Saturday, 8 January 2011

The American started it

The American looked at me the other day and said that I hid my feelings. She probably observed that I was simultaneously grinding my teeth, leaking bile out of my ears and expressing how lovely and delightful were the days in Hong Kong.

But of course she is right. Being English is like running a race with your knees tied together. Everyone else wins, but it's impossible to even mention the temporary loss of your limbs. English people do not like to cause offense or embarrassment.

And yes, of course I am bringing the children up the same. What does anyone expect?*

But I think The American was right in a very profound way. So I will dedicate a few diary entries to some proper straightforward English grumbling.

I know I'm starting in a place that's a little niche and off-beat, but that's how it is. I have to get it off my chest. It's been pissing me off for a while.

I absolutely hate a type of publicity-style photograph of women. Especially women who are maybe aged 40 plus. And I apologise to The American in advance in case she smacks me round the jaw, but a lot of those PR photo jobs have indeed come fresh from America.

Here I am, clicking around, and up pops half a dozen replicant style of photo ads. I wouldn't mind, but these are all capable, mature, highly individual women I'm looking at with a range of diverse experiences. But they are all presented as if that didn't happen. They all have the same features in common.

Now at this point I suppose I should show you what I mean. I cannot. Not only because I am a weed, but remember I am English, and that gets me off the hook, because I cannot offend anyone (even though I'd like to) by sticking up their fizzog and then complaining about it.

But the features are these.

1. Inclined head or head tilting. I guess the photographer is aiming for a look that says 'find me appealing' or 'please may I ask a question of you'. It makes a grown woman appear like she is 12 years old with a crush on Justin Beiber.

2. The smile. Fixed. How I want to see publicity shots with an upper lip snarlingly curled over, and a chewed cigar hanging from lips as scarlet as a blasphemy.

3. Beige studio colouring with matching outfit and subtle backlighting. Actually, I know you cannot see, but I am almost beside myself with rage. It is a fine example how someone can be made to look like wallpaper.

4. Styled bouffant hair or flicky layered hair in the style of Farah Fawcett 1976, but well past the glory of that crop, so just styled by the photographer's assistant with the assurance that it looks lovely. It doesn't. It makes you look anonymous and indistinguishable from the other fifteen women I just saw on mugshots with that style.

5. Folded arms, crossed arms, neatly tidied-away arms. Seriously, it has made me resolve that if any circumstance ever obliged me to be photographed for any purpose whatsoever, I shall draw over my own limbs with a blue biro then roll up my sleeves.

6. Fake sincere expression. What are these photographers saying to women to get that expression? Let us pretend you give a toss?

What I cannot understand is how a culture that produces such fantastically individual, strong and direct women then comes to homogenise them into a bland mass of total forgettability. It's criminal.

There. The American was right. I feel much better now.

* Remember Squirrel, when we first arrived here? I said, if you behave like that in public, you will attract the attention of people, and when you have that attention, you may not want it. Well I was proved right of course, because an elderly Chinese lady starts pouring fluid from a little black bottle and dabbing at Squirrel with a hanky. That was a very awkward social moment.