| 9.7°C Belfast

Cheryl wants us to think that the new look is her 'fighting back'... in reality, it's just more of the same

Pop star's compulsion for commenting on her appearance before anyone else has fools no one, says Sarah Caden

Close

New look: pop star Cheryl

New look: pop star Cheryl

PA

New look: pop star Cheryl

My whole body, even my face, everything's changed since Bear was born," Cheryl, on the brink of her musical comeback, said last week. "But I feel like I'm better than who I was. I don't care what my body looks like in that respect. I'm not obsessed about it."

Only the day before, Cheryl's appearance had caused a stir when she was photographed arriving at a London radio studio for a morning interview. Social media was awash with comments not just on her yellow "lollipop lady" raincoat, but also her new bob and what people regarded as her new face.

While the interview in which she said she has changed appeared the next day, let's be clear that this interview was conducted and printed long before she got up for the early-morning radio. Which is to say that Cheryl, long before she came out in to the spotlight again, felt some need to tell us that she is altered.

A case, perhaps, of stating the obvious before everyone else could, but if that was the intention, it wasn't entirely successful.

After being photographed and dissected for her apparently altered appearance, Cheryl entered into a busy week of promotion of her comeback, which included participation in the celebrations of Prince Charles's 70th birthday.

Cheryl was one of those who appeared on stage at the We Are Most Amused And Amazed televised variety show for Charles. She was an eye-catcher, in her one-shouldered, side-thigh-split, floor-length scarlet dress. Her long hair - which had been in a tousled bob - flowed down her bared shoulder.

If the commentary had been cutting after her morning-radio outing, it was full-on savage after the royal appearance. In essence, it could be summed up as: "What has Cheryl done to her face?"

Focus was on how one eye seemed almost closed, her cheeks were very prominent. No one explicitly said she'd had work done (in fact, everyone is at pains to state that Cheryl has not), but it wasn't really about that.

It was really about how Cheryl must be damaged and showing the signs, which has been the narrative with Cheryl for a long time now. Previous to her becoming a mother, though, it was a bit more subtle.

Since her divorce from her first husband, former footballer Ashley Cole in 2010, there has been this theme that Cheryl is not only gorgeous but, bafflingly, can't get it right. He was a rotter, the simplistic narrative goes, who cheated on her and broke her heart.

Then there was Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini, whom she married in 2014. Their romance was whirlwind and the marriage short-lived. From the outset, he was characterised as controlling and jealous, not only of other men, but of Cheryl herself.

After Fernandez-Versini, she started going as just Cheryl, and eventually started going out with former One Direction star Liam Payne.

There was a giddiness around the union of Cheryl and Liam that was partly girlband/boyband synergy, but also the 10-year age-gap and the fact that they'd first met and flirted when she was an X Factor judge and he was a 14-year-old contestant.

They didn't marry and there was no name change for Cheryl, but they had their baby son, Bear, in March 2017. Cheryl was seen very seldom in public during her pregnancy and only really revealed her expectant shape in a L'Oreal ad not long before Bear was born.

They split not long after and Liam had a solo music venture since, during which, of course, he discussed Cheryl. He talked about how they had given the relationship their best shot and how much he loves his child, but no one really nitpicked his appearance.

This could be down to the fact that he didn't look any different, you could argue. But Liam Payne wasn't expected to appear altered by fatherhood, or heartbreak, either. We are in love at the moment with this idea that women become some sort of gorgeous Amazonians with motherhood.

It's picking women to pieces by any other name, though.

It's dressed up as "Ooh, look at you, all gorgeous with hormones and love", but it's really just a way to get permission to examine and find fault.

And to read into a woman's appearance - and Cheryl's specifically - all the reasons why her life is the way it is. Cheryl having some work done - though no one is saying that - is a way of saying that life has disappointed her, despite the trappings of fame and wealth.

Cheryl attributes being different to being a mother, thus nearly giving permission for the dissection of her appearance. Generally and, of course, as Cheryl portrays it, the change is for the positive. You know how it goes: I'm no longer so body-obsessed; carrying a child made me more beautiful than ever; my empowerment as a mother has made me more attractive as a person.

That's the altered-state narrative that Cheryl is buying into, along with the rather more alarming statement that she's found "the man of (her) dreams" in baby Bear.

Cheryl is back and her key message is that she's all grown-up.

She's long past Girls Aloud, she's well over her two marriages that ended in divorce and her comeback single, Love Made Me Do It, is not a lashing-out at Liam Payne.

She's back to her original name of Tweedy, too, but explained last week that she's keeping it to simple Cheryl professionally as she's had "too many surnames".

We're supposed to take all this to mean that Cheryl is fighting back, coming back stronger than ever. Instead, it's like more of the same.

More bruised, but not broken; Cheryl saying, "Would you ever look at the gorgeous mess of me?"

Belfast Telegraph