Beauty Worlds: The Culture of Beauty
Beauty in the UK Press: Weekly News Round-up by Neil Duncan-Jordan

Sunday, July 01, 2023
News Round-up – Beauty in the press
(Week ending 1 July 2023)

In praise of older women?
By Neil Duncan-Jordan

Over the last few years, it has been widely acknowledged that society is increasingly interested and obsessed with the idea of youth. Magazine feature articles, advice pages in newspapers and images in TV advertisements either promote, discuss or portray the desirability and attractiveness of being young. To be passed it (whatever it is), is just so uncool, so unfashionable and so…old.

How refreshing then that this week commentators have been looking at the more mature body? Not quite. The tabloids have had a field day showing pictures of the model and actress, Jerry Hall, in which her cellulite is in full view for all to see. The inference of the debate being – is it possible for a woman who is over 40 and sagging around the edges, to still be sexy? Of course I hear you shout, but apparently it isn’t easy.

A survey sponsored by a Dutch pharmaceutical company, which specialises in HRT treatment, reveals that British women aged over 50 have much less sex than their European neighbours (Daily Mail, June 26). Despite believing that a good sex life is an important part of an individual’s health and well-being, only 22% of older UK women had sex more than five times a month.

Not a problem apparently for ageing males. Attractive young women such as Sophie Dahl, Jemima Khan and Bella Freud have all dated men who are nearly twice their age (Daily Telegraph, June 27). In Dahl’s case it happens to be one Mick Jagger, who was previously married to…Jerry Hall. So, not only is there a touch of irony in this debate, but also a large dollop of hypocrisy.

Even in the 21st century, women are still judged by their appearance more than men. When an older man dates a younger woman there is a mere shudder, compared to the seismic shift of moral indignation that occurs when the situation is reversed. It’s the Mrs Robinson syndrome. No surprise then that Hall played that very character in the recent hit West End play – The Graduate.

Getting older for men has always been easier. Yes, we lose our waistline, our hair and even our physical strength – but no-one judges us by the way we look. In fact, for some men, ageing means we actually, for the first time ever, grow into our faces. And who needs hair on top of their head when (a) it’s fashionable to be bald and (b) you’ve enough coming out of your ears and nose to more than compensate?

Women on the other hand get a raw deal. Because female sexuality is now so intrinsically linked to commercialism, female youth is seen to equate with wealth, glamour and desirability. But when your body’s no longer used to sell fast cars and expensive perfumes surely that must mean there’s less chance of you being either wealthy, glamorous or desirable? Not only that, but what advertiser is interested in someone with a large mortgage, health insurance and an ulcer when they can have a 25 year-old with more disposable income than sense?

To paraphrase that old feminist slogan – ageing is an economic, social and political issue, all rolled into one. And now I’ve got that off my chest, I need a lie down with a copy of Saga magazine.

Sunday, June 24, 2023
News Round-up – Beauty in the press
(Week ending 24 June 2023)

Male - odorous
By Neil Duncan-Jordan

Every so often, journalists decide to re-run that age-old debate on the differences between men and women; and the facile argument as to which gender is the best. Pundits and commentators seem obsessed with proving that there is a weaker sex. This week is no exception.

Scientists from the Netherlands have discovered that elderly women are more mentally agile and have better memories than their male counterparts (Guardian, June 18). It doesn’t even seem to matter how good an education you’ve had – as you get older, it’s wiser to have a female brain. Unfortunately, that’s not the part of the body that most men are attracted to.

This time, according to a study by American scientists, physical appearance is the single biggest factor for a man when choosing a mate (Independent, June 18). No surprise there then, but women on the other hand, apparently go for…body odour. So tell me, if women are so smart, how come they end up being attracted by some guy’s armpits? It’s a strange world.

Even more so, is the British study which found that whilst women were constantly worrying about getting a waif-like figure, men would rather date someone with as many curves as Silverstone (Daily Mail, June 15). Poor old Geri Halliwell never seems to learn. It isn’t how thin you are that makes you attractive, it’s who you are.

Of course in recent years, the traditional gender roles have been blurred at the edges and an obsession with dieting is no longer a purely female preserve. But now according to the American Psychological Society, neither is gossiping. Men apparently seem to love to gossip more than women because it makes them feel superior (Daily Express, June 15). Has the world turned upside down I hear you ask? Is there nothing sacred anymore?

Well the only thing that both British men and women seem to excel at, is stealing someone else’s lover (Daily Mail, June11). An international study has shown that a third of UK men and 28 per cent of women confess to having stolen their other half, breaking up marriages and long-term relationships in the process. By comparison, only 17 per cent of Americans and 16 per cent of Germans were playing away.

