The constant public comparisons of women’s bodies are driving me insane

Today, the Daily Mail has pitched Kate Moss against Naomi Campbell


Once upon a time, you couldn’t win if you didn’t play.

Formerly, competing required activity; it required conscious entry into a fight. Now, all it requires is that you exist, and that someone else in the world also exists. Though it helps if you are a woman.

Today in competitions women didn’t know they were in, it’s Kate Moss versus Naomi Campbell. Today’s Daily Mail has run a double page spread in which it marks them as “The Best of Enemies”, then asks “who has survived best, Kate or Naomi?”

Once babes, always babes

Once babes, always babes

Over two pages, the journalist uses metrics of various scientific credibility to determine which woman has survived “best”. Metrics include their “faces”, their “list of lovers”, the “luxury homes”, their “party” scores and the “battle of the beach bodies”. Obviously, there are large pictures of their faces and bodies and these pictures are captioned with criticism that is by turns explicit and evasive.

This piece opens with a premise: “When two forty-something supermodels arrive at the same red carpet event in knicker-flashing, see-through dresses, comparisons are inevitable.” Firstly, the comparisons are not “inevitable”. This comparison is constructed.

Secondly, by mentioning their “knicker-flashing, see-through dresses” the introduction erects the comparison mainly on the basis of appearance. The large pictures on the page substantiate this. Make no mistake: the other categories are broadly irrelevant to this comparison. This competition is about how they look.

Kate-Moss-Naomi-Campell-Vogue-16Jan14-Getty_b

The piece uses gendered cliches (“poured her incredible body into…”‘ “smouldered”). It observes that Kate smokes “too much”, exposes herself to “too much sun” and has a “party-hard lifestyle”; it says she has a “paunch”. We are told that “pictures of her cellulite on show on the Louis Vuitton catwalk in 2011 caused a sensation”. With which superficial lobby was that?

Naomi, on the other hand, is vaunted for her “stomach you could bounce pennies off”. She is declared the winner of the “faces of fortune” category, despite the fact that the piece acknowledges she has likely had Botox. She’s beautiful – obviously – and if she wants to spend her own money on cosmetic work –obviously – she can. But it is pernicious to state that the best way to “win” at ageing is to buy a new face.

Yes, the women are models: they work in an industry based entirely on appearance. But the rhetoric and the conceit of the piece isn’t about their careers as models (though if it were, it would still be crude). It’s about shaming women for ageing and their physical ‘imperfections’.

And that’s all part of a larger, pathological focus on women’s bodies. For some reason, we have become obsessed. We know all the things that can be ‘wrong’ with a woman’s body: these noxious, ridiculous words like “cellulite” and “muffin top”. On the other hand, we have no idea what  body is ‘meant’ to look like. Women are alienated from their bodies. Sometimes, when I am at the gym, I catch myself thinking that the flesh here looks ‘different’ to the flesh I have become used to, and I have to stop myself and remember that it is important I know this.

We all have bodies. They are all different. We have always had them and we always will. Please, please stop going on about them. Please stop fetishising them – whether they are fat or thin, old or young. Please stop “celebrating” them – it’s a condescending word that tries to distract from what you’re doing, which is directing people to gawp at them, again.

And please, please stop using the expression “pouring herself into”.