 11, despite being very bright, is already showing disconcerting signs of being vulnerable to the sniffy opinions of alpha females in her school. Like, I would guess, almost every other girl in her class. The gleeful name and shame culture which pervades contemporary media is unquestionably dangerous, mercenary, and A Bad Thing. But strangely, it came from a good place.

The practice began as a backlash against airbrushing and the dispiriting impact of being bombarded with images of perfect female celebrities. Heat magazine, keen to strike a blow for normal, flawed humans with fragile egos – i.e. their readership – was one of the first to react against this oppressive state of affairs by highlighting the fraudulent nature of such images. In short, they pointed out that even Beyonce has cellulite and spots.

I'm sure the idea was initially regarded as an act of righteous, even feminist, empowerment. But, like Tony Blair galloping into Iraq with a jubilant 'Yee-hah!' – his head full of fantasies in which he would forever be championed as the Great Liberator – the failure to look beyond the first victory has led to a disastrous legacy.

In the hands of a toxic tabloid leader, what started as a sisterly hug of reassurance has become cold-blooded schadenfreude. The message is no longer that we're all fallible, but that power comes from making other people look and feel crappy.

I am not, however, without hope.

I believe everything comes in cycles and, thanks to influential women like Lily Allen, teenage girls are beginning to react against 'trolling' in the many walks of life it has taken root. Interestingly, Lily's comments were in conversation with Dolly Parton, a veteran who's been around a lot longer and feels far more optimistic about the general swing of the pendulum.

Unlike the legions of young girls who work so hard at projecting an image of natural beauty and contentment in their endlessly Instagrammed lives, Dolly is frank about hating the 'old ugly woman' she sees in the mirror and happy to admit she relies on make-up and cosmetic enhancement to look more like the glamorous, hopeful minx she still feels like inside.

She is regularly held up as a totem of a fake plastic culture, but isn't her relaxed honesty, alongside her uncompetitive celebration of womanhood, rather more healthy than that of the girl whose low self-esteem is only buoyed by poking at the wounds of others? I know which I'd prefer offered my daughter a design for life.

Unpatriotic players left holding the baby

The World Cup continues to throw up fascinating subjects for consideration. This week saw pundits up in arms at Harry Redknapp's claim that some footballers had asked him to help them avoid playing in an England game.

Who were these unpatriotic traitors, football hacks cried — Ian Wright demanded they all find a dead soldier's mum and explain themselves to her immediately.

The one example Harry gave as a pathetic excuse for not wanting to play in a game was ‘My girlfriend's having a baby'. Outrageous, I know, the notion that being at the birth of your child might be prioritised over playing in an England friendly. Who said ‘Neanderthal’?

Get ready to muck in at Glastonbury

Glastonbury kicks off today and the weather forecast is ominous. Though much of country will be delivered sunshine, the Glasto micro-climate that often seems to assert itself at this time of year appears to offer rain and thus, within a couple of hours, deep, fat, sticky mud.

But if you're a Glasto newbie with a sinking heart, do not despair. I've attended some of the muddiest Glastonburys, including the notorious ‘trench warfare' year of '97.

And even though I usually resent breaking a nail, I had an absolute ball, because we were all in it together, the moon shone and the music pulled us all up and away. Have fun!

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