I have just read an article about Kathy Griffen, the current co-host of the programme The Fashion Police who has just announced her departure from the show after only a three-month stint. According to the article her reason was:
“Listen, I am no saint…. But I do not want to use my comedy to contribute to a culture of unattainable perfectionism and intolerance towards difference…I want to help women, gay kids, people of colour and anyone who feels underrepresented to have a voice and a LAUGH!”
Her exit follows hot on the heels of Kelly Osbourne who left in protest over a racist slur made by a co-host about Zendaya Coleman’s dreadlocked hair at the Oscars, which she described as smelling of patchouli oil or weed. I’m no fan of these bitch-celeb reality shows, but I think this is significant even for those who do not watch them.
It struck me that this is something new, people standing up for an appreciation of difference, whether it is regarding body shapes or more widely, race, sexuality or class. I have never come across so many examples such as this or the one concerning fat men dancing, or celebrity outings of pre-photo shopped images recently covered in this blog, where celebrities are willing to stick their heads above the parapet and say enough is enough. It seemed to start in January last year with Cate Blanchett who commented on how her dress was filmed from the floor upwards on the red carpet, something that wouldn’t happen to men. These celebrities are backed by a public that is slowly is surely turning the tables on a thin, white and straight obsessed media; it seems we too have had enough.
I think this sea change has been long coming, but to be honest I’m surprised it is happening at all. I have always been as attracted to images of perfected beauty whilst simultaneously tired of the narrow range of potential it involves. It’s hard to admit that one’s politics (especially for me, gender politics) don’t match up to one’s aesthetic desires. But most of all I have never thought I would see the day when the public got over their similar ambivalence to photo shopped images. Until now I couldn’t imagine anything other than a shallow, body shaming media that perpetuated women’s insecurities (I now think, “shame on me!”). Yet it seems this is actually happening now, albeit in a piecemeal manner example by example, so we might not notice the change except retrospectively.
Could it be that we might be able to imagine a media that shows a wider variety of images and that importantly, does not body shame? Could there be a time when female celebrities on the red carpet are no longer only asked about their dresses, whilst men are asked about their career choices? Could this actually pan out to a real and deep cultural change in appetites? I’m reminded that many of the media’s executive staff, especially in such female-audience shows are women, meaning that representation in the industries does not necessarily lead to change in the channels’ philosophies.
One is hopeful. My only fear is that this is something of a fad that will never really cement itself. I can still remember my joy as the fashion industry rejected animal fur en masse in the early nineties, only to reinstate it as a fashion necessity a decade later. Only then did I remember that fashion people are into cyclical change that necessarily goes out of style and the anti fur campaign was just that, a fad, d’uh!
It is easy to start to take on a lasssez faire attitude towards cultural change, to think that something is unchangeable, that we will always have bitchy, uncaring and self obsessed celebrities who put their careers before their ethics, assuming they have any. Such a belief however, leaves us unambitious for greater growth because it thwarts our imagination; we literally cannot foresee a brighter future. And, if the market ain’t there the media will have the best argument not to service it.
It remains to be seen whether we are moving to a genuine shift towards greater inclusion in the aesthetic stakes, or whether like fur, the fashion for the stereotypical beauty shall return, but at least it is shifting from it’s cemented foundations if only for a while. Any expansion of acceptable models is better than none and much as we never undergo genuine revolutions that achieve what they set out to, we might get two feet forward and one step back in the right direction. After all, most of us, regardless of the fashion industry wouldn’t choose to wear fur now.