Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Love Happens, apparently.

Yesterday I went for a walk under the autumnal trees of my local park. Us Scot’s are fixated on the weather and surprisingly I am happy to report there was a fine misting of indecisive rain. One of those will it or won’t it rains where the air is more moist than wet. It’s the kind of environment that plays havoc with the hair of even the most dedicated GHD followers. There were chestnuts on the ground freed of their spiky shells and glistening with the deep red of their conker skins. Crunchy dappled leaves lay in wait for the enthusiastic jump and crunch of a foot.

Midway along the path a couple stopped for one of those spontaneous kisses that seemingly occurs mid-sentence. Perhaps one of them had said some adorable platitude, or maybe they were in the first-throws of love when common decency goes out the window in favour of public displays of affection that are oblivious to their fellow human’s stomachs. I dislike my reaction to such occurrences and I wonder what it would be like to be one of those girls who goes ‘awe’ in the face of romance or the chubby rosy cheeks of a baby or the Andrex puppy. But I can’t and this day’s reaction was compounded by a much darker and dangerous image.

The path leading to the exit of the park faces a busy junction where buses, taxis, and irate drivers compete to be released from the main thorough-fare. The lights were red and the cars were still, their low hum palpable ahead of the lights. My eyes were naturally drawn to the red double decker bus resting at the lights. I scanned its sizable bulk and noted it’s unusually clean shine but something distracted me from its simple engineering. There was a poster emblazoned on its side daubed in deceptively comforting hues of green and white. It was advertising a film. The film was called ‘Love Happens.’

Some things stir up irrational reactions no matter how hard you try to remain level headed; people who read the Telegraph, those who speak in clich├ęs, Hollyoaks, but nothing gets my back up more than the latest romantic comedy. I dislike their benign sentiment, implausible plots, the fact that they dine out on the idea that love is possible, just so long as you don’t have split ends and the guy’s face looks like it has been moulded from an impression of a 50’s leading man. I hate that when these insipid, two-dimension characters go out for dinner they incredulously sip water rather than glug wine. The woman inevitably works in floristry or in a book shop or as a waitress, while the man is a high flying corporate monkey or grieving for his dead wife.

Its ruddy make believe that sells to the delusional the false promise of ever-lasting love. And how dare a movie title tell us that ‘love happens’, a statement which quite frankly sits on the same trajectory as ‘shit happens’ – arbitrary, random, when we least expect it. I will not accept this platitude flown directly from Hollywood especially when the love it purports simply ‘happens’ is between Jennifer Aniston and some face-less actor who I’ve never seen before.

But perhaps I am dismissing this film out-of-hand. So I don’t like the title, there’s no need to throw the baby out with the bath water, not when there’s an interactive movie website to explore first. So against my better judgement I visited the ‘Love Happens’ site. I watched the trailer and was impressed with Jennifer Aniston’s hair. Then I played the personality questionnaire based on one’s own perceptions drawn from an array of images. For the layman it determines whether you are deliriously happy (potential film viewer) or a miserable bastard (too clever to see this film). After being asked to identify hair balls as either ‘fluffy fuzzy wuzzies’ or ‘allergy causers’(I think we know how I responded) I was deemed an ‘icarian.’ ‘Icarians’ are according to ‘Love Happens’ in their own ‘myopic world ... see danger around every corner and have built up quite the snarky defences.’ Well as long as all this keeps me as far away from ‘Love Happens’ I’ll take my myopia glasses and wear them with pride.

Degas' Ladies

The other evening I was moisturising, as you do, rubbing body butter into my skin, when my flatmate walked in on me bent over, one foot on the toilet seat. She shrieked and recoiled in horror as one would if they encountered their flatmate’s arse in all its full moon glory.

And with a mixture of my own mortification, dented vanity and the new found confidence which can strangely enough be gained in nakedness I confronted her head on. For I was affronted that she was so taken aback by my bare bum! ‘Is it really that bad?’ I challenged. ‘No’ she said gently un-recoiling her horror ‘I was just embarrassed that I’d walked in on you.’ And so as I stood in the buff, bare as they day I was born and steeped in my new-found naked confidence she told me that I reminded her of one of Degas’ ladies at her toilette.

My first reaction was embarrassment. ‘But all those ladies we’re fat!’ Naturally showing up what an art philistine I am, feminism also took its first knock of the day. I backtracked, ‘Err well, I don’t mean that, but those ladies were rounder.’ Despite my feminist principles my first reaction to being likened to an oil-painting was the stirring of the grave anxiety that nags most women: that we are fat. Under the strip spot lights of the bathroom, furiously rubbing body butter into my skin, I had been exposed in Rubenesque glory and I thought I was fat.

But then, later that evening I went out to get an Observer, well I had to counter-act my out-of-hand criticism of my own body and a Sunday Mail wasn’t going to do that. The woman’s monthly featured a picture of a stunning and gloriously curvy model. Her name was Crystal Renn. With a name like that how could she be anything other than the bouncy espresso haired, bodacious beauty that she was and how interested I was to read that she is the world’s first size 14 Supermodel. A former anorexia sufferer, Renn turned her back on starvation to embrace her body in all its glory. And what a body!

Feminism is about challenging the objectification of women, but it’s my belief that that which is challenged is the kind of objectification which seeks to degrade, subjugate, dis-empower, gratuitously sexualise and particularly that which is for Capitalism’s gain. Okay so Renn’s a fashion model, she’s in the business of selling clothes but I’m going make an exception in this case because when we are not body buttering us ladies do need clothes, otherwise there would be zig-zagging cars and alas white van-drivers' heads would probably explode.

As I looked at the pictures of an exceptionally beautiful woman my first thoughts were not ones of painful jealousy, or anger, or the more usual benign reaction that I’ve ‘see it all before’ but rather a more enjoyable one. It was a liberating and simple enjoyment of the looking at the human form in all its glory, without scrutiny, without anxiety but instead with unadulterated admiration for the image on the page. And I had a thought. If I could think so highly of Renn, then I have to be kinder to myself.

A little later that night I searched the inter-web for Degas’ ladies at their toilette. I looked at the images - really looked at them with refreshed eyes. A woman’s back is a beautiful thing, especially when there isn’t a distracting protruding spine. These women had slim waists that gave way to the curve and swell of well formed buttocks. Yes they had rolls, gentle creases and little bellies. But they also had wonderful red hair, plaited, or un-braided in all its glory and they were not fat.

They were women in all their naturalness, organic and tending to the business of their toilette. I smiled at my new-found-knowledge that my flatmate’s remark was an original compliment – it’s not every day your image is likened to the painting of a great master. But in future I’ll lock the bathroom door for she is a budding life-drawer and this particular lady although feeling better about herself, isn’t quite ready to be immortalised as one of those ladies at their toilette. Not yet at least.