lipstickI have long had an awkward relationship with ‘Being A Woman’. To the point that, on learning that I didn’t change my bra every day, my husband asked if I might somehow check that this was normal. I had to acknowledge that I don’t generally come over as connected to the supposed female grapevine, so that’s why he might have been worried that I was Getting Being a Woman Wrong.

I was still pissed off as hell about his asking, though.

But the fact was I knew I was normal in this respect not because I have a bunch of girlfriends to refer to but because I have access to the folklore of womanhood through ‘women’s’ media. I knew that the world was not full of women who have a fresh bra for every day, because if it were, I would have picked up something about it from magazines. I personally haven’t a clue how frequently my female friends change their bras and frankly I don’t have many friendships where it’s the sort of question that comes out in conversation. As it was, I sorted it out by asking the mums on a small online mum’s community I frequent (the joy of relative anonymity), and they obligingly agreed that no, I wasn’t being abnormally skanky at all.

Like many women, I don’t fit the woman’s magazine profile of Womanliness – I have no interest in shoes, I have only ever sat down to a gossipy girls’ lunch or dinner as part of a hen night, and only a handful of times at that, I don’t have any friendships where I could imagine talking about my sex life with anyone, or sharing any other intimate information or secrets, I seldom wear makeup (I certainly don’t feel a need to wear it every day), I don’t do diets and am not interested in spending time criticising my body. All of these seem to be part of the female lives reflected in magazines.

At the same time as taking it all with a pinch of salt I know that the media reflects society’s standard narrative of womanhood, and it acts as my guide to being a woman to at least some extent, especially as I don’t have a strong network of female friends.

I like to imagine that it doesn’t really shape me, but I suppose I have to accept that it does. Yes, I can spend an inordinate amount of time looking at clothes. I can window shop for an afternoon, whilst intermittently thinking ‘This is quite an odd thing to be doing, really’. I can often identify a designer by an item they’ve designed, and I do keep an interested track of trends, though I have neither the money nor the energy to actually do fashion. I mean, bag, coat and shoes to precisely match several outfits? Exhausts me just thinking about it. I’ll stick to biker boots, trainers, work shoes, a couple of bags and two coats a year, thanks. But I’m happy to admire people who can really pull together an outfit. My attempts to get together a chic and grown up look for my new job starting next week (hey, 35’s not too late, is it?) seem doomed to not quite work due to me just not being able to stomach the expense and effort, and still not knowing how to use a belt for anything other than holding trousers up unobtrusively.

I grew up surrounded by Vogues and Elles that my mum read, and I loved looking at them too. Fortunately my mum early on instilled the idea that these were not realistic portrayals of womanhood, that the models were far too thin and the clothes far too expensive for almost anybody. Didn’t mean we couldn’t admire a beautifully cut Le Smoking, though.

As time goes on my daughter will also look at my magazines, and I hope we can enjoy them together. But I will be sure to have one eye on making sure she puts them in their proper context as ‘aspirational’ and usually aspiring to something rather shallow and ultimately not desirable.

I want my daughter to be able to get something out of beauty and fashion if she so chooses – I’m not someone who says either than they hold women back, or that they are necessarily ‘empowering’. But they can and should be fun and positive aspects of life if one wants to engage with them. What they shouldn’t become is a chore or a duty – having to apply a full face of make up every morning from the age of 13, having to endlessly renew your wardrobe in order to keep everything up to the precise minute. That’s when it can hold us back and when it stops being fun and positive.

An interest in fashion and beauty is not what makes a woman, or a woman who’s good at being a woman, or bad at being a woman because she happens not to give a toss about either. This is probably not the message that media aimed at women puts across. Media woman is groomed and shaved and knows how to use her belt to really make an outfit (as well as probably in debt to Topshop).

I treat the media as much like fashion and beauty – fun to be engaged with, but I fit it into my life, I don’t build my values and priorities from it. And I cannot be arsed with buying a matching handbag.