Samantha Brick, circles of shame & the body panopticon

Most people will have seen the Samantha Brick article. I don’t think I need to elaborate too much – suffice to say, daily mail writer pens article along the lines of “don’t hate me because I’m beautiful”, explaining how difficult her life is as a beautiful woman, on account of all the jealous haters she has to deal with on a daily basis. They stop her getting promoted, they don’t let her stand in the middle of photographs, they don’t ask her to be a bridesmaid. Along with the article are photographs of aforementioned Samantha Brick, which the nation judge to be somewhat lacking in attractiveness, and much hilarity ensues.

As an aside, from a psychological point of view, we actually tend to show more liking for attractive people rather than less, regardless of gender, and less liking for unattractive people. The stereotype of ugly bullies hounding the beautiful through life is not a very accurate overview: it must happen, but unattractive people probably come in for a lot more abuse overall. Other characteristics which have a stronger influence on liking, such as perceived arrogance, can overpower the positive influence of looks, however.

I think it bothered me though didn’t surprise me that most of the commentary I’ve read so far is entirely focussed on mocking her as a delluded individual rather than looking at the validity of her general worldview in terms of the importance of attractiveness. She seems to have internalised everything we get sold from a very young age about the path to female happiness – that happiness can be yours through exact discipline in the pursuit of rigorous control of the body, a sort of modern female cult of the self – without actually sounding that cheerful about it. The article, along with others I browsed through in her back catalogue (including one about how her husband tenderly nursed her through a festive stomach bug with the joyful proclamation of how much weight she would be losing) screamed “validate this existence”. She is being set up as a pinnacle of anti-feminism: a self absorbed misogynist, who smugly prescribes hew own brand of self loathing for any others seeking her level of empowerment (remember, she’s a top TV exec), and yet because she is a woman, ultimately this constant self-policing (assisted, of course, by her helpful chauvinistic husband, who has been clear from very early on that weight gain will result in the end of their relationship, and who loves to draw attention to the shameful imperfections of any unsuitably dressed women who cross his path, in a way which she seems to blindly believe is down to him being French rather than down to him being an arsehole) is the price she has to pay for her piece of the pie. It seems like a very tiring and emotionally fraught existence, specifically because it is so empty of friendship. In Amanda Brick’s worldview, women can’t stand her because they believe her unworldly beauty will lure their husbands away. Men see her as an object of desire. Her husband is her companion only so long as she fulfills his exact requirements of wifedom.

In the age of reality TV, lads mags, tweenagers and the circle of shame, we could very well be raising a whole army of Samantha Bricks. Young girls are experiencing their bodies in a more self-observing way than any generation before them: the media showing ideal womanhood  (as well as the ability to record, reflect on and transmit the self) is growing and growing by the day, creating a panoptican effect where for many young women, the body is something they experience from the outside as well as from within. For many there is unpassable space between the real self and ideal self. The diet industry offers women control: the illusion that the body will be personal rather than public property with the right amount of discipline. For years we have been fighting the battle that the space is impassable, that the diet industry sets up impossible standards and then lap up the money women waste on trying to reach them. But maybe we haven’t been fighting hard enough to show the loneliness which could be created by the successful achievement of conventional female physical perfection.

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