So, I’m A Celeb is back on our screens. I haven’t watched much of the action yet – all that has struck me so far is that a.) Ant and Dec genuinely make me howl laughing and b.) Joey Essex is definitely exaggerating his doziness for comic effect – but I managed to catch most of last night’s episode, and watched with interest as Rebecca Adlington, Lucy Pargeter and Amy Willerton exchanged tense words on the subject of body image and insecurities.
It began with Lucy questioning Amy, a Miss Universe contestant, on whether she feels like “a piece of meat” when entering beauty pageants and working as a model, and if she feels like she is “self-perpetuating” the industry by participating in them looking the way she does, rather than attempting to shake things up by going against the grain. Amy, in all fairness, defended herself to the hilt – she was adamant that she is never forced to do anything she didn’t want to, and that she exercises to, yes, stay slim, but also to stay healthy. It culminated in Rebecca sobbing as she told the group that, rather than people focusing on her sporting achievements, instead she gets comments about her looks on Twitter every single week, which has left her self-esteem in tatters.
“What’s wrong with recognising beauty?” asked Alfonso Ribeiro, and indeed, what is wrong with it? Intelligence is lauded; great sporting achievements are praised: why shouldn’t beauty be celebrated? The Olympics showcase the crème de la crème of the sporting world, and no-one beats themselves up about the fact that they aren’t as good at sport as the world-class athletes featured. “My shot put technique is below par! WOE!” I didn’t sit in front of the telly sobbing when the clearly more-intelligent-than-my-good-self team from Manchester University won University Challenge in April. However, it doesn’t matter if someone is crap at swimming, or is a few sandwiches short of the full picnic. And that is when the recognition of beauty is wrong – when people who don’t feel like they measure up feel inferior.
Although I felt for all the women involved, for one reason or another, I felt it was harsh of the majority of the group to round on Amy in such a manner; it felt just a tad like the other girls were suffering from a case of the green-eyed monster. Laila comforted Rebecca by saying “you are f**king beautiful…much better than her”, and therefore clearly comparing the two women even though that’s what they were all whinging about, and Lucy, who clearly has on-going deep-rooted body issues of her own, perpetuates the image in a way herself, by having succumbed to the surgeon’s knife in a bid to achieve what she deems to be the “perfect” body. I also felt it was unfair of Lucy to say that it was “easy” for Amy to deal with criticism, based on her appearance. Can pretty people not suffer from low self-esteem? As Amy rightly pointed out, it’s human nature for insults to be traded. Just because she has a slim figure, long hair, big boobs and an aesthetically pleasing face doesn’t mean that she is immune to criticism. For every tweet that Rebecca gets commenting on the size of the nose, I’ll bet Amy has to endure her fair share too – probably ones that perpetuate a few myths of their own: that models are vacuous, or a bit slutty, or superficial.
I’ll be honest – I haven’t got a clue what the answer to this problem is. I do know glossy magazines need to stop luring readers in by comparing one female celebrity’s bikini body to another on every front page. I do know the Daily Fail need to cease their endless obsession with whether a famous woman who’s recently had a baby has “snapped back into shape” yet. I do know we need more positive role models like the glorious Jennifer Lawrence, who laughs in the face of producers who have told her to lose weight in the past for roles, and who is vocal about how she wants to be healthy and strong. I adore this woman – she is fabulous. We need more celebrities like her to promote the fact that aspiring to be healthy and happy is the way forward.
It’s wrong that we live in a world where a woman like Rebecca, who has achieved so much by such a young age, still perceives herself to be inferior to others based solely on her looks. But that doesn’t mean that it’s right to try and make a woman like Amy feel bad about the fact that she is conventionally beautiful in order to make others feel better about themselves.