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s enough armpit sniffing for one day.

Sunday, June 10, 2023
News Round-up – Beauty in the press
(Week ending 10 June 2023)

The politics of pants
By Neil Duncan-Jordan

The lack-lustre UK general election is now over, but in the last few days, one issue came to not only dominate the campaigning, but actually for many, symbolise the whole event. Sparked off by an indiscrete display by Tony Blair, the tabloids and broadsheets were gripped by…pants. On Tuesday the Labour leader changed his shirt in front of two female journalists and by Wednesday morning the entire nation knew that TB had a penchant for £18-a-pair Calvin Kleins (Mirror, June 6). Only in Britain could what the Prime Minister wears under his trousers be more interesting than what comes out of his mouth.

But it wasn’t only the press that was excited by smalls. The suitably named Vicky Botwright has caused more than a few red faces (and cheeks) in the conservative world of squash. The 23-year-old has been prevented from wearing a thong in the British Open Championships for fear that it might distract the referees (Times, June 7). In an industry that is ripe territory for eager sponsors, the shrewd Ms Botwright was no doubt aiming to be the Kournikova of the squash courts.

One thing she might also have to consider, before she makes it big in a sport that will have Channel 5 executives thinking it’s Christmas – is the advice from Hilary Clinton that women who want to get on must: “Get the hair right” (Daily Telegraph, June 6). A good hairstyle can apparently win hearts, a place in the boardroom and even an election. Perhaps the Conservatives should consider that when they come to choose their next leader. Baldies need obviously not apply.

However, our obsession with body image isn’t just confined to the world of politics. Novelist Anna Maxted declares: “There’s nothing worse than someone who’s thinner than you” (Daily Telegraph, June 5). She should know, because Maxted developed an eating disorder at the age of 15. She stopped eating, acquired the figure of a car aerial and was still unhappy.

In the future, she might have just needed to take a pill rather than throwing up into plastic bags in her bedroom. For this week, the first anti-obesity pill was launched. It works by tricking the brain into thinking that the stomach is fuller faster (Daily Mail, May 31). Studies show the slimming drug Reductil can help men and women lose around 20 pounds over six months.

Someone who appears to have no problem with either her body image or weight, is Tory battle-axe, Ann Widdecombe. She also knows no shame. When Widders heard that the model Jordan was campaigning for free breast enhancements, the home-counties pin-up pronounced: “Mine are all natural. I don’t need any enhancement (Daily Telegraph, June 6). Too much detail for my liking.

However, some men in the Tory party clearly couldn’t live without her. According to recent research from Professor Steve Jones, that would be perfectly normal. Jones claims that men need women more than women need men (Daily Mail, June 8). This conclusion is largely based on the assumption that men and women want different things out of a relationship.

No surprise then that a study by Red magazine, found that 96 per cent of women in long-term relationships said that love, hugs and affection were more important than sex (Daily Mail, June 8). But there is some good news for men – a majority of women still said that they would rather have sex than go shopping. That is of course, unless they were out buying pants.

Sunday, June 03, 2023
News Round-up – Beauty in the press
(Week ending 3 June 2023)

Life’s a bummer
By Neil Duncan-Jordan

Being a teenager has always been a difficult time, even for those of us who can’t remember what it was like (apart from Chopper bikes and space hoppers). But now it seems that even modern day Donny Osmonds can cause depression. Research from Cornell University, in the US, has found that falling head over heels in love – with pop stars or actors – before the age of 17, can have a significant effect on a child’s vulnerability to both depression and substance abuse (Observer June 3).

The study claims that the tendency of young women towards teenage romance somehow explains why females are now exhibiting higher rates of depression in adolescence than males. The findings also differ from earlier research that claimed romantic relationships had a positive effect on adults. Clearly the same cannot be said for children.

Growing up is hard – and it doesn’t get any easier. If it isn’t puppy love that’s getting you down, it’s the size of your bum. But millions of women the world over will be getting down on their knees this week and declaring that there is, after all, a god. And on the latest evidence, it’s quite likely that the Supreme Being will look less like Father Christmas and more like Germaine Greer.

Thanks to a bunch of Swedish scientists, never again will anyone be ashamed of their spreading posterior. A study of Scandinavian women aged 30 to 60, carried out over a 25 year period, has come up with the fantastic claim that those with a bigger bottom are more likely to be healthier than their slimmer neighbours (Observer, May 27).

