Friday 17 April 2009

Beauty and the bitch: radio appearance.

Attention train-wreck observers: I will be on BBC Radio Wales at 1.30 today, talking about beauty, body image, Britain's got talent, and why it's so disgusting that we're all congratulating ourselves so much over letting a less-than-attractive woman acheive something meaningful.

In the blue corner will be Sarah Burge, AKA Real Life Barbie, former playboy bunny and the woman with the world record for spending the most on cosmetic surgery. Other yet-to-be-confirmed guests include a former editor of FHM.

They're going to trouce me and I don't even care. This is going to be fun.

You can listen live here at 1.30; alternatively, it'll be at the same link on listen again.


  1. I watched this show when it first went out, with my family. (This is unusual, as we all live in different cities.)

    My mother was saying "oh dear, this is going to be terrible, isn't it" because of the way the woman looked. My younger brother rejected this approach, but said it was bound to be bad because they were using the background music they always used on this show when something turned out to be laughably bad.

    I don't think my mother's view was pure internalised sexism, though. I think it was also an unconscious recognition that these programmes only pick people who are BOTH attractive AND can sing unless they're making fun of them, so the fact this woman was on her tv set and not conventionally attractive meant she must have been there for comedy value.

    However, I was pleased she got a chance to sing in front of such a big audience (and even bigger on telly), which she probably hadn't had before, even if that reason came about so the show could congratulate itself.

  2. There are 32 exclamation marks on that woman's front page...

  3. "I can sound and be how you want me to be"

    "Just like Barbie she can be anything you want her to be!"

    Does she even HAVE a personality of her own? God. Ugh. Trounce her please.

    - Jenni

  4. Sounds interesting. Enjoy...

  5. Oh my god.
    Real Life Barbies website made me nearly vomit in my mouth.
    Give them your best Laurie!!

  6. ALL women ARE beautiul.

  7. Let's give the singing woman a name - Susan Boyle...

    Yeah, the whole thing's left me with a rather unpleasant taste in my mouth. I never watch stuff like that if it's on TV, so I watched it on YouTube.

    It was all very 'choreographed'. Just before she sang, the camera cut to an attractive young woman in the audience with an expression that seemed to say, 'OMG! You look unnattractive and now you're going to show us you have an unnattractive voice and make an idiot of yourself'.

    Quite what message all of this was meant to convey I don't really know - there are several I can think of and they all reek of prejudice of some sort or another.

    What I am 100% sure of is that if that was a man then there wouldn't be all this hype.

    Plugging my own blog here - I've covered the Guido/Smeargate affair from an angle I think is important.

    My political viewpoint on it isn't important, what is is how we can muddy any sort of reasoning with irrelevant concerns about someone's appearance.

    It matters not one iota what Suaan Boyle looks like and it's a poor look out when you assume so much about someone from their outward appearance.

    It's depressing that we're not past all that crap.

    No doubt if she was black too, the audience would have expected a gospel song...

    No-one comes out of it with any merit - even Susan Boyle herself if she cashes in on it, although who could blame her?

    I've never really looked at my own feminist beliefs - I prefer to look on women as 'other people' and give them the requisite respect which I expect in return.

  8. ".... letting a less-than-attractive woman achieve something meaningful."This is shameful errant sexist crap. And what's with all the comments here by "feminists" urging Penny Red to attack and "trounce" another woman just because she decided to undergo a lot of elective surgery for whatever reasons? I thought the "sisterhood" - which sounds like the title of one of Dan Brown's crappy novels to me - was supposed to be more tolerant, welcoming, enfolding and inclusive than that to every human being sans testicles!


    Besides wasn't last year's "Britain's Got Talent" winner, Paul Potts, a less-than-attractive man who achieved something meaningful? Paul was overweight, plain as a pikestaff and couldn't really sing very well at all (compare his voice with that of another other self-taught tenor, Andrea Bocelli, for example) but made a mint out of the nation's surprise that he could sing as well as he could when he performed and released his albums. I don't remember any fuss being made about his looks or lack of them by anyone, male or female. Double standards, indeed.


