Marketing-inspired guilt about the perfect physique is about to end with the advent of ugly vegetables in supermarkets and ‘real’ women in ads
It must have been on one of those halcyon summer days – when the sun filters through a green, latticed canopy of fragrant beech, when the air is thick with doves, and when every bower is garlanded with fruit, and every flower infested with humming bees – that Keats sat down, furrowed his brow, licked his pencil, and slowly inscribed “Beauty is truth, truth beauty – that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know”.
Counting that as an excellent morning’s work – a line that would live forever – he tossed his pencil aside and sallied forth to give nature a good communing to, and betimes work up an appetite for lunch.
The poet, however, was mistaken. Beauty is not truth. In fact, it is a downright, barefaced lie. For that greater truth, we have marketing to thank. Marketing deals in beauty and passes it off as truth. When we gaze upon the people who populate ads, when we see their gleaming hair, shield our eyes from the dazzle of their even, white teeth, gasp in mingled envy and lust at their trim, tanned bodies, and swoon at their sheer perfection, we know they are not real, or at any rate they are as far removed from everyday reality as a romantic poet composing an Ode to Psyche.
For truth we have only to look about us. Stand and tarry a while in any Asda car park and you will wait in vain for a Botticelli Venus or a Michelangelo David to gladden the eye. What you will see, and in great abundance, emerging breathless and awkward from behind the wheels of SUVs, people carriers, and liveried vans are huge, roly-poly folk, with barrel thighs, vast bottoms, sagging bellies and upper arms shaped like legs of mutton. These giants, these waddling creatures full of ready-made pizza, bursting with fizzy drinks, and on their way to obtain more of the same, are the triumphant product of our booming service economy, a tribute both to the energy and ingenuity of Britain’s money-lending classes and to the plentiful supply of imported manufactured goods made in China by sweated labour.
But though slothful and gluttonous, modern Britons are not complete fools. They may read The Sun, watch EastEnders, see Jonathan Ross and think him funny, and do a million other things that suggest idiocy, but they do not look in the mirror and see either Venus or David. They know in their hearts that when an advertiser tells them that a moisturiser will make them feel better about themselves, or that a drink will make them glamorous, they are being had for mugs. That does not stop them from going along with the deception, but they see it and know it for what it is. They are also coming to resent it.
A recent BBC Money Programme produced research suggesting that an increasing number of women feel exploited and demeaned by the advertising of beauty products. Three out of four said they felt insecure about the way they looked and two-thirds said beauty ads exploited those insecurities. The programme made much of Dove’s groundbreaking campaign featuring “real women” rather than impossibly slinky, slim models.
At the risk of drawing a parallel that might cause offence – but what the hell, let’s risk it anyway – Waitrose has just announced that it is to sell real fruit and vegetables rather than the idealised versions which previously filled the shelves.
Just as Dove picked plump and ripe examples of female pulchritude and held them up for admiration, Waitrose plans to display big and busty strawberries, which, though bulging in unexpected places and perhaps with a wart or two, are every bit as delicious as their shapely and distant cousins.
The time is ripe, so to speak, for such a revolution. Just as Britain leads the world in its abundant cultivation of the pear-shaped woman so should it lead, unashamedly, and if need be brazenly, the apotheosis of the misshapen pear.
And let us not forget that, though marketing is behind these latest moves honestly to portray women and display vegetables just as they are fashioned by capricious Nature, and not as they might be wrought by the fanciful hand of a dreaming artist, it was marketing that created the illusion that all carrots, and not a few women, are born straight, of uniform size, and of equally carroty colour.
Marketing, in short, is culpable. However, it should be said that in the case of obese women, we have what the lawyers call mens rea – the guilty mind. The surplus weight that fills the denim, stretches the gusset and gently oscillates behind the supermarket trolley may owe its source to donuts and cream cakes. No such remorse need be felt by a fat-bottomed tomato.