On Valentine’s Day, Rachel Smalley used her ‘Rachel Smalley’s Opinion’ slot in the NZ Herald to have a substantial crack at women who’ve gone under a plastic surgeon’s knife or needle.

Boob jobs, in particular, have really gotten Rachel’s natural tits in a tangle. Rachel takes a stab that she thinks plastic surgeons like to call ‘boob jobs’ ‘breast augmentation’. Great sleuthing! Plastic surgeons DO like to call boob jobs ‘breast augmentation’, because that is the medical terminology for the procedure. Enlightened by the first few paragraphs that small nipples are in, and a B-cup is the new D-cup, I started getting a bit antsy when Rachel waded into “just be happy with your body; plastic surgery is for weirdos” territory.

“Ooooh, careful, Rachel”, I thought to myself, “have you forgotten #LardoGate? Remember that one time you accidentally left your mic on during the ad break in your radio show and said that New Zealand women are all a pack of lardos and heifers for having an average weight over 70kgs? People got pretty cross about that”.

So, the woman who looks down her nose at any woman who isn’t sub-70 also won’t abide anyone who doesn’t just accept how she is. I wasn’t alone in my brow furrowing over that paradigm (although the fact I can actually furrow my brow kind of makes me okay in Rachel’s Book of Looks), and found a welcoming community of fellow “What-The-Fuck?!”-ers in the Herald Facebook comments section.

And then shit got weirder. Rachel, the journalist who has brought our attention to topics such as the Syrian conflict and the state of the NZ health system, made a cringe-worthy leap by suggesting anyone who faffs about with their body is giving up their right to be taken seriously. She goes as far as to say it gives her grave fears for the future of women. Equality and a non-natural figure are mutually exclusive, apparently. Um, Rachel? Donald Trump called and he wants you to lead his team of speechwriters.

By that token, am I, with my chemically lightened hair, to be taken less seriously than my naturally hued or male counterparts? Careful with that one, Rachel, because those sun-kissed tresses you rock don’t look 100% god-given. And should a common utterance in boardrooms across the country be, “that’s an excellent idea, Janice, but could someone with thinner lips and a less perky pair of tits suggest it so we can put the plan to our shareholders with some credibility?”

I know some highly intelligent, confident and successful women. Some of them have fake breasts, and some of them don’t. Sure, it’s not a flawless, peer-reviewed scientific study, but I’d like to table my theory that the breasts do not maketh the woman.

A core component of feminism (or a supporter of equal rights for women, if the term “feminist” makes you clutch at your pearls and say, “oh but I’m not an ACTUAL feminist – I shave my armpits!” Side note: men can be feminists, too) is the right to freedom of choice. Implying that it’s anti-feminist for women to make decisions about their own bodies is about as anti-feminist as it gets.

There are many reasons a woman may elect to star in her own personal episode of Nip Tuck. Maybe it’s a breast reconstruction following a mastectomy, a breast reduction to stop chronic neck pain, a spot of Botox so people will stop saying, “why do you look so angry all the time?” a bit of filler to pad out wrinkles caused by a past life of smoking or sucking on sipper bottles (watch out for that one!), having ears pinned back, a breast augmentation to reclaim a bit of pre-motherhood pertness, or a breast augmentation just because she really fucking wants one. Is everyone who has dabbled with the dark arts of plastic surgery to now hide away, shamed by the knowledge that Rachel Smalley disapproves of their life choices? Or, should non-natural ladies be rounded up and burned at the stake for their selfish disservice to the advancement of womankind?

I’d like to know where her editor is in all of this. Did they not say, “Hey Rach…wait, can I call you Rach? No? My apologies, you’re a professional woman who can choose how she wants to be addressed, so Rachel it is. Hey Rachel, don’t you think your column delivering solid burns to anyone who has surgically spruced themselves is a bit on the body-shaming spectrum?”

I want to like Rachel, I really do. She’s intelligent, she’s successful, she supports charities, she’s written some incredible pieces, and delivered some hard-hitting interviews. She’s a mother (I noted the #humblebrag about reading Dr Seuss to her son in the Boobs article), a committed runner, and a woman who has climbed the ranks in her career. Inspiring. Noble.

So why did Rachel take a misguided stab at the synthetic-sisterhood? Spoiler alert: it’s not because she has “grave fears for the future of women”.

Rachel is in the enviable position of being able to reach a great number of New Zealanders, via multiple media forms. She has the nation’s ear, if you will. Instead of using her platform to deliver a thought-provoking or uplifting message, she used it to take a deliberate bite out of a woman who used to be her friend.

Rachel refers in her column to “a woman” she saw in her social media feed over the weekend who had recently had a boob job. Rachel doesn’t like That Woman’s boobs, oh no she doesn’t, because they’re fake and too far apart. She goes on to accuse That Woman’s boobs of not even liking each other because they’re SO far apart. She reckons That Woman’s boobs might even be having an argument, because they’re SO far apart. They’re SO far apart, you could drive a Mini Clubman through the middle of them, she tittered.

I know That Woman. She helped Rachel integrate into a new community several years ago. They had shared interests (That Woman even inspired Rachel to take up running. Go, Sisterhood!), kids of similar ages, and mutual friends. Kids’ birthday parties were attended, ladies’ getaways were shared, lasagnes were delivered during times of sickness, all good friendship stuff. Then they had a falling out. It wasn’t a particularly spectacular falling out – Julie Christie isn’t clambering for the rights to turn it into a series – but feelings on both sides were hurt, and the friendship was laid to rest. Relations were frosty, but then last year I was with That Woman at a marathon event and we bumped into Rachel. Smiles and running results were exchanged. It seemed that the frost had thawed and the two of them could happily exist around each other at mutual gatherings without any blood (or Chardonnay) being shed. Because moving on and letting go is what grownups do.

Apparently not, judging by Rachel’s Valentine’s Day column.

I get it. Friendships end, and that’s really sad sometimes. But passive-aggressively pissing in the nation’s ear about it and body shaming many others by way of collateral damage is a dick move at best.

There’s a lot of sadness and uncertainty in That Woman’s personal life right now, which made the “yo titties SO bad” jibes a bitter pill to swallow (and having seen them in the flesh, I can confidently state that those boobs are things of beauty). Another friend and I stood beside That Woman as she worried her unintentional #PersonalProblems weight loss made her chest look too bony for the dress she was about to wear to her 40th birthday party (which she’d just almost cancelled). We assured her she looked amazing, because she did. Celebrations ensued, fun times were had, and guests peppered their social media with the party pics that Rachel found oh-so-offensive.

Rachel’s boob shaming column tried to take the shine off That Woman’s 40th (seriously, it must be a special kind of bitterness that drives someone to choose a woman’s 40th birthday as the ideal time to start ankle-nipping like an inbred Jack Russell). At first it did. That Woman felt humiliated, hurt, and angry. But then she decided that she’d take this particular lemon life had lobbed at her, slice it up, and pop it in a gin and tonic.

So, That Woman has commemorated Rachel’s sanctimonious drivel with a custom printed t-shirt. She’s had two made, and has sent one to Rachel in the hope she’ll remember to use her privileged platform to build women up instead of picking them apart.

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That Woman is an awesome woman indeed.

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