    She's less plastic than you are, ladies.

  9. It's worth saying that there was prejudice in the Paul Potts case - it was class prejudice rather than sexism, though. People were surprised he could sing because of his occupational background.

    I agree with Houdini on "Barbie" though. Not sure she's the real enemy.

  10. All the chomping, snapping, sniping and snarling directed at Sarah Burge, a fifty year old woman who I am sure none of you have met or know much about, by commentators on this post is as dispiriting as it is revealing. All that bile directed towards an innocent citizen based on her apperence alone. Talk about shallow! I had no idea that feminists had an unwritten code in respect to regulating the possibilities viz human form and feature; I thought you were all about liberation not about bullying, finger pointing and condemnation.

    Shame on you all!

  11. Houdini's Elbow:

    just because she decided to undergo a lot of elective surgery for whatever reasons? I'm fairly sure that the reason people find her objectionable is that, a: she didn't do it for whatever reason, she did it to look like one of the most ugly and physically harmful tropes of female beauty to be perpetrated on the 20th century Western public, the Barbie Doll. She encourages women to have elective surgery to 'improve' things that are fine. By doing so, she contributes to a culture of undermining self-esteem (in men and women, though in the realms of looks it's much worse for women) and sets a bloody awful example. A certain amount of political ire is justified.

    Besides wasn't last year's "Britain's Got Talent" winner, Paul Potts, a less-than-attractive man who achieved something meaningful?Yes: the difference being that in a man this is not comment-worthy. George W. Bush and Rupert Murdoch are both unattractive men who achieved quite a lot.

  12. JQP - I agree that in acting as she is, she's contributing to the culture you identify. But she's not the cause of it, she's arguably a victim of it, she doesn't contribute to it as much as many men who don't get criticised because they're not as visible and in order to benefit in any sense from it she has to make incredibly restrictive choices. I don't see any point in judging her, and the danger is criticisms easily morph from the critique of her contributing to a damaging culture to just criticising her looks.

  13. JQP - Your attitude is very chauvinistic. You seem to think that people are either with you, i.e., share your views, or against you and are therefore worthy of attack. As far as I am concerned everybody has a right to do as they please, within the law. Some men and women like the "Barbie" look. A lot of men and women would find Pamela Anderson and Sara Budge attractive and a lot of others wouldn't. I don't personally adulate this idea of Californian beauty, which I saw a lot of when I lived in the USA, but don't consider that I have the right to dictate how anyone should look or judge a person based on how they choose to look. One of my ex-girlfriends was Finnish and looked just like Barbie and most people thought she was absolutely beautiful. Are you saying that it is OK to look like Barbie if your physical appearance is determined naturally, by pegigree and genetics, but not when achieved through artificial means like surgery, hair dye and cosmetics? This seems illogical to me. What right do you have to some kind of divine arbiter in respect to human beauty?


  14. JQP: Sarah Burge is HOT! And Barbie isn't (being only 6 inches tall and made of plastic). I don't see the resemblance, even if Burge makes money off it.

  15. Brilliant point at the end, Penny, about the song choice. Summed up the feminist angle perfectly.

  16. Whilst Susan Boyle is predictably getting all the media attention, I think it's Fabia Cerra that is getting the far worse treatment - not only from complaints made to Ofcom but also reports of her getting hate mail, and even a tasteless Facebook group set up against her.

    Of course, we all know the reason why? Typical sizeist attitudes and once again, mysogyny that exists in society - after all, if Cerra was a size 10 and looked like a page 3 model, she'd be receiving a completely different reaction from the media and public.

