Sunday 16 June 2019

It's women who put Kate under strain

Poring over pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge after the birth of her baby is hypocritical and unseemly, writes Eilis O'Hanlon

PRESSURE: The Duchess of Cambridge leaves hospital with her third child
PRESSURE: The Duchess of Cambridge leaves hospital with her third child

Eilis O'Hanlon

The Duchess of Cambridge was radiant as she left hospital following the birth of her third child.

Even one of those fabled Japanese soldiers, stranded on an island in the Pacific and unaware that the war is over, couldn't have failed to discover how radiant she looked, so ubiquitous was the news.

From royalist tabloids such as The Sun (which revealed that "standing outside the hospital with her new baby, the Duchess looked confident, radiant and stylish"), to US style bible Harper's Bazaar (which declared that Kate Middleton, as they dared to call her in their cheekily egalitarian Yankee way, "wore a twist on her signature look: strong, defined brows, dark eyeliner, a pop of blush, and a peachy nude lip gloss"), there was consensus across a gushing media that the future Queen of England looked utterly splendid. Which indeed she did. No one is denying that.

What was noteworthy, however, is that this coverage was coming exclusively from other women. The, ahem, "experts" popping up across hours of radio and TV coverage were women as well, as, probably, were most of those reading and listening and watching at home. It's hardly surprising.

Men - straight, gay or other - are not interested in babies, royal or otherwise, and certainly not to the extent of bothering to comment on a woman's appearance hours after she's given birth.

That remains an exclusively female pastime.

More curious still is that it's also women who endlessly complain, apparently without a trace of irony, that there's too much pressure on female public figures to look good.

Don't they realise that these activities are two sides to the same coin? Complimenting a woman on how good she looks one day is simply the flipside of tutting at how bad she looks the next. It's not possible to do the former without encouraging the latter.

Making that rather basic connection appears to be beyond many women, however. They forensically pore over pictures of a woman seven hours after she's given birth following a five-hour labour, while simultaneously decrying a society which compels her to look so good in less than auspicious circumstances.

The reason that Kate looked good was because she knew that the consequences of not looking good would be to invite remorseless adverse comment - and again, not from men, who were mainly watching the Champions League semi-finals last week, or simply couldn't care less, but from fellow women.

Even when they cooed sympathetically at what she'd been through, or criticised the relentless pressure that the Duchess was under to look good, these women did so without any acknowledgement that they were contributing to it, by devoting paragraphs to discussing Kate's hair, or her complexion, or debating how she might have got into shape in readiness for the big day. (Lots of swimming, apparently.)

They even discussed what position she'd adopted to give birth. "Kate is likely to have knelt on the floor, birthing ball or a chair," according to one impeccable source. Whatever happened to privacy?

Who's lapping up all this bilge? Other women. Who's writing and buying all those glossy magazines which fill their pages with clandestine shots of female celebrities in bikinis or attending another Hollywood party in some hot new designer's outfit? Women.

And it's no excuse to say that this is acceptable as long as the comments being made are affirmative and complimentary, because it's just another form of creepy voyeurism. Just listen to how often female broadcasters will begin interviews with female guests by telling them how good they're looking.

Often this will be couched in a faux-positive health context. They'll be complimented on having lost weight, or for taking up exercise, which is merely a more subtle manifestation of the same malaise. What about just learning how to talk to or about women without feeling a need to comment on their appearance, good or bad, at all?

Some women blame society for this obsession with their bodies, but that's just another way of sidestepping responsibility. It's not as if they're powerless to resist the pressure.

Within hours, a whole new subset of commentary had emerged which actually sought to contrast Kate's unrealistically perfect appearance with the more natural look of Operation Transformation presenter Kathryn Thomas after the birth of her daughter. When did childbirth turn into a contest?

It's not possible to reduce the onerous expectations on women to look a certain way by disingenuously adding to them, even if you think you're showing sisterly solidarity by urging them to look more bedraggled. All minding our own business for a change would be a far more helpful development.

Sunday Independent

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