Professor Lauren Lissner of the Goteborg University must have brought a glow of smugness to many a female face when he declared: “If two women had the same body mass index – weight divided by height squared – the one with the larger hips is better off.” Of course, purely in the interests of science, I’m also hoping Professor Lissner’s theory translates to men.

Too late though for the Conservative loser (sorry, I meant leader), William Hague. Poor old Billy boy not only looks set to come a dismal second in Thursday’s general election, but he’s also lost one of the most important contests of his political career. For this week, Labour’s Tony Blair was voted as having the sexiest bottom in politics (Metro, May 29). More than half the women polled during National Bottom Week plumped for Blair’s buttocks, 23 per cent for Liberal, Charles Kennedy’s rear and a mere 20 per cent for Hague’s harris (Cockney rhyming slang for bottom). I guess that only supports the theory that – even after all the spin – Tony Blair is a bit of an arse.

News Round-up – Beauty in the press
(Week ending 27 May 2023)

Honourable Members?
By Neil Duncan-Jordan

This week saw the arrival of a real political heavyweight on the campaign trail. Her rasping tones and steely eyes would no doubt put the fear of god into many a god-fearing voter, as she pounded the streets in search of the electorate. Yes, glamour-model, Jordan, was canvassing for support (and with a 34FF I’m not surprised) (Daily Star, May 23). This well-known political intellect is standing in the Stretford and Urmston constituency in Manchester, and if elected, promises “free plastic surgery for all”. Of course, we can all scoff at the likelihood of Jordan losing her deposit – but maybe she understands society better than we think.

American psychologist, Dr Nancy Etcoff argues that for those of us on the wrong side of perfect, beauty is the most powerful asset a human being can possess (Daily Mail, May 21). In her book, Survival Of The Prettiest, Dr Etcoff suggests that we have created a world in which appearance is all that really matters. Worryingly, she observes that less attractive children “may be more likely to suffer abuse because their faces do not elicit automatic protection and care”. Little wonder then that the British cosmetic surgery industry is now worth £150 million. And last year, 72,000 people in the UK underwent clinically unnecessary operations in pursuit of youth and beauty – in the vain hope that having a new nose/face/breasts would get them a new job/relationship/life.

So, do the busty really have more fun (Mirror, May 22)? Well, guinea-pig Georgina Wintersgill used silicone padding to take her from a 32A to a 32D. She admitted that whilst wearing the pads she had a better figure, felt more confident and even more feminine – sadly no-one noticed.

Maybe she should have taken a leaf out of agony aunt Claire Rayner’s book. The plucky 70-year-old has just undergone a double mastectomy for cancer, but was still able to be philosophical about the whole experience: “I am fond of the old things, I’ve had them a long time – but I’m not defined by my breasts” (Daily Mail, May 21).

Sadly, this attitude seems to be losing currency. If it’s not the surgeon’s knife that society is turning to for the answers, then it must be paint and pills. A new survey has revealed that young women aged between 15 and 25 spend around £9 million a year on cosmetics (Daily Mail, May 25). Even girls as young as 8, are spending their pocket money on make-up – while the adult population are paying £175 million a year on vitamin and mineral supplements (Daily Mail, May 23). It would appear that endorsements by celebrities such as Madonna and Geri Halliwell are enough to get us rushing to the bathroom cabinet.

Something more exciting for the weekend though, is the discovery by the Centre for Sexological Research in Italy, that Viagra can help women with sexual dysfunction (Observer, May 27). A survey of 50 women found that after 12 weeks of taking the drug, 70 per cent were having more sexual fantasies, more sex and more orgasms. Quite rightly, there is now a suggestion that British women may soon be able to get it on the NHS. Ooh Err.

And if they do – then Neil Nichols and Rob Newsome will be quids in. The two internet entrepreneurs have hit upon the idea of setting up an online condom business and already their site is getting 300 hits a day (Mirror, May 25). I’m sure it won’t be long before some eagle-eyed venture capitalist notices that this is a market with a real potential for growth – especially if Jordan becomes PM. Now there’s a thought.

Sunday, May 20, 2023

News Round-up – Beauty in the press
(Week ending 20 May 2023)

The chinless, wonder
By Neil Duncan-Jordan

After months of talk, pre-election hype and media speculation - the poll is now closed. No, I’m not talking about one of the most boring political contests in living memory, but the FHM poll of the world’s most sexiest women (Daily Express, May 18). For the second year running – singer and actress Jennifer Lopez has come out on top, closely followed by a host a names I haven’t heard of (so it must be my age). When she was told about the award, Lopez revealed: “It’s a wonderful feeling because I’m not the typical tall, thin, Hollywood type.”

