Heroes and favourites

I do not have a favourite colour. Neither do I have a favourite song, film nor actor. I could provide lists of my likes but not a best of the best. Given the number of times in my life when I have been asked to specify a favourite and struggled to answer, I wonder if this vagueness is odd.

Growing up a large number of my peers had posters of the famous on their bedroom walls. David Cassidy, Donny Osmond and the Bay City Rollers featured early on. Later I would notice the large, smiling faces of George Michael or Simon Le Bon looking down on me with pelvises thrust forward (I am really showing my age here!). I never understood why the girls I knew seemed to adore these pretty boys who they had little hope of ever meeting let alone befriending. I just didn’t get the whole fan thing. I listened to the music, even liked some of it for a short time, but the performers were of little interest other than to provide light entertainment.

The female singers annoyed me even then with their insistence on barely there outfits designed to titillate. If a boy of my age wished me to despise him then all he had to do was make suggestive comments about a scantily clad woman. To me this showed weakness and shallow thinking (it still does). I remember first taking notice of the band Beautiful South purely because the female vocalist performed on Top of the Pops fully covered and singing rather than gyrating. In allowing her music to take precedence over her personal appearance she got my attention.

In films and TV shows I would often be drawn to the underdog. The handsome hero would have some flaw or be tempted into some misdemeanour which, with a little sense and strength of will, could have been avoided. To my younger self this made him stupid. I would observe in real life the supposedly good looking guys flitting from girlfriend to girlfriend breaking hearts along the way. I developed the opinion that the best looking people were foolish and could not be trusted. I found their inflated egos, polished chat up and subsequent boorishness contemptible. It was quite some time before I understood the term arm candy and saw that it could matter to either sex.

Looking back at the boys that I was attracted to they had certain traits that I must have been looking for although I couldn’t have specified it at the time. It would seem that they had to be taller than me, more academically able, quick and confident in their one to one talk, and able to offer me some new experiences. I do believe that, without realising it, I wished to bask in the shadow of their achievements. As I considered myself a feminist I would not have been impressed with that analysis.

The manner in which a fan may express their adoration has changed. Posters can still adorn bedroom walls but the fan clubs have moved onto the internet where they can interact and share their love directly with like minded strangers. Tumblr with it’s gifs, witty notes, ships and clever cartoons offers instant access to photographs and updates from around the world. I was amused to be told yesterday that the makers of the much anticipated series three of the Sherlock TV show have had to ask fans to stay away because so many were turning up on location that shooting was impossible. The fanatical Cumberbitches may not be able to help themselves.

I am still wary of the famous; how can I like somebody that I do not know? I am drawn to the fictional characters that they play more than to them as a person. Thus I would admire Tom Hiddleston as Loki in Thor but did not notice him as Magnus Martinsson in Wallander. I enjoy watching Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock but I have admired Sherlock since I first read the books at primary school. I will make time to review work done by Kenneth Branagh or Kevin Spacey but know little of them as people. David Tennant made an amusing Doctor Who, and I admired him more as an actor having seen him play other roles equally well, but tales of his private life in the media bring him down in my estimation. I am sure that it is possible for a famous face to be nice underneath but this is rarely portrayed in the papers.

Although I can form an opinion about the people who entertain me I have no particular desire to get to know them. I would still have greater respect for those who excell in other fields. Just as I was wary of the pretty boys at school who gained attention for their looks, so I am wary of those who make their living from an adoring audience. I would rather talk with the writers and thinkers, the scientists and academics than those who take to the stage. I do not see how one may stay grounded when the fans and cameras follow your every move.

Of course, the scientists and writers whose abilities I admire may also have struggled to be decent human beings. In order to achieve they may well have sacrificed the needs of those around them. Perhaps it is the characters that they play in the public’s perception that I admire more than the person behind the famous name. Academic ability and success do not make a person good. I suspect that fame of any kind may have an insidious, opposite effect.

What drew me to the underdog in the films of my childhood was the way in which they would pick up the discarded loved one and put her back on her feet without taking advantage of her feelings of rejection; they would be kind without requiring reciprocation or notice; they would value those who gave without feeling the need to take. Perhaps these are the traits that I look for in my heroes.

