Ever wondered why a man can look at an advert featuring a six-pack and laugh, while a woman might look at a photograph of female perfection and fall to pieces? William Leith thinks he might have uncovered the answer.
Advertising for lingerie Photo: PHILIPPE HAYS / ALAMY
By William Leith
Published: 7:00AM BST 23 May 2010
Plenty of guys have told me this story. The guy in question is preparing to go to a party with his girlfriend. She is trying on shoes and dresses. He is telling her how good she looks. She tries on more shoes, more dresses. And then: the sudden, inexplicable meltdown. She crumples on the bed. Something is horribly wrong. Now the party is out of the question.
The guy sits down. He hugs her. What’s the problem? Gradually the truth emerges. ‘Do you know what it was?’ the guy will say later to his friends. ‘She said she “didn’t look right”. She felt … I don’t know. Fat. Or that she was the wrong shape. It’s all about her body.’ He goes on: ‘I told her she looked great. Which she does, right?’
At this point the other guys will say, ‘Yeah – she looks great.’ And: ‘She looks fine.’ And: ‘I saw her the other day, wearing those shorts.’ And: ‘She is hot.’ Then the first guy will say, ‘That’s what I kept telling her. And that’s when she got really upset. She said, “You just don’t understand.”‘
It’s true – men, by and large, do not understand. In her book The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf made this point very powerfully. When a woman has a crisis of confidence about the way she looks there is nothing a man can do to console her.
‘Whatever he says hurts her more,’ says Wolf. ‘If he comforts her by calling the issue trivial, he doesn’t understand. It isn’t trivial at all. If he agrees with her that it’s serious, even worse: he can’t possibly love her, he thinks she’s fat and ugly.’ Read the rest of this entry »