Like so many British kids of the Nineties, I grew up with Kathy Burke. I belly laughed at her on Ab Fab and Harry Enfield, before I was even old enough to understand what I was laughing at. She was just this big, sweary antidote to bullshit. I remember being oddly transfixed by her as Waynetta Slob, a character who – admittedly – has aged poorly. But still, Im not sure anyone else on earth could deliver the line, “I am smoking a fag,” with such sheer comic genius. Funny women like Burke were the reason, aged about six, I told my mum I wanted to be a “chameleon”. I meant “comedian”, but the sentiment was there. (Until about a week later when I wanted to be a gladiator, because of Rhino from Gladiators).
Judging by the first episode of her new Channel 4 documentary series, Kathy Burke's All Woman, Burke hasnt changed. The premise is simple: Kathy Burke meets various women, running her hilarious gob about the beauty industry and modern feminine ideals. And as it turns out, 50 minutes of Burke taking a look at the current state of womens beauty standards – particularly the cosmetic surgery side of things – is worth watching for the quotes alone.
“Steam yer fanny? Fuck off,” says Burke, when she is introduced to the concept of a “vajaycial”; representing eye-rolling women everywhere. Because Burke – proudly “fat”, straight-talking, and eminently likeable – is basically the anti-Goop. Now in her fifties, she has become the nations “Nuclear Nana” (Burkes feminist punk wrestling alias). And if youre not desperate to sit down with her over a cup of tea and a plate of custard creams, basking in her uncut and expletive-riddled wisdom, you must literally be Gwyneth Paltrow.
While chatting to “Big Sue” Tilley – the subject of one of Lucian Freuds most famous portraits – Burke quite gloriously calls bullshit on Freuds truly David Brent-esque assertion that libraries should be “retitled beauty parlours” because learning things that makes you beautiful. “Very interesting,” she says, “from the man who fucked every woman that he met.”
Burkes first stop in All Woman is a visit to Love Islands Megan Barton-Hanson. As the latter sits in a whirlwind of hair and makeup brushes (a procedure she says takes hours), she tells Burke about her various cosmetic surgery treatments, from two boob jobs to lip fillers, all of which have cost her tens of thousands of pounds and landed her with endless “stick” from the public. This path began, Barton-Hanson says, with bullying at school, which prompted her to have her ears pinned back. Now, having done her utmost to conform to conventional beauty standards, shes received abuse, and even “death threats” for being “fake and plastic.” The two women discuss the ludicrous double standards at play here.
“I dont want young girls to have unrealistic expectations like I did,” says the former Love Island contestant, who assumed she could be physically sculpted into self-acceptance, but ultimately discovered that surgery “didnt fix anything.” Barton-Hanson is painfully aware of the irony of this statement – knowing she probably wouldnt have become famous if she hadnt played this game to begin with.
Burke later chats to the exact kind of “young girl” Barton-Hanson mentioned. She meets 20-year-old shop assistant, Laura, in a cosmetic surgery clinic, awaiting a breast enlargement consultation.
“You can never sort of win on a level of confidence,” says Laura, with a rising inflection that suggests genuine uncertainty. Burke tells her that shes gorgeous the way she is and, well, thats kind of that. As funny and compelling a presenter as Burke is, the programme lacks any kind of analysis or theory – other than our obsession with social media – to explain why women are under so much pressure to look beautiful.
There always seems to be a temptation for older generations to assume that “kids today” are somehow doomed. Throughout the programme, Burke says shes “worried” about young women and girls. And although this worry is completely understandable (and – we learn – the product of Burkes own issues with self-esteem, when she was in her teens and twenties), theres no real acknowledgement that the difficulties young women face today are basically the same as those theyve faced for thousands of years, if in different forms. Burke is grateful that she didnt have the likes of Instagram to contend with when she was young, but she still struggled with self-image. This first episode of All Woman only pricks the skin of an industry rotten to its marrow.
And while Burke talks about the beauty of fat bodies with “Big Sue”, the assumption seems to be that this kind of body positivity is exclusive toRead More – Source