In Which I Declare My Self-Love

It is half-term, and we have been in Wales getting a sprinkling of half-arsed sunburn, in that northern-hemisphere kind of way. It was gorgeous and lovely, and we had excellent company. And I will get to that, but first. Here’s a funny little thing to post. You remember how I promised that it was very likely that I wouldn’t mention that Dove ad again? Well, it turns out I was LYING.

Because a thing happened about a week after it got aired. As I was googling the ad obsessively, with the kind of dogged dedication and sheer hard work that would have made me an honours student at Law School fo’ sho’, I came across an article in The New Statesman http://www.newstatesman.com/media/2014/05/dove-s-mother-s-body-ad-idealises-motherhood-exploit-women-s-bodies (still can’t hyperlink, obvs) which was all a bit ranting and so I drafted a response. And so, if you fancy a few pages on bodies and exploitation and hurt feelings and quite a lot of self-lovin’, then read on. It would be interesting to see if there is a debate to be had here. Do we all hate our bodies? Is this version of motherhood a dupe? Thoughts on an envelope, please.

 

A Mother’s Body – Mine

 

A few weeks weeks ago, I was shot for a new Dove ad with three of my small children as part of Dove’s wider ‘Real Beauty’ campaign. The ad, directed by Amanda Blue, was a kind of visual accompaniment to the words of UK poet and spoken-word artist Hollie McNish.  Her poem was about, and in tribute to, a real mother’s body – and its stresses, aches, tendernesses, exhaustions, and beauty. 

 

I was asked to be in the ad because I am a mother of five little boys, and my body bears the marks of pregnancies, births, breastfeeding, weight gain and loss. In short, they wanted authenticity, and my three kids and I could give them that. I felt really proud to be in the ad, and was made to feel beautiful, which is something that doesn’t happen all that often. My body became the focus. There were scenes where parts of my body show – a t-shirt riding up to expose my hips, my jeans tight on my stomach, still showing the signs of my last pregnancy in September, bare thighs and upper arms – bits that I sometimes feel like hiding. The camera just rolled.  

 

The result is a short film of a few minutes, beautifully shot, edited tightly, focusing on many different parts of my body from my feet, to my skinned knees, to the muscles in my shoulders, following me interacting with my kids on a typical day. My body appears imperfect, a little roughed up and worn, albeit with a kindly soft-focus. I was brave to show it. It was an empowering experience for me. 

 

Following the airing, an article appeared in The New Statesman written by Glosswitch, a writer with a “feminist take on parenting and politics”. In it, she said that the “sickly and patronising” ad idealises motherhood to exploit women’s bodies.

 

Her article begins by stating that women are taught to hate their bodies, a hatred that becomes embedded and trivialised, and that advertisers take advantage of this, packaging up creams to sell back to us. The Dove ad, she says “hones in on two key insecurities: the fear of women that they are unattractive and the fear of mothers that their work is of no value.”

 

She said she watched the ad as a mother herself, and she noticed, among other things, that I have a “slightly fat tummy”, and an “arse”, and that I was energetic with my kids, and those things and the questions they raised within herself made her feel bad. “I keep coming back to this: is Dove basically saying that it’s okay to be a tiny bit podgy if you’re an ace, devoted mummy?” Essentially, my body on screen first made her feel better about herself, then worse. It wasn’t quite real enough – she was being sold a con, and my body, (not quite thin enough, not quite fat enough) doing the things a mother tends to do, was part of that con. She goes on to say she feels the ad swaps the usual, unrealistic view of a mother to this new one – one that is sold as ‘real’, and ultimately limiting.

 

I read this, and was surprised and saddened that that is all Glosswitch takes from the film. And, for the first time in this whole experience, I began to feel bad about my body. While she certainly raises some important points, her words about me, the Mother, felt like judgement and objectification. 

 

The loathing that she says women feel for their bodies is simply not true for me – my body is what it is, it is healthy, it has housed and fed my babies, and it keeps trucking on. I long ago made peace with my stretchmarks and by extension, with myself, but when she looked at me in her terms, I suddenly felt exposed, and started to see my body in pieces, as a series of parts that were unacceptable. I had thought that those bits of my body were actually really wonderful to see and to show. The film works as a visceral portrait of a Mother, and when I became that Mother, I didn’t feel I had to make excuses or justifications for my shape and size. I thought I was being brave, and maybe helping other women to feel brave too.

