The TV wants to sell me confidence.
And it’s not just the TV: the Tube, the escalators, the lifts, the streets, the busses and the walls. Everywhere is at it. Because confidence can be bottled. Because women just can’t have any of their own. Because a woman’s self worth is wrapped up in her image – and her image just isn’t what it should be.
This is what we are told. Over and over again. The plan, as I see it, is to break us all down and keep us in our place. If society attacks our self worth, people won’t have the strength to fight back. When a person is consumed by the idea that they’re just not good enough, then they’ll accept the hell they’re given.
It’s like we’re at war. So there are posters on the Underground selling confidence. Just a little nip here and a tuck there, and maybe a new nose and you’ll have that confidence you need to walk down the road. And they’ll only charge you a few grand for the privilege.
The above poster is from 2010. It was given a little bit of a make-over by some offended commuters. There was a bit of a trend for a while in 2010 for feminist graffiti, where people went around doing such things to these awful posters. It doesn’t seem to happen anymore. I think it should. In fact, I just put a Sharpie in my backpack for next time I see one.
This one (above) is from two years ago. The fact that we live in a society that not only allows, but actively encourages, this is a joke. The sort of joke where only half the room is laughing, while the other half tries to hide its face.
And the media and big business are getting more aggressive in their message: you are nothing, pay us to make you something better.
This is a message teenage Pennie heard loud and clear. One that reverberated around my head as I scrolled through pages and pages of thinspiration on pro-ana sites; and one that pummeled me when I caved and ate more than I possibly could. A message that encouraged me to push my fingers just that little bit deeper down my throat to clear away the bad and make me worthy.
As a teenage girl there is very little power available to you. As a girl in general, actually. Society doesn’t want its female members to enjoy the same privileges as the males, who are brought up believing they are worthy simply for existing.
You only have to look at children’s books to realise how early this indoctrination begins. There’s that viral picture of a bookshelf in Harrods of two books side by side. One book is pink with a picture of a girl and reads: ‘How to be gorgeous’; while the blue book, which pictures a boy, is called: ‘How to be clever’.
Harrods took these books off the shelf after there was a massive backlash thanks to Twitter. But they’re hardly an isolated case.
Girls are told the best they can be is pretty. Boys on the otherhand are told they can be anything.
Girls are told that if they’re beautiful and quiet and do as they’re told, a prince might just marry them – if they just make a few changes. Like finding a man willing to marry you in the only prize for a girl in life. There is nothing else for you.
This entire rhetoric is completely absurd and it wasn’t until I was about 21 that I started to realise the power I was giving away by allowing society to convince me to hate myself. I was lucky enough to have been woken up by some incredible feminist writers. The likes of Simone de Beauvoir, Peggy Orenstein and Laurie Penny all stirred something within me. Something that pre-pubescent Pennie was fully aware of: I can do anything, and I’m worthy of as much space as anyone else.
We can’t keep bringing our youth up to think they’re worthless unless they’re pretty and submissive. Because they’re worth more than that.
And we can’t all keep giving our power away for fear of being rebuked.
My sister had a baby this year. I don’t want her to grow up thinking her self-worth is wrapped up with what people think of her and that she has to look a certain way to get approval. I want her to grow up thinking she is incredible and can do anything. I want her to grow up believing anything is possible. I want all kids to get the chance to grow up thinking anything is possible. Believing is a pretty powerful tool. As it stands, we’re up against a lot; but I reckon we can do it.
We may as well all start by picking back up our permanent markers.