  17. You people are beyond parody.

    Are all feminists recruited from the ranks of plain bespeckled students, unpopular at school and sometimes teased or bullied by their blond, leggy, bosomy, sexy, curvaceous and more beautiful contemporaries? Does all this anger and bitterness originate from diverse inferiority complexes, suppressed anger and a desire to even the score with the rest of the world in adulthood? Not depilitating your arms, legs and armpits doesn't make you better than Sarah Budge, ladies, it only makes you hairy. With the world convulsed by disease, poverty, war and starvation this kind of punctilious small mindedness makes feminists look even more ridiculous than normal.

    Only spoilt, idle or privileged individuals, isolated and buffered from the realities of daily existence, could waste such a lot of time nurturing such pointless introverted snobbery. With the world going to hell in a handbasket and dozens of living species becoming extinct on a daily basis surely Penny Red and small band of vocal cheerleaders could occupy themselves with something more significant and meaningful.

    Save the rainforest! Save the ocean! Save the whale! Save the polar bear! Save the environment! Save the human race from its misdeeds!

    And the feminist bullshit, bitching, backbiting and bullying?

    SAVE IT!

  18. You haven't got a very attractive voice, Laurie. You also sound like an immature person who's had no real experience outside middleclassdom. Plus you stole most of your talking points from Tanya Gold's article.

  19. Armed with a tube of KY jelly I'd definitely do Sarah Burge if she gave me the green light! She's smokin' hot for a mature chick! And at least I can get it up unlike most of these these gender-traitorous castrado-like she-male feminists who back up Penny Red! Thank God for real men and real women!

  20. Dear "real men" on this thread:

    You're just coming over as a bunch of dumbfuck mouldering cock-ends, you know.

    You're not "s0cking it to teh feminnists LOL!!!11!!" at all.

    You merely sound like you're trying to build up enough of a head of steam to have a wank.

  21. Genuine question - amongst some of the trolling - how different is what Sarah Burge does to any other sort of 'body modification'?
    How is it different from covering your body in tattoos or having multiple piercings?
    After all, it's your body, so why is what she does to hers any different to any other things people want to do to their bodies?
    Personally, her looks do nothing for me and I find her a bit scary but not as much as someone with tattoos all over and a face full of metal.
    When those things are on a person that I find unattractive, they serve to draw my attention to their unattractiveness.
    Indeed, although I don't find Burge attractive, I find her more attractive than someone overweight and heavily tattood or ugly and with a face full of piercings.
    Genuine question!

  22. Steve, surely it's different because her modification is reinforcing rather than challenging social norms, whereas covering your body in tattoos or having multiple piercings is an expression of alternative culture (albeit in an arguably cliched way, and in a way ripe to sexist eploitation too, as suicide girls et al shows).

    I don't think she deserves abuse, but I also doubt she's doing it purely as a feminist declaration that her body is her own and she can do what she wants with it.

  23. How will you girls ever be able to accommodate a length when you can't even take a joke?

  24. Argh. Which radio programme? None of them have useful names.

  25. I'm with SteveShark. I also dislike tattoos and body piercings. I don't like plaid or tweed suits either or women who wear tights. If the feminists are gunning for attractive blonds... or.. well... judging by the content of this blog... gunning for attractive women generally can I make an appeal to the Womens Institute or Mothers Union to mount a similar informal and sneaky offensive against Goth and Emo counter-culture clones? At the very least can we ban snakebite from all hostelries serving alcoholic beverages throughout the UK? You know it makes sense! Loose lips sink ships! Better dead than red! Hard working families! Patriarchy! Patriarchal Your country needs you!

  26. Worried of Islington19 April 2009 at 16:04

    Dear Penny Red (and other sisters)

    I recently purchased Lady Gaga's debut album The Fame. I very much enjoyed the Lady Gaga's music and also watching her do her retro-dance routines in spangled Wonder Woman pants. Then, suddenly, out of the blue, I was hit by a tsunami of guilt and remorse.

    As a feminist I now feel anxious about this forbidden fruit, as it were, since Lady Gaga wears a long blond wig and displays her trim and ultra-femme body in a provocative and shameless manner clearly designed to excite heterosexual boys and men of all ages. Although I am a woman myself seeing her performing in almost pornographic costumes often makes me feel "gooey" and "funny" in the "downstairs department" if you know what I mean.

