Hi I'm Bertie, this column is basically a place for me to call bullshit on girl related things I think are stupid.
The high street might be dying but it'll always be a strange place. In fact, some of the strangest aspects of it are the things we don't even question any more because we feel that to do so is cliched and done to death – like, for example, the need for companies to create not just products to sell but entire lifestyles for their prospective customers to emulate. From the half-asleep, heavy-lidded girls in the Topshop campaigns with their high-fashion aspirations, to the clean, crisp, pragmatic Uniqlo consumer, who favours Chloe Sevigny over Kate Bosworth, chino over harem. Just selling things to people because they might want them has never really been enough. If you were using that model, once you'd bought the PVC pencil skirt or the racer back camisole, you'd be satisfied. Satisfaction is the cancer that stamps out greed, guys. There are probably board meetings in Soho called "How to ensure your customers leave unsatisfied." There are definitely people in these meetings who know how to exploit the self-doubt lurking in our post-adolescent brains. Hooking on to your insecurities and making them last forever is far more lucrative than just making things people want and letting them buy them.
This kind of background noise hypnotism is particularly evident in the lingerie market, which has always been rife with celebrity endorsements. Okay, so it's not Eva Herzigova causing car crashes in her Wonderbra, but this week saw the final release of the brand of underwear Pippa Middleton wore at the royal wedding. (Yes: you too could own the kind of butt that could share DNA with one that managed to infiltrate the royal gene pool.) The week before saw the launch of Penelope Cruz's new "accessible" line for Agent Provocateur, as well as a promo video that, handily, was reported as being "banned" from YouTube (of course it never really was).
Yep, Penelope Cruz has made some underwear, and it's nice. She also wrote and directed a video to promote it that is unfortunately less nice and more a laughable propagation of the silent, lip-licking caricature of a "woman in touch with her sexuality". The video follows a man who, stumbling into one of those houses of hedonism which I thought only existed in Marilyn Manson videos, puts on some magic sunglasses to discover he can now see the surrounding women cavorting in their skivvies. What a lark. It's beyond ironic that the film is channelled through the male gaze. According to the market, lingerie designed for women must be validated by a male protagonist, and the lifestyle that the wearer can dream of aspiring to is one that will reduce her to a prop in suspenders, floating inertly in a swimming pool, being gawped at by a stranger.
No matter the number of Valentine's Day guides suggesting that it's predominantly men who buy sexy underwear as gifts, women are the primary consumers in this market. You might not think it, judging by the alienating imagery, but ask anyone who's ever worked in Agent Provocateur and they'll tell you that up to (or above) three quarters of their customers are female, and that's on top of having one of the highest number of male consumers of any luxury lingerie brand. That's a huge majority, and it's unsurprising for a product that helps women celebrate their bodies. So why can't it be marketed that way?
Perhaps because sexy underwear has an almost mythical reputation. Who's it for? Who likes it? Why are the only people who receive it in movies either sexually unsatisfied or the "other woman" :-( As far as I'm concerned or aware, everyone likes to celebrate themselves, which sometimes means indulging in six hours of Candy Crush #noregrets and sometimes means holding your hands above your head pretending to belly dance in front of a mirror wearing silky strappy stuff that makes you feel like a Queen. Unfortunately what should be fun is more often than not channelled through a PR machine of age-old gender stereotypes and exclusive, intimidating environments. This video, for example, though proudly boasting a diverse spectrum of women, is the same old cliche of men in tousled workwear and caramel women with flippy hair biting their lips and sucking each other's fingers. Whose fantasy are we playing out here? Surely if we're the ones holding the credit card, it should be ours?
If you need a concrete example of this facetiousness, look no further than the apparent celebration of body types in Cruz's video. Penelope – who once edited a "plus-size" edition of Vogue – went to great pains to tell the press that she cast "women of all shapes and ages, as it was important for me to let women know that this brand is for everyone" and that she has "bodies that are plus size, women with more curves. I said to them, 'If I'm going to do this, it's going to be a festival, a celebration of beauty.'"
Well, it seems the plus-size model wasn't invited to the festival, because she wasn't even allowed to change out of her day clothes.
So you celebrate all shapes and sizes of women, but just ignore the bigger ones because, oh, they're kind of impossible to dress. There's nothing more soul-destroying than imitating inclusivity because the words sound good in a press release. Here's my advice: ignore the Pretty Girl Bullshit and don't buy underwear to try to fit in with a restrictive and unrealistic pastiche of sexiness. Buy it because you want to treat yourself to something glamorous and beautiful which flatters your body, because it's your body, and it's lovely.
Follow Bertie on Twitter: @bertiebrandes
Previously – Why Are We So Awful to Each Other?