Bimbette with brains

 

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Category: Women Date: 02 Jul 95


A female presenter walks out of the news set at the end of a newscast and models her legs. They said she was being a good sport. The management of that TV station were humouring their male viewers who in a survey said that they didn’t particularly care about the quality of the newscast. They wanted to see what kind of legs the newscaster had.

 

I watched this episode on TV in England while I was studying journalism in 1987. I was researching a master’s thesis on feminist publications in London. In this round of interviews I met the dowdiest of women tucked away in tiny book shops; women who dressed like men, and ostensibly felt that washing their hair was a concession to a man’s world. So while looking upon lank hair, unshaven legs and at times contrived plainness, I diligently took notes on how women sell out to a man’s world.

 

In those days I saw the world in black and white. I contemptuously dismissed the presenter as a bimbette. The other day at the hairdresser I was deeply absorbed in a book wearing my granny glasses when a man expressed surprise that a female TV presenter like myself should read. The word bimbette or bimbo is used to describe women who dress and act and are treated as infantile sex objects. Bimbettes dress in excruciatingly uncomfortable barbie doll clothes of plunging necklines, tiny tight skirts, stilt like high heels, with pouting red mouth. Her looks preclude any other purpose in life other than as a plaything for men.

 

In those student days I applied to work part time at a well known glossy magazine company based in London’s fashionable Convent Garden. On my first day the impeccably groomed editor (Oxford educated) in a fuchsia mini-suit and pearls briefed me on the magazine’s “image.” (That woman had it all, brains and bimbette. I thought the one precluded the other!) She tried telling me kindly that my flat lace up shoes were hideous, and that I needed a hairdresser. Smart suits please and would I please wear makeup? I decided I had to dress as a bimbette to keep my job. I could just about manage tottering down escalators in high heels. But the end came when my heel got stuck between two ridges while I was at the bottom of the escalator. While I struggled to rescue them, the rush hour traffic stampeded past me. I was getting spiked with the pointed edge of men’s briefcases, and umbrellas; shoved by robust rumps and limbs. All the time I struggled with my unyielding heel I cursed and prayed that I would be able to retrieve it by the time I reached the top. A final heave and I had a mutilated shoe in my hands. I hobbled on one stilt and a stockinged foot in the freezing cold to that fashionable office, wiped my lipstick on my sleeve and quit. My ex-boss then advised me that I would do better if I wore more sensible shoes and longer skirts. I was confused. But on the way back home that day I indulged in some therapeutic fantasizing on the Northern Line. I record it as I remember.

 

A baby faced young man of average height and lackluster hair, John is your average cheerful lad who sings in the shower and rummages through his dirty clothes basket for a different shirt to wear to work. The height of his toilet is splashing cologne on his bald patch. Polyester trousers and socks that don’t match and he’s off to his days toil... He is easygoing and agrees to become a bimbette for a day. We arrive at the institute de bimbette. The aestheticians, cosmetologists, hairdressers, chief waxer crowd around. Look at that tacky hair, that hairy body, those thick eyebrows, that dry pimply skin!  They get to work.

 

First, John’s hair is curled with tight perm rods which are thin rollers with teeth digging into the skull. He then sits under a hot dryer. As he emerges into the cool, the blowdryer on maximum heat is trained onto sections of his skull with one hand while the other hand yanks at his hair with a thorny brush to “shape it.” The hair curled, attention is given to his face. The eyebrows will have to be plucked. Each pull leaves a tiny red bump, and voila John now has shaped eyebrows and hair follicle bumps on his lower brow. A bimbette can’t have hair on his/her chin. It will have to go. Shaving won’t last: warm wax is applied in the direction of hair growth, a cotton strip is placed over that and ripped in the opposite direction. John screams. He’s had enough. They hold him down. “A cup of coffee?” smiles The Lipsticked Mouth. No bimbette is allowed body hair. It’s not becoming. It must be waxed. Hot wax is poured on the chest, back, bikini line and legs. To save time two of them work at a time. Wax, strip, wax strip: John’s body convulses at the movements and crumbles into quiet shock. But he is quite hairless. “You resemble a plucked chicken,” giggles The Lipsticked Mouth. John hasn’t the strength to glare. The warm soak of his hands and feet in water is soothing, nails are cut and varnished. But while the feet were bladed with the pedicure blade there was a slight accident: “It’s only a tiny bit of blood,” gushes The Lipsticked Mouth. Tea? Then a face mask which freezes all facial movements for half an hour. The astringent applied on the newly waxed skin stings but is necessary. Pencil is put into eye, drawn from corner to corner, jooks the eye by mistake. False lashes are tied with a thin adhesive strip to John’s short ones. Rank smelling glue is squeezed on the side of nails, false nails applied. Foundation, face shaper, lip liner, eyebrow liner, lipstick lip gloss is packed on. An excruciatingly tight lycra dress and stockings are produced.

 

John walks out wobbling on high heels and slipping in his stockings at the same time. My admittedly vicious fantasy is not an attack on the cosmetic industry. The industry deals with aesthetics and nobody can knock beauty. It is a metaphor for women who time and time again have felt that they had to distort their real selves (as John did), to please men, to get ahead in jobs, stay in a marriage, or get into a relationship at the cost of relinquishing their freedom and potential as human beings. But today I can safely say that the world has many shades of grey.

 

Women whom I know to be highly competent professionals dress up. They are certainly no bimbettes. Unfortunately many men continue to be surprised when a well dressed woman is also intelligent, but tend to respect men who dress better than themselves. The fact that some men choose to box women into the sections of “Madonna” or “whore,” “women to marry” and “women to play around with,” is as appalling as women boxing themselves into a Bimbette or uncompromisingly anesthetic attitude regarding their clothes. The question of our appearance is ultimately a trifling issue so we women can play with our rags as we did when we were girls. Here we are in our bohemian rags and if the occasion requires we can Christian Dior ourselves from our head to our toes. We can play act as princesses and free spirited pucks if we want to.

 

The important thing is that as we take our rightful and equal place alongside men, we no longer need to dress to pander to men’s fantasies (unless we want to - for fun) or insecurities. We pander to ourselves and our many layered inner voices because, just like the cocky male author, we too can “walk and chew gum at the same time.”

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur