Today I went with a couple of my esteemed work colleagues to see the Evolving English exhibition at the British Library. I previewed it for Le Cool ages ago, and even though I only work round the corner, it’s taken me this long to get round to seeing it.
As well as lots of interesting examples of all kinds, varieties and ages of written and spoken English, on the walls were projected the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year for the past one hundred years. It was fascinating to read and to see words appear in our language that were so reflective of the time. The word of the year in 1945 was snog, for example. The Fifties had apparatchik, and in 1976 we were introduced to Thatcherite.
It appears we’ve only had cellulite since 1968, when it was the OED’s word of the year. It seems odd to me that the decade that gave birth to feminism, as most of us think about it today, also gave us one of the words in our language that represents the misery women can feel about their appearance. It seems even in the middle of women’s ‘liberation’ new ways of oppressing our self-esteem were on the rise.
I can’t say I’ve had cellulite since 1968, because I wasn’t alive in 1968, although sometimes it feels like I’ve had cellulite all my life.
I’ve read a few things the past few weeks – men modelling women’s clothes on the catwalk, filmstars getting their faces ‘fixed’ young before they even have any signs of aging, Renee Zellwegger demanding to play Bridget Jones (a female character who is meant to be a relatively ‘normal’ woman) as skinny if they make a third film – that have made me ask what has happened to us, that our notions of beauty are so far removed from what men actually find attractive, that women feel they have to make their bodies submit to an unattainable ideal?
And I also read about the endangered species campaign, with this fabulous poster.
It sums the whole issue up beautifully. Let’s choose not to submit to self-hatred any more.
Next week it’s International Women’s Day – the 100th anniversary – and like last year I’d like to invite any of you who want to to guest blog for me to mark the occasion. Self-image is only one of the many issues that undermine the sanctity of womanhood in our world today, so pick your own topic, let me know you want to write and get guest posting!