Far be it from me to split hairs, particularly when I haven’t got that many left to spare, but come on Jennifer – get real. Turn sideways and you disappear. Not unlike number 28 in the FHM poll.

Miss Geri Halliwell is quite literally famous for being famous. Her ability to make it onto the front page of every tabloid at least once a week, every week, far outshines anything Alistair Campbell has ever achieved for TB. This time though, the papers are filled with scare stories about vitamin jabs and damaging side effects (Daily Mail, May 16).

It appears that Geri – or perhaps as we should now refer to her, ‘skinny spice’ – has been having regular injections to help her cope with her A-list lifestyle. But according to Professor Tom Sanders of King’s College London: “this smacks of someone who has an obsessive and unhealthy attitude to their body.” Ms Halliwell obviously needs to forget the vitamins and have a nice cup of tea.

Experts from the British Nutrition Foundation now claim that a cuppa will provide as much goodness as a glass of pure water (Daily Mail, May 16). The scientists also say that even the most health conscious man can still have a pint at lunchtime – without ruining their figure. Good news for the hundreds of thousands of men who are increasingly becoming concerned with their looks. Once again, someone is declaring that men have become the new women (Daily Telegraph, May 18). But for men, having a manicure and facial isn’t poncy – oh no, it’s apparently “power pampering.”

Supermarket chain Tesco has appointed Britain’s first in-store beauty consultant for men, offering tips on skincare and unsightly bags under the eyes and Boots has already opened two men’s grooming salons in Bristol and Edinburgh. The figures also show that seven million men now buy facial beauty products – compared to just 3.3 million in 1997 (Mirror, May 17). The question however, is why?

But no-one has actually given any clear analysis as to why men have become more interested in their appearance. Therefore, I’ll have a go.
If you live in a society where image has come to dominate every single aspect of life – from politics to pants and back again, is it any wonder that men are beginning to think that the only way to succeed is to adopt the dominant credo? Hence, there’s a lot of fancy hair gels sitting in bathroom cabinets.

If you follow the argument to its logical conclusion, you eventually end up with men trying to do what women have been doing to their bodies over recent years, namely seeking the answers to their questions from the surgeon’s knife. Is it therefore any wonder that in the recession-threatened USA, men are now queuing up to have plastic surgery on their faces, because they fear a weak jawline could cost them their job (Guardian, May 15)?

It may sound ridiculous, but chinplants are now the new beards. According to Brent Moelkin, a Californian plastic surgeon, the reason for the massive growth in chin enhancements stems from a belief that “people with weak chins in the media are portrayed as embezzlers or having a weak character, so a strong chin is very important.” I can’t believe that even the inoffensive chin has come under attack from the body fascists, but it does give a whole new significance to the phrase “chin-up”?

Something I’m sure the lawyers and relatives have said to a wealthy Egyptian businessman when he was recently arrested for bigamy (Mirror, May 16). It would appear that he has 21 wives – and the law sadly only allows four.

Now I bet he’s got a big chin.

Monday, May 14, 2023
News Round-up – Beauty in the press
(Week ending 13 May 2023)

Who you looking at?
By Neil Duncan-Jordan

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has wondered from time to time, why some of the world’s most glamorous and beautiful women, shack up with some of the world most boring and ugly looking men? Well now, Spanish scientists can prove it’s all because of the pied flycatcher (Daily Express, May 8). According to their research, the less attractive of the male specie makes a better father because it spends less time playing around with other females. As a result, their young leave home much fitter than those of the absentee fathers. Hence the headline “Ugly men are yours for life”. I hate to disappoint the Spanish, but what about Mick Jagger? I rest my case.

You see science isn’t always right. Take Dr Robert L Spitzer, a psychiatric professor from Columbia University. This week Doctor Bob declared that some gay people can turn heterosexual through prayer and counselling (Daily Mail, May 10). Ignoring evidence that suggests that sexual orientation is fixed from birth – the good doctor based his findings on – wait for it – 45-minute telephone interviews with 200 people who claimed to have changed from gay to heterosexual. Now that’s what I call conclusive!

Joking aside, there can be nothing worse than religious bunkum or social bigotry dressed up as independent analysis. Of course, we have to explore every aspect of science open to the human race, but let’s use our time and energy on more productive things.

For example, it has been widely reported recently that one in five Britons is chronically overweight, but even more worrying is the claim that women are up to 10 times more likely to be worried about their weight than men (Guardian, May 10). Research from Glasgow University, based on a study of more than 2000 bank workers, showed that there was a huge gender gap when it comes to body image. Only 20% of the women questioned were actually overweight, but far more said they were too heavy.