    * winks and taps side of petite upturned nose *

    On reflection I feel I may be letting the side down becuase of this vice. What is the official feminist position vis-a-vis Lady Gaga? Am I allowed to like her and enjoy her performances and music? Or not?

    Please advise.

    Worried of Islington

  27. what a load of weird little wankers commenting, it's almost as good as CiF on the guardian website. bla bla bla feminithsths awe howwible, boo hoo. go and have a wank, if you can get it up. go laurie! x

  28. Having scanned the posting and comments I have to say that despite myself I couldn't help but chuckle. It's all a bit weird I have to say but kind of funny too. Very Eddie Izzard-like. More please.

  29. Wow, what a bizarre set of comments!!!

    When it comes to Sarah Burge, i think the thing that is objectionable to feminists is not that she's had the cosmetic surgery, but more this (from her webpage): "Just like Barbie she can be anything you want her to be!" and "She has given herself a new lease of life and now she’s ready for some serious action and being Sooo Naughty!!!".

  30. I Can't seem to find the show on Listen Again :( Am I just totally incompetent or is it not on iPlayer?

  31. @Alex
    Sometimes it's better to avoid iPlayer and go to the radio station site at the main BBC site.

    4 days left to listen.

  32. Houdini's Elbow:

    QP - Your attitude is very chauvinistic. You seem to think that people are either with you, i.e., share your views, or against you and are therefore worthy of attack.Good lord, not only do you not know me, but also that word doesn't mean what you seem to think it means.

    I was very specific; I said that this woman has made an informed political choice (read up on why she's a barbie doll) which she has then actively self-promoted as a spokesperson for. She chose to politicise her surgery: she can't at that point play the 'private life' card when it comes to that same surgery. She politicised it, which opens her to political criticism.

    Some men and women like the "Barbie" look.I'm not sure that should be my problem? My comment was that it's unhealthy: I consider it politically ugly because it is so closely tied up with the psychology of eating disorders. My comment wasn't about the woman herself in any way, it was about the politics of her (self-politicised) example; re-read my statement.

    One of my ex-girlfriends was Finnish and looked just like BarbieNo, she didn't. It's been commonly known for years that anyone who actually looked like Barbie [1] would be dead. Even with extensive medical attention and modification, the imitations of Barbie are only partial.

    A healthy, athletic blond woman who happens to have big tits does not look like Barbie. Trying to pretend she does is part of the problem.

    Are you saying that it is OK to look like Barbie if your physical appearance is determined naturally, by pegigree and genetics, but not when achieved through artificial means like surgery, hair dye and cosmetics? This seems illogical to me.Actually, that wasn't what I was saying at all, but now you mention it; elective surgery is a complex ethical issue that I do my level best not to generalise about, because while I have a personal distaste for the popular press' attitude, I also know people with good reasons for such operations. I commented on this one woman: and I commented not on her choices for herself, but on the fact that she holds her choices up as an example to young girls. As such, she opens herself to political criticism.

    @SteveShark 13:26:

    Genuine question - amongst some of the trolling - how different is what Sarah Burge does to any other sort of 'body modification'?Not at all, provided it stays personal.

    Burge invites critique because she has set herself up as a political spokesperson. It is her opinion that proselytising for spectacular elective surgery designed to make one look like a toy, and the subsumation of female identity into the male gaze from 1959, are things other girls should do.

    It is legitimate to disagree with that viewpoint, which I do. In fact, I disagree strongly: what Ms. Burge has done to herself is her own problem, but she expects teenaged girls to buy into an image of feminine beauty that pre-dates the sexual revolution. It's an image which they could only actually have if they spent vast sums of money cutting their body apart, and even then they still wouldn't look like that for long. I don't really care about Sara Burge's body: it's somebody else's problem, but I do object to her politics.

