18 November 2018Last updated


Media’s beauty values

We all blame the media for creating unrealistic expectations of beauty, but what about the women responsible for choosing those cover models? We ask two fashion editors how their attitude has changed now that they have daughters

13 Oct 2014 | 05:13 pm
  • Photo for illustrative purpose only.


Darling Sophie, 

The other day, I realised something truly amazing about you. While sorting through my boxes of old clothes, we came across a pair of Jimmy Choos. I gushed about how fabulous they were and in the ultimate act of mother-daughter devotion offered them to you.

You didn’t look impressed. And that’s what impressed me most.

You grew up with a mother who was immersed in the world of fashion and beauty. Yes, it was my job, but it also had to be a way of life. You were constantly surrounded by images of impossibly beautiful women, or at least media portrayals of ‘ideals’, and it would have been so easy for you to fall under their wicked spell.

Instead, you are what I never was at your age – happy with yourself. This confidence and contentment with your own appearance is a gift, and one not many young women possess. I am both proud and envious of you for that.

I know at times you struggle, though. It’s a tricky time, being 15, and in the throes of peer pressure and puberty, surrounded by other 15-year-olds who are experts in the application of fake tan (to look skinnier) and in the procurement of push-up bras (to look curvier)… just like the Victoria’s Secret supermodels they compare themselves to.

The thing is, these models your friends look up to, and the ones who graced my own fashion pages, are unreal. They have been airbrushed to within an inch of their oh-so-skinny ribs. As a magazine editor, I should know.

As you go through life, the world will try to tear you apart. It will tell you that you’re not good enough, smart enough, and especially not beautiful enough. You will be targeted with messed-up media messages – that thin is beautiful, that being beautiful is all that matters, that being happy can only mean being skinny, blemish-free, big-boobed.

I have been part of an industry that creates and sustains these messages. I have perpetuated this beauty ‘ideal’ in the features I’ve written and in the fashion imagery I’ve chosen. I once hired a girl your age – a 15-year-old Ukrainian – as my Harper’s Bazaar cover model as she was the skinniest and most blemish-free I could find. And, I’ve demanded the Photoshopping of innumerable fashion images… demanded that waists be whittled, lips be plumped, curves be created.

None of this is either real or right but it is what happens. As you and your friends mature, it will be your choice whether you allow yourself to feel inadequate just because you don’t match up to what the media, marketing and even Disney decide is ‘beautiful.’

You see, there are a thousand ways of being beautiful. There’s the quirky Maggie Gyllenhaal kind of beauty; the strong Ellen DeGeneres kind of beauty; and the geeky ‘mummy’ kind of beauty. Yes, that’s right – I’m beautiful – you tell me so, right? And yet here I am, with my square jaw, dimpled chin and geeky glasses – as far from the Disney or Victoria’s Secret ideal as you can get.

Ultimately, though, how I look, or you look, or your friends look, shouldn’t be the most interesting thing about us. It’s not your primary currency.

Your beauty, my darling girl, lies in how determined you are; how kind you are to your siblings; how polite you are to strangers; how interested you are in other people; and how you have the ability to make everyone in your company smile, laugh, feel amazing.

Your beauty simultaneously lies in your twinkling big brown eyes, your signature dimpled chin, your chestnut curls and your strong, athletic body.

You see, my darling girl, you can rock mascara and still ace your SATs and you ‘can’ quote Shakespeare while striding the room in a pair of Jimmy Choos.

If only I had been given this same advice when I was your age. You can do whatever you choose in life because you are funny, smart, kind, quirky, healthy and beautiful, and because, quite frankly, you kick ass.

You are a role model, not a supermodel.

To my daughter, 

My advice to you is to learn to love the way you are. Sorry, I know it’s predictable. No ingenious anti-aging formulas, but I’m guessing by the time you read this, beauty will have been revolutionised anyway, so there’s no point. Water is a timeless tip though, so drink plenty.

Throughout my career in fashion – which has seen me come face to face with some of the most beautiful women in the industry – came a reality check where my looks were concerned. I studied beauty under a microscope for a living, so of course, I turned the lens on myself. I wasn’t delusional before, I was probably just content with my average self, and seeing supernatural beauty daily of course made me aspire to more. I don’t recall ever really wanting to be a model though – I probably knew it was unachievable – the only thing I wanted from the people I met was what they were wearing. Thankfully, fashion always took precedence over beauty for me. At the moment you like clothes too, you hold them up against you and you pull them off rails. Pretty intuitive for your young age, if you ask me. I won’t push you into fashion though, I’ll give you the freedom to choose your own path.

In my job there has, of course, been pressure to look the part, but I embraced getting dressed up, borrowing clothes from designers and having my hair and make-up professionally done. I put it down to work (a great excuse) and learnt to have fun with the tools that are available to us as women – why not?

For some reason, prior to this, I had some weird notion that wearing make-up made you appear weak. Now I know that’s ridiculous. Beauty is a powerful tool but also one to enjoy.

I used haircuts as post-break-up confidence boosters and a red lip has served me well as a distraction from tired eyes. It can be a great band-aid but it’s never a cure. I want you to 
know that make-up is not the enemy, before I lead you down the sanctimonious path of inner beauty. I also want you to know that I don’t condone cosmetic surgery, I worry about how 
common and accessible it’s become. There are better routes to finding confidence and if need be, 
I will help you find them.

I believe the cliché – beauty on the outside is fully powered by what’s inside because people who are truly beautiful are happy and smile through their eyes. I also believe that you should make the best of what you’re given – don’t try to be perfect, just try and be the best version of you. I learnt a lot about being a better me from your grandfather, he’s my moral compass. He doesn’t believe in self-pity, loves a proverb and is a firm believer in being a more beautifully rounded you. He’d say: ‘Treat others as you wish to be treated and be the bigger person.’ It’s true – you’ll be content and like yourself more when you do the right thing. I haven’t always abided by it, but I try to and I still do – especially when sulking over a missed shopping opportunity like a pair of Isabel Marant boots. I’ve learnt to move on (and set my Net-a-Porter alert earlier the next season!). In all seriousness, his words of wisdom are a constant reminder that there is someone in the world worse off than me. He was right.

Having YOU has really put life in perspective for me. It’s changed the way I view myself because everything else matters a lot less now that you’re around, including my career. I used to live to work. Now I still have aspirations, I just want to achieve them differently – I don’t want 
to be consumed by them. I’m still fashion obsessive, but now I hope my greatest achievement will be bringing you up.

In doing so, I hope you have so much fun growing up that you don’t give your looks too much thought. Climb mountains, travel the world, read books – just don’t spend too much time looking in the mirror (I know I’m a hypocrite for saying that). And, when you do look at yourself in the mirror, I hope you like the person looking back at you – lipstick or not, it shouldn’t make a difference.

I want you to have a happy life. And if you’re able to be happy with yourself, you’re already half way there. 

Inside info

Kate Birch

In women’s lifestyle magazines for 15 years, Kate has worked all over the world, leading titles such as Emirates Woman in Dubai and Harper’s Bazaar in Singapore. She has a 15-year-old daughter, Sophie.


Elaine Lloyd-Jones

As previous editor of Grazia Middle East and current editor of Grazia Luxury, Elaine has been in the fashion industry for 12 years, working with the likes of Alexander McQueen, Henry Holland and Poppy Delevingne. She has an 18-month old little girl, Maia Grace.



By Kate Birch and Elaine Lloyd-Jones