#firstworldproblems; some musings on photos and priorities
Two photographs recently grabbed my attention. The first was upsetting. You might have seen it too. A desperate-looking father, a Syrian called Laith Majid, who is crying with relief as he clutches his distressed children, having finally reached the island of Kos – another step on their grim refugee journey.
Needless to say, the picture went viral. And predictably, and rightly, helped recalibrate feelings about the nameless ‘swarm’ of migrants who are currently ‘flooding’ Europe, in reminding us that they, too, are human.
The same didn’t apply with the other viral image – that of a mother and daughter, Georgina and Kayla Clarke from Rugby, who, according to the caption, had ‘splash[ed] out £56,000 on surgery to look like Katie Price’.
As in both of them, that is. And, perhaps equally predictably, having been named and shamed by the press, they have received a great deal of both ridicule and opprobrium. Little milk of human kindness here.
Fair enough, you might say. They put themselves out there. This wasn’t current affairs reportage but a planned tabloid photoshoot. They must have known the response to expect.
I don’t doubt they did, and they were not disappointed. Where Laith’s image saw waves of compassion flood the ether, this contrasting photo – of faces bent out of the shapes nature intended – was an opportunity for trolls to have their traditional field-day. But not just trolls. There were plenty of others throwing linguistic stones – they were a pair of freaks, shame on them, what a selfish, selfish mother, how deluded, how sick, how obscene.
They must be mad. That was the main thrust. What on earth were they thinking? And, on one level, I suppose that’s a point. Though the daughter apparently earned every penny of it, £56,000 is a great deal of money, and to my mind it has not been well spent. It’s a fraught business, after all, aspiring to look like someone else. And when that someone has spent thousands altering her own face and body, also risky – like lining up your cross-hairs on a moving target.
But to be judged so harshly, and so readily, feels not only cruel, but hypocritical. Because, increasingly, there seems to be a growing acceptance of such wholesale re-modelling. Of celebrities being deified for being bronzed, bleached and botoxed, with no thought for the long-tail of impact on our children, the results of which we’re seeing more and more.
And we do love our women to look a certain way now, don’t we? Interchangeable. Barbie-like. Porn dolly. Stick thin. (Well, bar all the right implants in all the right places.) No, not in all worlds, thank goodness, but if we think our daughters are immune from the pressure to be passively pneumatic, we should wise up a little and think again. Better still, try watching TOWIE, or Geordie Shore, or Made in Chelsea or, if you’re really strong of stomach, Celebrity Big Brother.
And if that’s not your bag (i.e. you’re well into your twenties) just type ‘celebrity plastic surgery’ into any convenient search engine, and clock the wide Sargasso sea of photographic evidence that our obsession with an impossible vision of youthful perfection is making monkeys out of all of us.
And, it appears, willingly. Because altering your face isn’t news, per se, any more. No-one seems to question a woman’s sanity in such matters, particularly if they’re in the public eye and older. Increasingly, in many walks of life, such women report feeling freaks if they DON’T have ‘work’ done. No, ‘interventions’ are only deemed worthy of our attention when they’re evidence of fandom that goes beyond reason, and/or disfiguring to a degree that we can gawp at.
Yet many of us gawp disingenuously. Because, when done ‘well’, as in ‘no trace of alien ancestry or incipient lunacy’, many of us secretly aspire to it too. Though we disparage all the saps who overdo it and get ‘botched’, the statistics about ‘procedures’ put the lie to that disapproval, the most chilling being the sharp increase in the numbers of young women (and 90% of cosmetic procedures are done on women)who have already committed to a life under the knife. And it’s not because they’re empowered, or liberated, or independent. It’s because they’re being TAUGHT to be unhappy in the skin they were born in. For which someone – maybe most of us – must shoulder some blame. And take some responsibility to act.
So, for me, that second image was almost as sad as the first.
Because the truth is we’re fiddling while Rome burns.
First published in the Western Mail Saturday Magazine 5.9.15