Wednesday 16 October 2019

Katie Byrne: 'Why Debbie Harry can say what she likes and Victoria Beckham can't'

Modern Life

Blondie’s Debbie Harry
Blondie’s Debbie Harry
Katie Byrne

Katie Byrne

Celebrities will always try their best not to talk about cosmetic surgery, so it came as a surprise on Tuesday when not one, but two female personalities offered their take on it.

During an interview with This Morning, fashion designer Victoria Beckham claimed she has never "been tempted" by cosmetic procedures, before uttering the now tedious disclaimer that celebrities must be taught during media training - "never say never".

On the same day, we got to hear about Debbie Harry's approach to ageing when her memoir, Face It, arrived in bookshops.

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Victoria Beckham
Victoria Beckham

The Blondie singer, who has previously admitted to having a facelift, likened cosmetic surgery to "having a flu shot" and said she thinks of it as "another way of looking after yourself".

The women offered very different takes on cosmetic surgery. What's interesting, however, is the vastly different reactions their opinions garnered. Harry's controversial comments attracted neither speculation or derision. Beckham's comments, on the other hand, became a talking point as various newspapers accused her of lying by pointing out the boob job she previously admitted to.

But what would have happened had Beckham compared cosmetic surgery to a flu jab? Would she have been allowed to speak her mind and move on as Harry has?

Probably not. The truth is that there is an unspoken dominance hierarchy of female celebrity, and position is dictated by tenure, talent, likeability, relatability and the exact amount of f***ks given.

The devil-may-care Harry is near the top of this hierarchy. She has earned the right to say whatever she likes because she does whatever she likes - and has done so for quite some time.

Similarly ranked are Grace Jones, who can beat a man up on live TV and still get called a legend; Kate Moss and - late entry - Rihanna.

On the perch below are the women who we regard with a mix of intrigue, horror and misplaced admiration. We don't necessarily respect them for their talent but, for one reason or another, we have granted them a sort of dipso-matic immunity. Think Naomi Campbell, who wore couture Dolce & Gabbana when ordered to perform community service; Britney Spears and, to a slightly lesser degree, Lindsay Lohan.

Next up are the post-modern icons - the women who have gone from being parodies of themselves to parodies of their parodies. Celine Dion, who once had all the cultural relevance of a white musk body spray, is now an avant-garde fashion trailblazer. Pamela Anderson, meanwhile, seems to be on a mission to prove that a woman can be a cartoonish centrefold and a political activist all at once.

Beckham may well join their ranks, but for now at least, she's still in the 'reinvention' category. Sure, she has more than proved herself as a fashion designer, but it wasn't that long ago that she was written off as a Louis Vuitton-toting sourpuss and lampooned on Bo' Selecta!.

The trouble, of course, is that we put women on pedestals so we can knock them down. There's a very thin line between celebration and condemnation, and even the most likeable women - think Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Schumer and Adele - will fall from grace when familiarity begins to breed contempt.

Of course, some women are lucky to have never experienced the backlash. Step forward Meryl Streep, Beyoncé, Michelle Obama and Anne Doyle.

Their chutzpah has earned them an exalted status of near impeachability, a halo effect that can only be rivalled by Oprah. Things get interesting, however, when you look at the top of this dominance hierarchy, which is presided over by Oprah, and the bottom of it, which is where we subject women like Meghan Markle, Gwyneth Paltrow and, until recently, Kate Middleton, to a campaign of relentless criticism.

Is it just that we subject women with the greatest potential to influence to the greatest derision? Or could we make the case that love and hate are two sides of the same coin? The Princess Diana effect, if you will.

Either way, not all women in the public eye are given the same freedom to speak their mind. Meghan Markle knows it. Gwyneth Paltrow knows it. And the two women who this week talked about cosmetic surgery know it. There's a hierarchy - and everyone knows their place.

Irish Independent

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