    [1] Also, last I looked, Barbie does not have sexual equipment other than breasts and a mouth. Apart from what that says about the psychology of the men who designed the toy and put it into little girls' hands, it means that to 'look just like Barbie' involves making a girl completely asexual.

  33. @JQP

    Man. Initially I thought your didactic and punctilious dissection of a casual, extemporaneous posting on my part was possibly one of the most anal things I had read in a long time. Is this man actually serious? I asked myself. Or playfully enjoying some kind of private joke at my expense? He couldn't actually be suggesting that we physically, quantitatively measure the dimensions of an actual Barbie doll, scale them up to human size and conclude pseudo-scientifically that, "No woman could look like this in reality unless her breasts were bigger than her head." JQP must have realised, I thought to myself, that when I said that my Finnish ex-girlfriend, Liselotte, looked like Barbie I meant that she had very long platinum blond hair, big blue eyes, a pale complexion, very large breasts, a slim waist, flaring hips and very long shapely legs. (She was also one of the most clever women I ever met and was studying for a Masters in civil engineering at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge when I knew her.) JQP must have realised that I didn't literally mean that Lotte's vital statistics were proportionately equivalent to those of a life-size Barbie, I thought to myself, or that she was asexual and had no genitals!

    So I have decided to regard your answer, JQP, as quixotic and mischievous rather than literal and serious (in which case you would be a fully paid up, card carrying, pseudo-feminist wingnut in my opinion). If you want to tweak a few noses try taking a pop or ten at some of the feminist commentators on this blog, most of whom seem to have minds that run unimaginatively and linearly along well frequented trammel lines and possess no sense of humor whatsoever.

    "Also, last I looked, Barbie does not have sexual equipment other than breasts and a mouth."

    Well, you missed a gag there. You could have implied that men attracted to Barbie looky-likeys, like men with a fetish for Mermaids, were probably obsessed with oral sex this being the only penetrative act of love such a creature was capable of performing. You make several leaps and jumps to conclusions like that several times in your answer, although I have to admit that such discontinuities can be highly amusing, sometimes, in context.

    None of you people seem to see what's going on with Sarah Burge. What this woman actually did was to voluntarily alter her appearance in an attempt to make herself some money by exhibiting herself as a living breathing Barbie. The woman is hence kind of a cross between a performance artist and a character in a freak show, like a bearded or a tattooed lady for example. If she politicised her endeavours it was only to generate publicity for herself in the media. How many women could emulate her anyway and spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on creating and maintaining so artificial an image?

    Yet, all in all, this blog has made me smile. And that cannot be a bad thing from my point of view although you people, most of you, seem so very dour so very often.

  34. Ever thought that the meeja in general could be having the last laugh here?
    It makes a good talking point so will gain listeners, viewers and readers and also raise Ms Burge's profile.
    If no-one bothered discussing it then it'd just fade away.
    Another case of the MSM shaping public opinion. Wouldn't discussing abusive relationships help more people and do more good?
    I'd never heard of Sarah Burge before I read Penny's blog...and my life wasn't any the poorer for it...

  35. The Danish pop group Aqua's hit "Barbie Girl" sold over 8 million copies worldwide - Yes! 8,000,000 copies! - mostly to young girls hardly any of which grew up to look anything like the famous Mattel doll. Penny Red does women no favours by insinuating that we are so easily led or influenced when young, older or even elderly. The "sexy blond thing" goes way back beyond Barbie's invention anyway to actresses like Marilyn Munroe, Lana Turner, Jean Harlow etc., etc. Good luck to Sarah Burge I say. I hope she makes a lot of money and has a lot of orgasms along the way because I don't think she's going to make any breakthroughs in superstring theory or quantum mechanics.

  36. Leni: it also didn't include explicit exhortations to any of those girls to hack themselves about to attain an unhealthy image of 'beauty'. It was a bit offensively happy, but that's the worst I can say about it. Dr. Jones, by the same band, was actually quite funny.

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