 

Yes, it is an ad for a beauty company. Women have complicated relationships with their bodies, and the beauty industry benefits from this. But this ad isn’t really trying to fool anyone. It just might be attempting something new.  Caitlin Moran in her March column for The Times Magazine, writing about the ‘imperfect’ films 12 Years A Slave and Fifty Shades Of Grey, said that: 

 

“the thing is, when you are starting a revolution, by which I mean, altering a landscape, so that new voices become dominant – you have to take the longer view. Because the history of change is someone has to start the conversation. But if we attack those who start valuable new conversations for not delivering the perfect revolution, straight off the bat, we scare the next generation of writers, directors and actors. We end up having no new conversations at all.”

 

Amanda Blue, her team and I took a small risk in the ad. It showed a different version of motherhood, and it placed on screen something a little bit more honest than we usually get to see. It is still an ad. But it was a brave one, an empowering one. Let’s not let that get lost before the conversation begins.

 

As Glosswitch writes, “Above all, I want mother’s bodies to be seen as the bodies of human beings: not objects, not tools, but flesh, blood and endless possibility.” That is exactly the way I see mine. There was no con – that Mother’s body is mine, and it is unapologetically beautiful.

 

 

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15 Responses to In Which I Declare My Self-Love

  1. Georgie says:

    Yay! Very well written Jodi.
    Did you send that in to her? Maybe she’d had a bad day and took it all in the wrong light. It’s an indictment on her that she then chose to denigrate you.
    You look fantastic, happy and real in all senses if the word. Not to mention a fabulous mum. Xxx

    • theharridan says:

      Thanks, my lovely Georgie. I didn’t send it in. I had my rant, and said my piece, kneaded my thighs and ate some cake. Feeling much less rattled now.

  2. My God you’re clever. I could barely make it through her article because MY BRAIN STARTED TO HURT. Everything you say rings above true to me. In answer to your question – I don’t hate my body. In fact at the weekend I was sitting on a beach with a friend, while our children caused chaos amongst the beach’s other users – mainly young and the beautiful and the lithe. We discussed just this – how 15 years ago we would have been so insecure sitting on a beach surrounded by such gorgeous creatures, and now – we just look at them and envy them not for their bodies, but for their time and energy. Imagine having the time to groom yourself thus! Most mothers I know don’t have time or energy to hate their bodies, really, they – we – are all just trying to keep afloat. Personally the only thing I want to change about my body is my crummy old knees – not how they look, but how they function (not so well). A bit of upper body strength would be good too. You know you’re entering middle age when practicality takes precedence over beauty. (Oh god, I’ll be wearing sensible shoes next…) Anyway. where was I going with this… Clearly nowhere. Could I post a response to the NS article directing interested readers here? I too would be curious to see how people would take your perspective.

    • theharridan says:

      Thanks very much! And yes, you could certainly try to post a response, although I think comments are closed. I am so pleased to see that actually, this feminine-loathing-thing is not a given, and that most of my friends have agreed that they are so much more appreciative and respectful of their bodies now they are older and have been though a bit. I used to despair over my bum, and now it seems the firmest part of me. And I can honestly say that my body at 36 and five kids later is so much better than it used to be. Which is illogical but totally the case. And yes, you are so right about the time and energy thing being the crux of any envy we might feel. Time. TIME! I can barely remember it

  3. shambition says:

    Aww don’t let her ruin your moment of fame! I hope you will send in this response. I mean I get it – Dove is trying to make me feel feelings so I will want to buy their stuff – well duh, right? If they can do they that without making me feel bad about my body then that strikes me as an improvement on the advertising status quo.

    Just FYI though (you may know this already, but just in a case) a lot of feminists eye roll at Caitlin Moran’s brand of feminism as just so second generation! (two reasons as far as I can see – 1: she isn’t really a “choice feminist” – she thinks everyone should keep their pubes for instance, rather than that it’s just nobody’s business what you do with your own pubes and 2: she isn’t very intersectional – like she focuses on issues that affect privileged, largely white women – she doesn’t seem to have much to say about race, trans gender etc). To cut a long story short, although I like that quote of hers, it might distract a feminist audience from your very good message. (I like Caitlin Moran btw – she got me interested in feminism in the first place – but I do understand where the criticism comes from).

    Anyway, to answer your question – I don’t hate my body at all. There are things about it that I would like to be different, but that doesn’t strike me as something it’s worth spending a lot of mental energy on. It helps me to know there are other women who have stretch marks and lots of wobbly tummy skin and be reminded that it’s just not that important in the grand scheme of things.

    In short – you keep being your wonderful self.

