“New year, new you” scream the headlines. But what’s wrong with the old – or rather, the current – me? Every ad break on the telly highlights different ways of improving myself. Lose weight, find a man, find a job.
The TV listings are grim, with the usual slew of semi-celeb nobodies either living in a house or learning to ice dance. But nothing is grimmer than Gok’s Style Secrets, which seems to be aimed at helping women find every little thing that is “wrong” with them and turning them into clones of one another in a bid to get a man.
Seriously? Are we still no further forward on this? Gok Wan – stylist, boob-lover and Chinese chef has now been appointed dating-adviser-in-chief to poor, unsuspecting women. In the first episode of the new series, Gok met Zoe Burgess, a 33 year old self-confessed “geek”. She loves films, and her bedroom walls were covered in posters of men from fantasy films. She has tattoos and wore a lot of black.
Along came her “fairy Gok mother” (no really, that’s what he calls himself), who primped and preened her while offering tips on dating, which included such gems as “when you arrive in a pub, do a figure of eight through the place to ‘check out’ who’s worth checking out”. He then sent her to sit with a table of complete strangers to “boost her confidence”.
By the end of the programme, Zoe was barely recognisable from her former self. She had been taught to stop talking about herself and her interests and introduced to the wonderful world of belts so that she could show off her waist to its best advantage. The Stepford-wife version of herself, if you will.
As if the programme wasn’t bad enough, the ad breaks served only to reinforce this idea that women aren’t good enough as they are. Slimming clubs, slimming tablets and online dating websites were the order of the day. “If you’re not thin enough, you’ll never get a man, and without a man you’re nothing” is the not very subtle messaging.
“Perhaps she wanted to feel more confident and get a man”, was the helpful contribution of my husband. Yes, perhaps it was. But why? Why are women taught that they can’t be happy without a life partner? Is it as basic as biology; you have a uterus, you should but it to good use?
Men aren’t marketed to in this way. When sporting goods or products are marketed to men, they are done so with messages around strength, power, endurance. Women are offered confidence and positivity. It’s such a shame that we are taught that we need to be thinner to gain these qualities.