Sunday, October 12, 2008

This makes me SO happy

By Chloe Angyal
This makes me so happy. I'm talking inexpressibly, unbelievably happy...
The Guardian has the below article today:

"When the first Miss World contest was held in 1951, female beauty was a conservative concept. To even dream of entering, the competition rules stated, women must be aged 17 to 25, 5ft 7in tall, weighing eight or nine stone, with a waist from 22 to 24 inches and hips of 35 to 36 inches.
A 'lovely face', 'good teeth', 'plenty of hair' and 'perfectly shaped legs from front and back' were basic necessities. Intelligence and character were, initially at least, deemed irrelevant, but entrants had to pass a more 'careful inspection for such defects as slightly knocked knees'.

Next week, television viewers will witness the start of a nationwide search that aims to redefine the meaning of beauty. In what is more of a make-under than a make-over, women will be judged on their confidence, sex appeal, spirit and brains, and only additionally on their appearances. More than 7,000 women, of varying shapes and sizes, have applied to win the title of Channel 4's Miss Naked Beauty; only one can win.

The contest demands that entrants shed every last vestige of aesthetic artifice - from make-up and punishing 'corrective' clothing to hair dye, piercings and nail polish, and learn to love their unvarnished, unadorned selves.

Contestants will then to have to prove their intellectual credentials and dedication to the 'natural beauty' cause by devising a campaign to help women of all shapes and sizes redefine their idea of beauty. The winning campaign - which must be explained to a panel comprising The Observer's Kathryn Flett, founding editor of men's mag Loaded, James Brown, and fashionista Mica Paris - will be put into action over the next year and written about by the winner in a regular magazine column.

Fashion stylist Gok Wan, who is co-presenting the programme with musician and actress Myleene Klass, says this modern-day beauty contest is desperately needed. For some contestants, he said, the challenge of leaving their house without first subjecting themselves to a punishing grooming schedule was too much. Others, however, leapt at the chance to peel back the heavy layers of make-up they had worn for many years.

Although more than 50 years of feminism have passed since the first Miss World, Wan says women still suffer from 'beauty fascism' controlled by an industry that holds up 'mad, fake, unachieveable ideals' that make women so miserable they resort to increasingly desperate measures to conform.
'I'm flabbergasted by the increasingly restricted, stereotyped and narrow image of what beauty has become for women,' he said. 'Even magazines that purport to show a "natural beauty" achieve it by airbrushing out that woman's unique features then airbrushing her back in again.

'When I was doing How To Look Good Naked [see photo, above -ed], I was shocked by the lengths to which women went to attain a preconceived idea of beauty. They created armour for themselves by slapping on loads of make-up, they damaged themselves terribly with plastic surgery, fake tans, fake nails and hair extensions. Their efforts to achieve this impossible ideal was endless and it was madness.'

Wan added: 'I'm not dissing make-up; I love the fashion and beauty industries. I just want women to realise that they don't have to conform to these stereotypes to feel sexy and gorgeous. It is only when a woman realises how beautiful she is in her natural state that she will be able to freely choose how much make-up she wears and when she wears it.'

Klass agreed to co-present the show because, she said, she spent years unable to leave the house without make-up. 'The more I started working, the more my weight and the way I looked became an issue,' she said. 'I'd be told I had got a job, but only if I could lose a stone in two months. I wore make-up so thick every single day for four years that it was like a mask. I imagined that no one could possibly like me if I wasn't wearing that mask, because I didn't like myself without it,' she said. 'I was unable to leave the house without it.'

One of the women who applied to be Miss Naked Beauty, which begins on Channel 4 on Tuesday 21 October, was Shona Collins, a 20-year-old classics student at Bristol University.
'According to the fashion industry, I'm very far from what a beautiful woman should look like,' said Collins. 'I'm 5ft 4in, a size 12 to 14 - depending on the day and the shop - and have prominent teeth because of a brace I wore as a child which pushed them forward.

'This argument that real beauty lies within is not a new argument but it is a very pertinent one,' she said. 'At university, I'm surrounded by beautiful, intelligent women who are miserable about the way they look. There is still a huge emphasis on how women look and the pressure on us is ridiculous.'

Sue Murphy, head of features at Channel 4, said she commissioned the programme in a bid to reintroduce feminism to her younger viewers 'by stealth'. 'Feminism has gone out of fashion,' she said. 'The beauty debate in recent years has become polarised, and the new generation of women are afraid to call themselves feminists or learn about its politics; a fear that has left them without the tools they need to stand their ground against the pressure.

'It occurred to me that I could subvert the traditional beauty contest format with the message that there's not one image of beauty perfection. I wanted to get across the message that if women strive to achieve that impossible image, they will be unhappy.'

But Wendy Steiner, author of The Trouble With Beauty, believes the battle is an unwinnable one. 'The argument that women shouldn't be judged on their outward appearance is an old one that has largely been absorbed, but it hasn't won over the majority of the population because it's ultimately simplistic and potentially hypocritical,' she said.

'It's naive to pretend beauty doesn't matter: there is strong proof that beautiful people have an easier passage through life. They get the better job, are paid more, get more successful husbands. Beauty, whether natural or artificially enhanced, is unevenly distributed across the population and a beauty contest is the epitome of this inherent unfairness in life ...'

But Julia Morley, widow of Miss World creator Eric Morley and now chair of the competition, has defended the original concept. 'Women's lib said it was wrong for women to look glamorous and beautiful,' she said. 'But Miss World is fun, it is fashion. We should have some spectacular, family shows.'"


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