The study also follows mounting concern at the level of eating disorders and mental health problems among young women. The government even got off its fat arse (sorry, but there is an election on you know), and suggested that the fashion and magazine industry might have a role to play in reducing the social pressures that equate thinness to beauty. The result – absolutely bog all.

Hardly surprising though for a country that is obsessed with women’s bodies – and in particular, their breasts. But in a typically British way, we tend to have a huge laugh at big bosoms (Observer, May 6). According to Barbara Ellen, “the bigger breasts are, the funnier they get.” All too often we give them comedy names – knockers, bazookas, boobs – and woe betide any celebrity who loses their cleavage. The scale of the outrage would make you think that this was a much worse fate than breast cancer or the falling rate in breast-feeding.

Breasts are seen – for good or bad – as fundamentally feminine, unlike you would have thought, baked beans. But you’d be wrong. Scientists at the Food Standards Agency have apparently identified a chemical that mimics the female hormone oestrogen, in more than half of the cans of food on sale in supermarkets (Daily Mail, May 9). Bisphenol A has been linked to early puberty in girls and can be found in a range of products from baked beans to Ambrosia creamed rice.

Not that government employees in San Francisco have to resort to eating such things if they fancy a change. From July 1, the lucky workers – from dustmen to the mayor – will be eligible for a free sex change operation at a cost of £25,500 for male to female and £52,000 for female to male (Daily Telegraph, May 8). That’s the kind of policy that candidates should be promising in the forthcoming election. I can see the posters now - Vote Labour/Conservative/Liberal Democrat for tits. Now that’s a catchy slogan.

Saturday, April 28, 2023
News Round-up – Beauty in the press
(Week ending 28 April 2023)

French connection
By Neil Duncan-Jordan

Those who can remember the seventies, may be able to recall a popular advert of the day for Harmony hairspray. A beautiful woman, with luxurious hair, would stroll past strangers in the park and they would look at each other and wonder – is she or isn’t she? Well before you ask what on earth I’m talking about, the same question has been posed about the new Miss France. Poor old (well in fact she’s only 19) Elodie Gossuin from Picardy, arrived for the final of Miss Universe in Puerto Rico on Monday, only to be confronted with accusations that she was really a man (Daily Telegraph, April 25).

A French internet site had claimed that Miss Gossuin was in fact a transvestite cabaret dancer called Nicolas. But having looked her over – judges are now confident she is all woman. Not only that, but like the other 76 contestants – Miss France could easily be mistaken for a drainpipe.

Not true of the heroine in the new Bridget Jones film. Renee Zellweger apparently gained 20lb for her starring role and her character’s fame has led to the question – can larger bodies be beautiful? (Daily Telegraph, April 23). Foppish actor Hugh Grant has stated he “likes a bit of meat with his gravy” while Tony Parsons, writing in the Mirror, said the reason why Bridget Jones was sexy, owed itself to the simple fact that she looked like a real woman (Mirror, April 23). Parsons admits that the models in glossy magazines are undeniably beautiful – but he would rather get stuck into a woman who hadn’t been starved to perfection.

Pity Parsons isn’t a teacher then, because according to Sir Michael Bichard, permanent secretary at the Department of Education, teachers have a duty to tell parents if their children are obese (Daily Telegraph, April 24). His comments come just weeks after Shirley Beauchamp received a letter from her five-year-old daughter’s school, informing her that at 6 ½ stone, Georgina was overweight.

In a related attack on the alleged “nanny state” that is intent on telling us what and what not to eat, Labour MP Gerry Steinberg (who has recently lost 1 ½ stone) bared his stomach and claimed “most fat people eat too much, sit on their backsides, do very little exercise and only have themselves to blame.” I can’t wait for the Steinberg workout to appear on video.

One thing that the good Mr Steinberg may have overlooked in his deep analysis, is the recent discovery by scientists that there may be a gene responsible for creating a sweet tooth (Independent, April 23). Two groups of American researchers believe the gene T1R3 may be the reason some of us just have to eat that entire box of chocolates at Christmas. Isn’t science wonderful?

Unlike the media. Take the story this week that appeared in nearly all the broadsheets and tabloids surrounding the hostage taking by a group of Chechen gunmen in a Turkish hotel. After a few days, all 120 guests were released – but the good old British newspapers only featured comments (and of course a picture) from a 28-year-old, conference organiser called Karen Early. Any guesses why Ms Early should be chosen to speak rather than her other 119 fellow hostages? Um, I wonder.