How sad: The clever girls who just want to look like Posh

As teenagers in the late Seventies, my friends and I never discussed how much anyone weighed. None of us knew anyone who was on a diet, either. That’s not to say we didn’t care about how we looked.

The truly daring dyed their hair, put on a black bin-liner and went punk; the less courageous opted for a cheesecloth hippy look, or wore their fathers’ checked shirts with bootlace ties as they head-banged to Status Quo. And there were a few squares who couldn’t have cared less what they wore.

What we all had in common was a very clear idea that what you looked like was absolutely secondary to your character and personality and what you wanted to achieve.

Samantha Cameron
Duchess Of Cambridge

Clear message: Teenage girls think a successful woman has to be glossy-haired and catwalk-model thin like Samantha Cameron and the Duchess of Cambridge

How dispiriting, then, to read the results of a new survey of 500 11 to 17-year-old adolescent girls, which has revealed that more than half of them are unhappy with their looks.

More depressing was that two-thirds of them — including those who were achieving highly at school — said they weren’t confident of having a successful career.

For several years now, girls have been  outperforming boys academically, gaining better grades not just at school but at university, too.

What a triumph of feminism, you might think. How fabulous that, half a century on from the campaigning of their pioneering grandmothers and mothers, young women today should have come so far.

Except that, as the survey shows us, they haven’t. Because what most young women in Britain aspire to today is not to be the best — but to look the best.

From the social heights of Samantha  Cameron and the Duchess of Cambridge through to Geri Halliwell and Anna Friel, the message is clear: a successful woman has to be glamorous, glossy-haired and catwalk-model thin. Victoria Beckham has taken it a step further, turning her skeletal frame into a cartoon impossibility with a tiny waist and surgically-enhanced bust.

Cartoon impossibility: Victoria Beckham

Cartoon impossibility: Victoria Beckham

For most of us it’s an unobtainable and totally unrealistic look. (Try watching the Seventies Top Of The Pops repeats on BBC4 and you’ll notice that none of the lithe female dancers or pop stars even had a bust, let alone hair that shone like a  mirror.) Nevertheless, it’s the look that almost every famous woman at the top of her field strives to emulate, as she devotes hours of her precious time — and considerable amounts of money — to transforming her face and her body shape.

Where are today’s equivalents of Joan Armatrading, Aretha Franklin or Annie  Lennox, whose looks were nothing  compared to their voice? Gone are the days when sheer talent was enough to win you followers and acclaim. What today’s singers sell, from Rihanna to Katy Perry to Madonna, is sex.

With the exception of Susan Boyle and Adele — currently losing weight and reported to be on a strict diet — it’s almost impossible to name a female celebrity  who isn’t notably thin or who hasn’t had cosmetic surgery — or, increasingly, both. Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Aniston pursue their workouts with the fervour of athletes; the athletes themselves, meanwhile, are trying to look more  like celebrities.

Olympic contenders — from heptathlete Jessica Ennis to cyclist Victoria Pendleton to synchronised swimmer Jenna  Randall — have all been photographed recently looking like movie stars.

How different from the Seventies heyday of Mary Peters and Tessa Sanderson. Back then, we admired them for their sporting prowess and frankly couldn’t have cared less how they looked.

The same was true of tennis stars.  Virginia Wade and Martina Navratilova were superb players. I never considered for a moment what they looked like, but simply wanted to play tennis as well as they did.

We URGENTLY need to start talking not about how attractive women are, but how accomplished or how interesting they are, and what they are actually achieving. At the moment, the only high-profile woman I can think of who’s providing that inspiration is Michelle Obama.

Inspiration: Michelle Obama with children from Elizabeth Garrett Anderson school in London

Inspiration: Michelle Obama with children from Elizabeth Garrett Anderson school in London

She recently invited to the White House 12 girls from the inner-London comprehensive she visited on her first UK trip in 2009. They came back utterly inspired. As one girl said afterwards: ‘I can still hear her saying to us, “You have to push yourself hard, because if it feels easy you’re not trying hard enough.”’