  4. theharridan says:

    Really interesting points you make. I didn’t actually know there were Caitlin Moran non-believers in this world – and I do agree with your reasoning. I have felt a little chastised by her sometimes, and yes, I chose choice! Anyway, the sting has gone, and having read more of Glosswitch’s columns, I know that we see the world very, very differently. And so I went for a run, and ate some cake, and drank some wine, and stared at Idris Elba and all is right in the world. Xx

  5. Vicky says:

    Several things struck me after reading The New Statesman piece, one being what does the writer actually want? If her beef is with Dove presenting an “unrealistic version of motherhood”  and it patronisingly giving us permission to like our wobbly bits so that we buy their products, what is preferable? A white screen saying Cream For Dry Skin? Or an ad with morbidly obese women  lying on grubby sofas throwing Wotsits at the kids come mealtimes? With no good alternative offered, this is just bitching for bitching’s sake. Indeed, it is itself insulting and patronising when it assumes that women are ignorantly exploited by Dove and the like.

    Crucially, “the fear…that their work  is of no value” is different to feeling “undervalued”. I know many women who feel undervalued but have never heard a woman say that she feels her role is of no value. As her piece hinges on this, I think that’s an important point to make.

     I suppose we could interpret the ad as flawed from a feminist perspective,  if we REALLY had to,  but her arguments are mostly convoluted and equally flawed (my brain ached, not because it was clever but because it lacked succinct, concise, logical argument) and her interpretations are warped and, somehow, petulant. Like I said, she offers no alternative. And it has to be said that when she writes, “pinch ourselves until we bruise,” alarm bells ring a  little;  a bit angry and a bit scary.

    You’re completely right, as is Moran, that slamming the door on the emergence of campaigns like Dove’s only ensures that we keep and cement the very images and ideas that probably, ironically, make Gasswitch’s (I’m so childish) head implode on a daily basis.

    In short, and to answer your questions, some of us hate our bodies, some of us don’t. This  version of motherhood is not a dupe as lots of us do play with our kids, actually, and cuddle them and get ready for a night out. Not all the time but sometimes. And who SAID it’s to go out with the husband? Could be to go out with a group of girlfriends. OR maybe to go out and give a talk on Feminist Parenting. Frankly, this article does not dignify a response. And you’re a babe.And the ad is gorgeous and something to be well proud of.

    Oh, and “wages for housework?” I’m confused. Who’s paying? 

    • theharridan says:

      Ah, your succinct comments. Beautiful. I couldn’t have said any of that better. Agreed, agreed, agreed. Especially about the way the article doesn’t really say anything clearly at all, and OH my goodness what you said about the difference between a mother’s work having no valueas opposed to being undervalued is a very important distinction. Clever lady; you should have your own blog.

  6. Vicky says:

    Frankly, you should not dignify this article with a response…. is what I meant. Poor English. I think.

    • theharridan says:

      Ha, yes. That’s what I say to my husband when he asks me what I have been doing all morning, after packing for six people to go to Wales. “I will not dignify that question with a response!”

  7. twinmum says:

    Well, I thought it was a lovely commercial, you look gorgeous and made me feel better about my wobbly bits. The New Statesman piece was exhausting to read and ultimately meaningless to me. Be proud of your ad – it was beautiful.

    • theharridan says:

      Thank you! I am so pleased you felt better about the wobbly bits. It was bloody well worth it! We should embrace those bits, sister!

  8. Camille says:

    That ad was powerful and beautiful. I hope they plan to run it here in the states. You were brave and you got the message across. Well done. And for the record, I think Dove is a good product – have used it for years.

    Moran’s form of feminism stinks. I am weary of individuals like herself who choose to denigrate others for the purpose of promoting their own platform.

  9. theharridan says:

    Thank you so much! X

  10. tansy says:

    The thing that really annoys me about ‘glosswitch’, completely hideous alias aside, is that she is the one objectifying women’s bodies and reducing it to parts, she is the one who draws attention to the fleshy bits. Its utterly disingenuous to say she wants women’s bodies not to be presented as objects, then criticise yours, which is the perfect eg of a beautiful, real, functional mothers body. And how dare she make you feel bad about your body, what a feminist betrayal. I think she is perhaps jealous of your ability to be real, energetic and beautiful. She is really ‘green-eyed gross witch’. What a bloody traitor. And yes, surprisingly despite the ravages of growing two gigantic sons and the result soft, droopy, squishy body, i don’t mind it that much. Its me, friendly and floppy and substantial. (apart from the droopy turkey chin, which i curse every day). You looked beautiful and genuine in the ad, and should feel pride and satisfaction, a powerful achievement!!

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