Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Why Chantelle should take good look at herself

Chantelle Houghton

How ugly were those close-up pictures of Chantelle Houghton's post-baby bulging belly this week? Because the photos - in which Chantelle's lumpy midriff was repeatedly exposed as it slipped out from under her tiny vest while she exercised in the park - usually only mean one of two things.

Either the magazines which ran them, despite their sympathetic words about Chantelle's brave struggle with her weight, thought them shocking enough to fascinate or thrill their readers. Or that Chantelle was possibly introducing her love handles to the public the first chance she got, to snare a deal based around her upcoming battle back to perfection.

Whatever the truth, this is depressing stuff.

It's a grotesque scenario if Chantelle has trapped her silly self into a dark corner from which the only way she can make money is to trade on her personal unhappiness (recent separation from her newborn's dad) and her fluctuating body shape.

Pliant and naive, she's been an easy victim for a culture that makes superstars of any young girl willing to sacrifice her dignity, her family, her health and her peace of mind to get famous. But has she really weighed up the price of having every wrinkle in her face, body and relationship paraded and poked at until she's old news or an obituary?

TV presenter Alexa Chung added her voice to a chorus of not so silly women this week when she finally spoke out against those repeatedly criticising her skinny legs.

She fantasises about being judged on her intellect or sense of style, rather than the body she happens to "exist in". She pointed out, to what must feel to her like a nation of idiots, that inhabiting a particular shape doesn't equate with advocating it. She's right, but how crazy that she even has to say it.

How often is Gok Wan compelled to insist he isn't campaigning for being half-Chinese?

Here's an illuminating view of how women are presented and assessed from an unexpected quarter. During interviews for his directorial debut, Quartet, this week, Dustin Hoffman spoke about the revelation he, a renowned lothario, had during the making of Tootsie.

Fully dolled-up as his titular female alter-ego ("I begged them to make me more attractive. They told me that's as good as it's going to get"), he was introduced to a man visiting the film set as 'Dorothy'.

The man said a quick hello, then looked away, "instantly erasing me", as Hoffman eloquently put it.

His first reaction at Dorothy's dismissal was anger, then "I burst out crying. Because I thought of all the interesting women I hadn't got to know over so many years because I'd been conditioned not to see them."

That was 30 years ago. Before 'sell yourself' reality TV, the proliferation of weight-obsessed women's magazines, the Daily Mail disapproval page and internet porn.

Today, the fight to have women evaluated on the basis of their positive contributions to the world, whether in their chosen area of work or via the babies they mould into adults, has gravitas and profile.

But it struggles against a superculture in which women's bodies are furniture and their sexuality a backdrop which is more pervasive than it was even in Hoffman's prime.

The fall-out debate from the Jimmy Savile inquiries, alongside the Leveson conclusion and current No More Page 3 campaign may soon see us at a crossroads. That must be a good thing. It's time for a long hard think. Especially for you, Chantelle.

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