She is willowy, long and slender. Long chestnut coloured hair falls to one side, a liberated wisp falls across her swan-like neck, without doubt, blown by a gentle breeze that surrounds her. Beneath her fringe hazel eyes rimmed in black kohl smile above the lush architecture of her lips, framing her pearly whites. She smiles. She dazzles. She is a winner in the genetic lottery of beauty. The hues of her mocha silk dress are set off harmoniously by patches of delicate black lace and a silk jacket falls gracefully from her shoulders: her coat-hanger frame. By her side Mr Aren’t I Lucky leans his broad shoulder into hers: The cat that got the cream. His grey suit, the colour of newly fabricated steel, emphasises his raven black hair. Enchanting her: Enchanting us. The epitome of chic and à la mode sophistication: the apogee of countless aspiring males and females worldwide. If I were to hazard a guess, I would declare them French, specifically Parisian; they could, though, be Roman: they are beautiful.
And then they go and spoil it all by saying something stupid like: Women Are Back.
Back from where? Where have we been? Has some global vanishing act taken place that I haven’t been aware of, a calamity that has rid the world of females? Where did we abscond to? Did we, at long last, discover a secret female Utopia?
By now you’ve probably guessed that I am referring to a glossy magazine advert. Two weeks ago whilst waiting in a slow-moving queue for my dentist, I flicked absent-mindedly through a plethora of glossy magazines. I say absent-mindedly because I don’t buy these type magazines: not anymore. Truth is I am a little bit weary, almost afraid of them. Why? Have you looked through some of them recently? An assortment of perplexing articles that cover a constellation of topics that don’t really help at all: Flirt like a Man, Mr Right, but not Right Now, or what about, Man up in the Boardroom. Need I go on?
Oh, but how things change. The story was a lot different a decade or two ago; an era when I regularly, almost compulsively, purchased several brand leading codices of beauty, fashion and self-help. I co-existed peacefully with modern-day guides to having it all, living it up and getting what you want when you want it. Back then I believed, quite innocently, they were a sort of guide-book, map even, to Arcadia. I was positive that the next article would be the one that would show me the error of my ways; or, that the next personality test would highlight an unknown part of my personality that required fixing: once rectified success would be mine, the hope, that I would dodge the land mines in the province of growing up. In short I was looking for the fastest, least troublesome route to Sophistication Ville.
The official term for changing one’s patterns is Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). It is a shame I wasn’t familiar with it back in the day; I could have saved myself money and instead invested my time on more deserving pursuits: learning Italian, yoga or the Tango. Most of us realise that change is not easy. For real positive change to take place one needs to invest time, great effort and occasionally possess long purse strings: obtaining scores of 20-45 in a generic glossy-mag test, or being informed that one is Personality Type A with a dollop of Type C, does not cut the mustard. Seriously though who constructs those quizzes? Have they been trained in the theories of Freud or Jung? Do they know what they’re talking about? I wonder.
Fast forward and a new age has begun. Growing older has its advantages. It has a wonderful way of sorting out the “men from the boys” or, in this case, the “girls from the women”. Those once coveted words that I based my entire identity on are now fit for the lavatory.
Maybe that’s why I felt so cross and annoyed when I happened upon the two beauties: the pairing, marriage even of image and phrase emitting all sorts of mixed messages. The flippant use of words and phrases is rife in the world of advertising especially those adverts targeted at women, children and increasingly men; serving only to disturb and unsettle, in the case of the glossies, readers. Why do advertisers believe that they can employ any word they choose? Do they ever stop to think of the consequences such words and phrases can have on impressionable, innocent young minds? I don’t think so. I believe that the subliminal messages contained within much of today’s advertising are dangerous, nefarious even. We are, unwittingly, being brain-washed; the builders have moved into our precious minds constructing all sorts of distorted ideals and perceptions. So, when an advert announces Women Are Back it drives me crazy precisely because most women already face a daily battle of invisibility, constantly trying to make themselves seen, heard and taken seriously. When that gifted agency coined that axiom, perhaps around a glass-topped boardroom table with floor to ceiling windows, was there a woman who objected to the term? Who found it obnoxious? A man? Or, did they all just find relief in the fact that they had created a chippy one liner that would keep their clients happy? Cash rolls in.
I hate to disappoint those unenlightened agencies: Women never left nor are we planning to. Look around you. We are everywhere. We are the daughters, sisters, aunts, mothers, grandmothers and friends we all know and love; could not thrive without. We are the ones who do a higher proportion of the caring, raising and juggling. We are the ones who tucked you into bed at night, rubbed your tummy when you were sick, wiped your noise clean and held your hand when you were afraid. We are the ones you call when you’ve done an awful interview for your dream job. The ones who say you are beautiful when you feel like crap. No advert can do that. Ever.
It would be so reassuring to know that when such decisions are being made in boardrooms across the globe, employees, the women and men who execute them, would remember the women in their lives. Maybe then so many women would not find themselves living beneath the Cloak of Invisibility.
I was very lucky. I knew, deep down, that all that mumbo jumbo wouldn’t really make a difference. I was never Personality Type A, B, C or D: I’m me. I had fantastic female mentors in my life; championing me, encouraging and believing in me. I’ve had my moments when my train did arrive at Sophistication Ville. I have, though, stepped on many land mines on the way up.
I survived. I’m still here. And, so too dear reader are the women you know.