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Only son’s class did a pre-enactment of the royal wedding on Friday. Mainly, for only son, it was an excuse to eat junk food [“we didn’t have a single vegetable, mum”], but only son got quite into his role as page boy. So into it that he wanted to head to Windsor on Saturday. I explained that he would probably get a better view at home than in a traffic jam somewhere in Berkshire. In the event, he was not at all interested until the page boys came on the scene. Daughter one claimed not to care about the monarchy, but by the end of the event was a big Meghan fan and felt she could do some positive good for diversity generally. Daughter two showed momentary interest when I told her that James Blunt was in the audience. Daughter two likes James Blunt’s songs. I think it is in an ironic way, but you can never be sure with daughter two. My partner felt he was above the whole thing until he heard about all the celebs, though since we rarely go out and he only has time to watch the news and Eastenders before he falls asleep, he didn’t know too many of them. By the next morning with all the reviews of the papers, etc, on the news he had reached peak royal wedding. “How long can they talk about the dress?” he asked.
There followed a discussion of the whole independent woman vs dress-up doll thing. The main thrust of this was how can women complain about being judged just on what they look like and then spend absolutely hours on minute discussions of wedding dresses and jewellery and hair.
It’s the whole mixed message thing that women imbibe from girlhood. I was at an event the other day for only son and some of the mums were talking about how they were sad that their daughters were growing up and now in crop tops rather, I guess, than girly dresses. Just a month before I sat on a bed with daughter three sobbing her heart out about being judged on every single part of her body and about being essentially an object for other people to critique. Since starting secondary school she has spent a large portion of her time researching make-up to cover her spots and address imagined blemishes, terrified that she is “ugly”.
Much of my time is spent waiting for teenage girls to get ready for things. This entails a long process of selecting clothes, doing hair, eyebrows, moisturising legs, etc. This is just to go to Tesco. Ridiculous, right? But that is the world we live in where “independent women” feel they have to spend hours of their valuable time on what they look like. Instagram and the link have just exacerbated things.
There is, I suppose, some form of power certain [young] women enjoy when it comes to looks. It doesn’t last, though, and it doesn’t necessarily lead to real decision-making style power – unless it bags you some money, usually via marriage – the age-old route. I’m now in the over the hill beyond looks power category. The category alluded to by the statement by the deputy head of the Bank of England earlier last week when he described declining productivity in the UK as ‘menopausal’. There’s a certain sadness in arriving there, even if you were never particularly attractive in the first place – and a sense of liberation, if you can just let go of it all.
This, of course, is not to detract from the good things about the royal wedding, in particular the expectations it creates about diversity. The world seems so volatile these days – one minute there is the whole hate-filled, anti-immigration lead-up to the Brexit vote and the horrendous racism that followed it and the next we are lamenting the hostile environment and its impact on the Windrush generation and rejoicing at a mixed race woman marrying into the royal family. There’s a huge battle going on at the moment for the soul of Britain. We need to decide who it is we want to be.
*Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of Workingmums.co.uk.