The Olympic Athlete and the Beauty Queen – How our messed up ideas of female appearance need to change

Diversity quilt

Image from 2009 Diversity Conference, by Oregon Department of Transportation, used under Creative Commons license

This evening on I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! the women in the camp were discussing the beauty industry. The talk soon turned to the pressure that women feel to live up to impossibly difficult standards set by models and others who are worshipped by the media for their looks. Amongst these ‘beautiful’ women was Amy Willerton, the UK contestant for Miss Universe.

Amy Willerton said that she didn’t feel pressured to look ‘right’ for pageants, that it was her choice to spend her time and money on maintaining her appearance and competing in beauty pageants and that she felt that outside of pageants, appearance wasn’t such a big deal. She seemed genuinely surprised when fellow contestant Lucy Pargeter suggested that it was easier to feel this way when you already fit the cultural beauty ideal and that it was harder for women who didn’t fit that category.

Lucy Pargeter, a well established actress with a long running role in Emmerdale, revealed that she had undergone cosmetic surgery more than once due to her insecurity about her appearance and said she was still embarassed to even be naked in her own home. Even more shocking was Olympic Gold Medal winner Rebecca Adlington’s statement that every single day she compared her own appearance to that of the beauty ideal and found herself lacking.

How on earth have we got to this point? In this day and age, nearly a century after the first flutters of feminism, when women are theoretically able to compete on an equal playing field to men, how can a woman at the absolute peak of health, a remarkable woman who has achieved something most women and men can only dream of, feel insecure because she feels her nose is too big or her body is not thin enough? How can a woman earning a good salary, who is known in almost every household up and down the country still feel bad when she looks at herself in the mirror?

To me, it feels like the bullies have won. Like we’ve entered some topsy turvy age where the spiteful kids who used to hang around the school gate, passing judgement on the children who passed, have suddenly become the arbiters of how it’s acceptable to look. How did we let this happen? To an extent, I think we’re all complicit in this. Men who measure the women they meet in bars against the girls in lads mags are complicit, but so are those of us women who try and shift those extra few pounds with a crash diet before the Christmas party. The corporate bosses who only seem to employ PAs who look like they’ve just stepped off a catwalk are part of the conspiracy, but so are we each time we flinch when a woman walks past with a visible muffin top, or shoes that give her cankles.

It’s time to get a proper sense of proportion and stop these ridiculous judgements ruling and ruining our lives. We need to learn to at least accept, if not celebrate all kinds of people and their appearances. Big noses, ginger hair, black skin, knock knees, even, though many will rush to argue against this, overweight people. There is no aspect of physical appearance that automatically makes a human an inferior being and, while there might be a place for classically beautiful looks to be praised, it shouldn’t take place in opposition to everyone else.

Darwinism shows that evolution favours diversity – let’s not be the dodos that insist on fighting against the tide.


I love all things fantasy, from fiction to films to games. Mostly books though. I also love cooking and plus size fashion. Find recommendations for great fantasy reads and general fangirling here! If you want to get in touch with me, the quickest way is by Twitter @dorristheloris

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Posted in fashion, feminism, politics
One comment on “The Olympic Athlete and the Beauty Queen – How our messed up ideas of female appearance need to change
  1. Frank says:

    Doris, I have learned that my rounded stomach is the divine encompasser of three boys, and protector of the fairy soul. xxx

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