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Sunday 20 November 2011

Dressed to Impress? Or Dressed for Distress?

Being a woman of a certain age, it is not all that often that you will find me loitering in a taxi queue in the wee small hours. I have a very active social life but most of it is conducted on my sofa, or friends' sofas, or on Twitter, where you can eat too much and undo your trouser buttons without risk of arrest.

If I do venture into town, I usually make a point of getting home before chucking out time, when young people start humping lampposts and throwing themselves into the traffic.

But the past couple of Saturdays I was out and about till well past pub closing time and found myself, on my tod, stuck in a taxi queue due to wearing stupidly high, spindly, cheap heels that made walking home an impossible dream. (Imagine shoes made of jay cloths, sequins and twigs and you're in the right ball park. )

Cursing my idiotic footwear and coveting the chips of passers-by could only hold my attention for so long and, eventually, I got round to examining the fashion choices of my fellow revellers. Particularly the young women. And what an eye-popping sight it was.

When I was in my 20's, my flatmates and I would sometimes drink too much wine and then, for a laugh, put on our thermal vests, big pants and our one pair of court shoes and jump around the sitting-room to the theme from Wonder Woman. ("All the world is waiting for you, and the power you possess! In your satin tights, fighting for your rights, And the old Red, White and Blue!!)

Remarkably, it seemed that the attire of the young women in the taxi-queue had been inspired by just such a scene. (Although, unfortunately, without the super hero vibe).

Next to me stood a shivering girl clad in a medium-sized Lakeland piping bag, her lady lumps oozing out of it like fondant icing with goose bumps. Her friend wore microscopic denim hot-pants and a halter neck top only just visible to the naked eye. They were both shod in a nest of tables strapped to their feet with dental floss. Or near enough.

Wincing like The Little Mermaid at every step, looking for all the world like they had been hobbled by Kathy Bates in "Misery", their "look" was more "physio appointment" than "sexy time".

I am cringing slightly as I write this, because I am conscious that I sound like a snooty old crone. Am I the equivalent of the Victorian dowager nursing her hump and necking the laudanum at the sight of a finely turned ankle? Or the 1950's gynaecologist sneering "harlot" at the sight of a painted toe-nail? Maybe. Sometimes it's hard to tell. I'm a good twenty years older than the young women I'm talking about and perhaps I am, quite simply, out of touch.

I'm not setting myself up as fashion expert, which is just as well since I am mostly channelling Rip Van Winkle in Wallis party wear. It's not really about fashion.

My beef with the flesh on show is not that these young women were dressing provocatively. If they been enjoying their sexual power, reveling in the male gaze they attracted, then bloody good luck to them. But they weren't. They were cold, uncomfortable, self-conscious and clearly frankly bloody miserable. To be perfectly honest, it was a bit distressing.

The sad irony is that for many young women, dressing like a porn star seems to have become synonymous with sexual liberation. But it's not liberating if you're dressing that way because you feel like you have to. Just like it's not liberating to flash your boobs on Spring Break because you want a cheer from the guys. I weep that empowerment has come to mean shoes that make you bleed and bad sex in the loo of a "fun" pub in Magaluf. (If these girls are having earth shattering orgasms in these two minute couplings, I'm Eva Peron. )

I appreciate I'm hardly the first person to have commented on the mainstreaming of sex industry aesthetics. (See of course most recently Caitlin Moran's fantastic "How to be a Woman".) But some things bear repeating.

I'm not suggesting that young women shouldn't have sex. If they're old enough and mature enough to be having good, safe sex, then carry on, knock yourself out. I'm just sorry that some feel they have to be in a state of undress in order to "fit in."

Of course it's not true for all women. Some young girls stumble through the forest of adolescence and choose the road to a fashion identity of skinny jeans, Converse and Breton tops. Why do some go that way and others aim for the land of Jordan? Is it related to self-esteem? Class? The rise of narcissism? I'm not sure that we know.

I just know that it makes me sad to see young women reluctantly bound and trussed like prize turkeys in the name of being dressed to kill.

Wednesday 2 November 2011

How I Discovered Facebook

Last week I discovered Facebook. I say "discovered", but I do not mean it in the sense that Christopher Columbus discovered America or Blind Date discovered Jenni Falconer. I mean that, approximately four years after having signed up for it, I actually started to use it.

In some ways this was an odd decision since mostly I hear nothing but complaints about Facebook from people on Twitter - but that's a bit like Aldi slagging off LIDL and they're both pretty good actually, especially for mulled wine and esoteric biscuits - so I shrugged it off and took the plunge.

I am aware that one or two of you may already be familiar with Facebook. (I learned my lesson a few months back when I thought I was blazing a trail with the cafes that have the sushi roundabout and drainpipe jeans. ) Still, for those of you who are not, here are my thoughts.

My first tip is not to keep going on about how you have discovered Facebook, unless you also claim to have been in a coma. If you take this route you must prepare thoroughly. I decided that my last waking memory would be Darius singing Britney on Pop Idol, which doubled helpfully as my reason for falling into the coma.

Also, do not be caught out by trick questions like poor Gordon Jackson in The Great Escape. If anyone mentions Gary Barlow, laugh loudly, puff your cheeks out and go cross-eyed before intoning "And he was never heard of again."

But to the Facebook experience. At first it's a bit like being a new start in Minority Report with Tom Cruise. Pictures, words and invitations to join the Smurfs down at the Casino appear at random on the screen alongside adverts for haemorrhoids. The idea is that you then bat them around ineffectually like a dozy cat trying to catch a laser beam.

This is mostly done via use of the "Like" button which tells the Captain of Facebook that the passengers have at least one functioning digit. (At least we hope it's a digit.) I was under the impression that the "Like" button also delivered a short electric shock to the person who had posted that picture of Halloween pumpkin erotica, but it turns out that was just wishful thinking.

Sometimes a little box appears where people can chat with you and tell you all about their day, but personally I get enough of that at home, thanks.

In a way though, all that stuff is a sideshow because your friends are what really matter. In order to maximise your enjoyment of Facebook, you should categorise your friends. This helps you to keep all the weirdos that you are friends with from knowing anything about you.

You can use any categories you like, I started with "Snog, Marry, Avoid" but there was too much crossover between the three groups so I binned that one. I am currently using "Useful" and "No Use", which is working well.

Friends are the best bit about Facebook, apart from friends of friends which is even better. For in Facebook's house there are many mansions and they are all full of ex-boyfriends gone to seed and that slut who sat in the second row at sociology lectures and is now a TV evangelist.

In getting to know Facebook, it is important to understand that it is powered by an addictive mix of schadenfreude and sentiment. I don't understand how you can not find it fun to stare at your ex-schoolmates' wrinkles through a magnifying glass, before slapping your thigh in joy and ticking the "has not worn well" box on your spreadsheet. (Don't pretend you don't have one.)

I secretly rather like the dreadful old photos actually. You are less likely to cry over your lost youth when you realise you spent most of your thirties looking utterly hellish. Take the pics of me in that khaki duffle coat that I thought made me look like Melanie Blatt, when really I looked like a homeless person.

But leaving aside my dreadful narcissism for a moment, the photos are also just, well, nice I think. It's been great fun trawling through pictures of parties, dinners, days at the beach, christenings and weddings. Some of them I had missed, some of them I remember, some of them of course are happening as I type this.

I know the novelty hasn't worn off yet, but at the moment I'm rather basking in the collective Facebook experience, wandering serenely through its pages like Kate Winslet being reunited with her chums at the end of Titanic. I don't intend to use it as a way of making new friends, but as a way of keeping up with old ones, of enhancing the dusty memories of our days in the sun, I like it.