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Congratulations to O'Reilly

Miriam O'Reilly's ageism win against the Beeb is a warning shot to all employers

It was heartening to see Miriam O'Reilly win her ageism action against the Beeb yesterday. Let's hope it give the corporation, and other broadcasters, food for thought, though I find it risible that her sexism claim was dismissed - she only lost her job because of her age AS A WOMAN. If she had been the same age and male, the problem wouldn't have arisen.

O'Reilly, 53, was an award-winning journalist and had presented Countryfile for ten years when she was informed that she was to lose her job when the programme changed slot from early morning to prime-time television.

She wasn't the only one, either - three other female presenters, all in their 40s, were fired, though the elderly John Craven was kept on, looking somewhat out of place among the new-look Countryfile's stable of hot, new presenters. 

There's nothing wrong with the new programme. I like the format and the new presenters are all fine, particularly Julia Bradbury (pushing 40 herself). But I've liked them a lot less since I found out the price that was paid by others to put them there. 

It's not as if Countryfile is a yoof show anyway. The programme's demographic is middle-aged (like me, officially) and even if they are now aiming to appeal to younger viewers, surely a Sunday evening slot is what you might call family viewing? And what do the powers that be imagine is so shocking about seeing people of all ages on our screens in any case? The Beeb is meant, under its charter, to accurately reflect the cultural diversity of Great Britain - do they think that when people look around them, all they see in the street is people under 40? It's not fucking Logan's Run out there.

It was quite brave for O'Reilly to take on the corporation - it made her ultra-conspicuous and doubtless every aspect of her dress and appearance has been gone over in the media (to no avail, she's an attractive woman anyway so the Beeb can hardly pretend she wasn't presentable). And it must also have cost a fortune.

But it needed doing, on behalf of all the other women the Beeb has egregiously fired or ousted into low-viewership, Saga-type programming over the years: Moira Stewart, Angela Rippon, Arlene Phillips, Selina Scott, Kate Adie, Jennie Bond, Anna Ford, Sue Lawley, the glorious Joan Bakewell. Not to mention Julia Somerville and Fiona Armstrong, whom the Beeb cringeingly cajoled back, only due to O'Reilly's actions.

So, here's watching the other 40+ female presenters and journos whom the Beeb will shortly, I imagine, consider too old and ugly to be on television - all of them capable women whom I would like to see on my screen for the next 20 years: Carrie Gracie, Fiona Bruce, Jane Hill, Sian Williams, Carole Walker, Louise Minchin, Lyse Doucet, Orla Guerin, Bridget Kendall, and the redoutable Kirsty Wark. Long may they reign.



Older and weirder

You've just gotta love Cindy Sherman, whose work retains the power to be deeply unsettling

Cindy Sherman double portraitHard to believe that these two women are actually the same person, but then Cindy Sherman has been chameleoning herself for decades.

I first came across her work when I was at college, so it must be about 28 years ago. Is that possible, I ask myself? But she was one of those women whose art I found unsettling and peculiar, like Laurie Anderson, whose 'O Superman' was also a hit that year. I've followed her doings ever since.

Now Sherman has a new exhibition on show in London (it's already visited New York and Berlin), which is a kind of meditation on ageing and wealth. I would love to see it, especially as the images are so huge in real life, but can't get there, so will have to content myself with this article in the Guardian, which links to some of the images. 

Enjoy. If that's the right word...


Get behind Dove

Most of us know about the Dove campaign for real beauty, but many of us don't realise quite how comprehensive it is.

For many of us, hitting 40 was a time when we actually became more comfortable about our looks and our bodies, finally achieving that balance between the person we thought we'd be and the person we actually are.

But life is different for our daughters.

I'm not a parent myself, but I find some of the stastistics coming out about young girls and their self-image very worrying.

* 50 per cent of teenage girls say they view their bodies with 'disgust'

* 90 per cent of women wish they could change an aspect of their appearance, with weight leading the list

* 67 per cent of women and girls withdraw from life-engaging activities due to feeling badly about their looks

* 91 per cent of all cosmetic surgery procedures are performed on women.

* Cosmetic surgery procedures have risen by 444 per cent in 10 years.

* In 1985, the average model weighed 8 per cent less than the average female. Now she weighs 23 per cent less.

* For the average woman to have the same proportions as Barbie, she would need to

- add two feet to her height

- add over three inches to her neck

- add over five inches to her bust, and

- take six inches off her waistline.

At the Dove site, you can download their full report "Beyond Stereotypes: Rebuilding the Foundation of Beauty Beliefs".

Of particular concern, Dove feels, is the fact that two-thirds of women and girls avoid taking part in activities because they don't feel they're good-looking enough. This includes activities such as meeting friends, exercising, voicing an opinion, going to school, going to work, dating or even seeking medical help. That is a very bad sign - I'm sure none of us wants to raise a generation of timid, unfit girls who are scared to speak up at school or even see their own doctor.

The malaise about body image was also once a western phenomenon, but is now afflicting other nations, including the South American countries (where the 'westernisation rhinoplasty' is so popular) and even Japan, where girls are increasingly turning to leg-lengthening surgery to imitate the image of the tall, leggy western model. The only country that seem comparatively immune is China, which is no doubt due to there being less advertising to keep women in a permanent state of discontent about their appearance.

"It is as though girls and women feel they must wear permanent masks approximating a current narrow ideal of beauty rather than face the world as they are, in their uniqueness and diversity," says the report.

This is all very gloomy, but the good news is that mothers can make a profound difference to how their daughters feel about themselves. Visit the Dove site and take a look at the interactive quizzes, short films and tips for helping your teenage daughter to be happy about her looks, as well as forums where you can have discussions with other mothers, and many other facilities.

For more information, go to: Dove Campaign for Real Beauty

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