Keeping it Real


The other day on one of my deliberately rare journeys on the Tube, the carriage I was on stopped at a station, positioning itself in front of a poster. The poster featured a model posing in an advert for underwear. My first reaction was to snort in mild derision, with a gentle roll of the eyes at the ludicrous proposition being put forward to me by this poster; that any human actually looked like that. Her flawless figure; even toned and completely pore-less, arched itself rather uncomfortably across a chair, but despite the contrived pose, her facial expression displayed no evidence of any discomfort.

Her slender limbs were smooth with the plastic sheen of a Barbie doll, with no sign of muscular definition or sinew, as was her exposed torso, which had been neatly sculpted, from the taper of the waist to the swell of the hips in imitation of the sweeping undulations of a violin.

As my attention focused on the crowds passing the poster, I noticed the heads of women turning to scrutinise it as they walked by, craning their necks to take a good look. This aroused a sense of agitation within me, as I speculated on the various debilitating thoughts running through their minds as they related this image to their own.

The current debate surrounding pervasive representations of the female form is centred on the controversial issue of airbrushing. This physical idealisation of feminine beauty is no different from artistic renditions throughout the centuries; from the virginal serenity of Renaissance Madonnas, to the reclining voluptuousness of Rubenesque models. But the distinguishing issues of concern lay with the lack of variation in the current template, coupled with the power of mass dissemination and promotion of something which purports to be a photograph of real woman, which is anything but real.

The stock male response (particularly of the long-suffering contingent which is painfully aware that the self confidence of their female partners is often adversely influenced by the sight of such a vision of feminine perfection) is often an entreaty to ‘just ignore it and recognise that it is just advertising and should therefore not be taken seriously’.  This line of argument is generally ill-advised, generating inevitable accusations of not understanding the pressure that women are under to conform to impossible standards of beauty which men are simply not subject to in the same way. The man then shrugs in resignation, producing further ire on the woman’s part, thus continuing another well-rehearsed front in the ‘Battle of the Sexes’.

In a sense, it is relevant to take the female retort seriously: The Girls Attitude Survey in 2009, carried out by the Girl Guides reported that 50 per cent of 16-21 year old girls would consider cosmetic surgery to change the way they look. The upshot of this Survey is a campaign on the part of the Girl Guides to encourage governmental intervention, in the form of labelling to distinguish natural and airbrushed shots of women in glossy magazines and advertisements. In my humble opinion, the question we need to ask ourselves is not how these images in advertising influence young women to consider cosmetic surgery as a solution, but why young girls buy into this crap in the first place.

Enter into the debate, the current obsession with the curvy poster girl Christina Hendricks and suddenly I realise just how tired and boring this debate actually is. After supposedly millions of years of evolution, we are still poring over whether the appearance of a TV personality in possession of more generous vital statistics than the average catwalk model represents some kind of ‘breakthrough’ – everybody pause while I stifle a yawn.

As far as this issue is concerned, I have determined to value my initial reaction to the aforementioned poster – before I decided to speculate on how it was being perceived by other women and derived a sense of indignance on their behalf.  My initial reaction was all the attention that it deserved, acknowledging it with the same sense of threat as I view depictions of violence in Tom & Jerry cartoons. I would also add that I agree with the Girl Guides’ recommendation that the ad agencies should bear some responsibility for their part in such a bland standardisation of the female form.

Therefore I propose (purely in the interests of my satisfaction and amusement) that such posters should display an asterisk by the airbrushed specimen, drawing the viewer’s attention to a disclaimer at the bottom with the following words:

‘By the way folks – this is bullsh*t’.


  1. by Jason B. Standing On October 12, 2010 at 09:53

    Oh the good news is now that it’s not going to just be advertising posters: science has found a way to employ body image mod technology to those bloated corpulent sacks of flesh in Hollywood (who already offend our eyes with there obese morbidity on a daily basis):

    The other fun thing was that I’ve seen the odd tube poster modification, where someone’s added a sticker to the offending poster stating, “THIS IS SEXIST SHIT!”.

  2. by Jeremy FitzGerald On October 16, 2010 at 04:35

    Men don’t bother with these posters as there is a marked difference between advertising and attraction. Young girls (and old ones) should be bought a present from the “Top Shelf” to learn what men truly find desirable. Maybe it’s even gone beyond this and females don’t care what the boys actually think or want as they strive for this so called “perfection” ?

  3. by Sadie On October 28, 2010 at 19:23


    You are wonderful and amazing and I am proud to call you a friend!

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