Twenty years ago, we thought it was laughable that in crazy California, women went to aerobics classes and devoted themselves to weird diets. Who’s laughing now?

Certainly not our desperate young girls. Despite their strings of A* grades, they’re convinced that their lives are over before they’ve even begun — simply because they don’t look like Victoria Beckham. It doesn’t get much more crazy than that. 

Cheryl Cole: Recording a new album

Cheryl Cole: Recording a new album

Nice legs, shame about the voice

Even if I don’t quite get her outfit, I admire Cheryl Cole’s spirit for carrying it off with such panache. What I can’t admire her for is her decision to make another album. She’s  a good reality TV judge, and a talented dancer. What she really can’t do is sing.

So much for austerity Britain: after the revelation that civil servants at the Department of Health spent £109,000 on tea and biscuits in just three months comes news that Sir David Nicholson, the civil servant in charge of identifying cuts of £20 billion to the NHS, is charging expenses of £5,000 a month (on  top of his salary of £200,000). In the real world, meanwhile, most people haven’t had a pay rise for five years — and have to buy their own tea and biscuits.

In response to pictures of her looking 2st lighter  at Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman’s book launch last week, Nigella Lawson says she’s not dieting,  just eating less.  Most women will understand this doublespeak. I haven’t just bought a new dress, either. I simply did my bit for the economy by spending some money.

All but 18 out of 184 local councils who responded to a newspaper survey have spurned the offer of government money to bring back weekly bin collections.

Their excuse is that fortnightly collections have forced people  to recycle more, so there’s no demand. I simply don’t accept this — and if you  don’t either,  I suggest that you complain to your town hall now.

Styanding up: Noel Edmonds and wife Liz

Styanding up: Noel Edmonds and wife Liz

After his wife Liz became distraught over a Facebook page titled ‘somebody please kill Noel Edmonds’, the celebrity (pictured with Liz) used an agency to track down the PhD student who set it up and then arranged a meeting at his office, during which the student broke down in tears. All of which goes to prove the old point: the way to defeat a bully is to stand up to him.

A striking omission from Mrs Waterman

Two weeks after Dennis Waterman made headlines by revealing that he twice punched and slapped Rula Lenska when they were married — because ‘clever women make men lash out’ — his current wife has spoken up in his defence. Poor Dennis was suffering from depression at the time, says Pam Waterman, which ‘isn’t an excuse, but an explanation’. Since she herself was diagnosed with bladder cancer six years ago, she adds, ‘he’s treated me like a princess’. They argue. she says, but it never gets unpleasant. What she doesn’t say is that he has never hit her. A curious omission.


Does Dave pass my common touch test?

Norman Tebbit - who at 81 still retains some of his legendary polecat characteristics - points out that David Cameron’s many problems are made worse by the fact that he runs the country with the help of a privileged but politically inexperienced group of chums.

You don’t need to have met any of them to scent the whiff of entitlement, which hangs as heavy in the air around them as their Acqua di Parma aftershave. Nor can their flawless  manners altogether disguise their arrogance.

They underestimate the electorate because their default position is that they are better than them — intellectually as well as socially. Such condescension is given away by the  little things; as one letter writer to The Times noted drily, the most worrying aspect of Francis Maude’s remark about storing petrol was the assumption that everyone has  a garage.

Of course, Cameron and his chums can’t help their upbringing. But they can help themselves. Here are my top three suggestions for ways to reacquaint themselves with the electorate during the Easter holidays.

1. Keep two children entertained for two weeks, with no extra help, on a budget of £50 a week. Among other things, you will need to explain why you can’t visit Thorpe Park/Alton Towers/Legoland (where a family ticket for four costs around £100).

2. Redecorate a child’s bedroom over  the bank holiday weekend, buying all the materials from a packed B&Q with typically un-user friendly self-service checkouts.

3. Book a two-week family summer holiday abroad for £2,000 or less.
After all, as Cameron himself is so fond of  telling us, we’re all in this together . . .

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