The heroic deed is often brash and attention seeking. I am drawn to those who are quietly kind, trustworthy, reliable and who value me as I am. I see no need for this to be obvious to others. It does still help that my hero is taller than me, more academically able, quick and confident in his talk, and able to offer me new experiences. Perhaps I should now add to this list a willingness to listen. I may still wish to bask in the shadow of his achievements but I am no longer willing to do this quite so quietly. I may not kneel in the presence of his greatness, but I will still iron his shirts.



Red carpet mannequins

Waking up this morning I find the media full of pictures and comment on yet another glitzy night in Hollywood. At least as much coverage is given to the bodies and frocks on the red carpet as to the winners and losers at the ceremony itself. The Oscars seem to have become more of a parade than an awards show. No doubt the additional advertising of the winning films will help with subsequent box office and DVD revenue but at what cost to these actresses? At least one newspaper article describes the surgical procedures and medication that many feel are required alongside the fasting and beauty treatments before the red carpet may be walked. I wonder what is going on in the heads of these already beautiful young women to make them feel that such behaviour is necessary.

Concern over looks and body shape; a wish to dress to impress in a costly, revealing dress; a wish to be noticed and admired by the rich and powerful; none of these things are new or novel. What is perceived to be desired changes but women have long considered how they look to be of vital importance in securing their desired place in society. It would seem that advances in education, equality and potential prospects have done little to change aspiration. So many women still feel that looking good in the eyes of society is what matters.

When taken to extremes (and I would consider resorting to surgery for purely cosmetic reasons to be extreme) concerns about how one looks are first world problems. Wealthy and aspiring women have been putting their health at risk to look good for centuries. It is, of course, possible to look clean, tidy and healthy without resorting to time consuming and expensive procedures. However, as the famous faces that the media love to criticise resort to more and more invasive techniques to hone their appearance so their admirers feel the need to follow suit. I am disturbed when I hear of ordinary teenagers who have barely reached an age when their adult features are fully formed who have indulged in cosmetic surgery to change the look of a nose or a chin. What can their parents have been thinking of to allow this?

Much is made of the mental health issues that are put forward as the reason for cosmetic surgery. I would question if one procedure can ever be enough. If a person is unhappy with one part of their body and goes under the knife in an attempt to improve then is this going to be the end of it? Our bodies are in constant flux. I would be concerned that surgery would be seen as the panacea for all subsequent body issues and this does seem to be the case for Hollywood actresses. So many of the older ladies now look quite grotesque as their features sag unnaturally under the weight of all the lifts and tucks they have undergone over the years.

It is unfortunate that young women can rarely see how beautiful they already look with their lithe bodies and smooth skin. They struggle to see beyond the pimples of puberty or the lankness of hair that demands a daily wash. With the fluctuating hormones coursing around their bodies they focus on the effects of over active sebaceous glands and fail to notice the innate attractiveness of the vitality of youth. Whatever their shape or size, a healthy young women will look amazing at all times and in the most basic of outfits. Peer pressure and bitchiness; those carefully crafted, deliberately cruel insults; will always exist to pull down self esteem, but the young are naturally beautiful. Evolution demands it.

As a women ages simple grooming techniques and posture can make so much more of a difference to good looks than extreme slimming and heavy make up. A practical approach to presentation can also be appreciated far more than a fixation with high fashion. Few will want to spend time with someone who can barely walk down the street in impractical footwear or who is in constant need of a mirror to ensure that their look remains untarnished. Self centeredness is far less attractive than a few smile lines.

So long as there are enough people admiring the Hollywood starlets the media will continue to churn out pictures, comment and criticism of their every move. How many realise that what they see in the papers or on television is as much a fantasy as the films in which they star? The famous must cope with the glare of publicity that goes hand in hand with the status they crave. I will never understand why anyone would wish to put themselves in this position. I would like to see Hollywood populated with actresses of all ages, shapes, sizes and colours who can also act well. It is not going to happen. They live on a gilded stage and must always be in costume, playing the part. It is not a life to be desired.