Selling eyeliners is one thing… but surgery? How Transform’s latest ad fails to see below the surface

I’ve been tardy with the ol’ blog recently. I’ll be the first to admit it. I was thinking of writing about my work on the recent Trainspotting Live, or the fact that I’ve just left the BBC after more than four years to start at Twitch tomorrow.

And yet, this is what has compelled me to delay my latest attempt to complete Final Fantasy XIII and only half pay attention to the latest love of my life (Gilmore Girls on Netflix). An advert printed in the back pages of Glamour magazine.

In it, 22-year-old London-based fashion blogger That Pommie Girl¬†describes how her recent “boob job” (and yes, because it is aimed at her readers – women of her age or younger, it actually uses that phrase), has made her “love her body”, something bloggers are known for. They’ll post paid for ads for products with names like “Boo Tea” on Instagram promoting speedier metabolisms and “detoxification”, or 24 products at once for a “natural look” on YouTube. And while I’m not saying this is 100% harmless (the thought of me – with my mountain of loose leaves piled up in the corner of my kitchen – purchasing a tea for anything other than the fact it tastes good makes me shiver), it’s nothing compared to surgery.

This woman has been given a free major uncessary ¬†surgical operation – and in my book, that’s something that’s both invasive and requiring the patient to undergo general aesthetic – and most likely been paid a lot of money to do so; she’s been paid to be cut open, stuffed, and to promote this to her young followers. Lest we forget, there’s a reason why bloggers and social media stars are called influencers. She’s someone people aspire to be. Her lifestyle is what her followers yearn to have. And her lifestyle now involves major surgery so she can like herself.

Let’s face it; a lot of young people aren’t comfortable in their own bodies yet. I have a strong body which I’ve worked hard on (I’m not ripped or anything like that, but I can hold my own in a boxing class) and, at the age of 27, I still check how much my stomach sticks out in the mirror when I wake up. I’m not That Pommie Girl’s target audience, and yet I still bought the aforementioned copy of Glamour because it came with a free Benefit eyebrow gel. (And I already own a similar one from L’Oreal that works perfectly fine.)

I decided to do a Google to find out a bit more and discovered the Advertising Standards Authority have actually banned the TV version of the advert, although you can still view videos of Sarah Ashcroft (the blogger in question), on¬†Transform’s website.

There’s a few disturbing things about the advert, which you can view by accessing the last¬†hyperlink. Firstly, Ashcroft explains that she never experienced anything she’d describe as “pain” (aside from back pain). Not immediately post operation or during the aftercare period.

“In terms of recovery I still couldn‚Äôt really believe it. I had geared myself up for a lot of pain when there wasn‚Äôt really any at all. I remember feeling incredibly drowsy, but aside from that the healing process was pretty straightforward, with the major inconvenience being a support bra due to the neck and back pain from my new¬†posture.”

Surgery is going to be different for everyone, but this advertorial really does go out of its way to emphasise “no pain, all gain”.

And probably the part I find the most shocking of all, Ashcroft implies that her career has been progressed by the operation:

“It really has changed my life and cliched as it sounds, I feel like a new person with a newfound confidence and love for my body. Now, I can be as experimental as I want to be with my style; something I always wanted and I feel like my blogging has come on leaps and bounds too.”

Breasts “enhanced”, she can now wear different clothes and write better! Us women had better all sign up for surgery so we can have enough confidence to ask for a big enough pay rise to start paying back our surgery loans and wear the contractually obliged high heels, skirt and at least five items of noticeable make up to the office..

This advert probably concerns me most of all because it suggests that we still associate the idea of physical perfection – or a marketer’s idea of it – as a key to success. Why be comfortable with what you have, when the path to success is the physical embodiment of some ideal dreamed up by someone else who managed to make it catch on years ago? Already successful enough to attract Transform in the first place (and no doubt, other businesses wanting to work with her), why would Ashcroft (and a bunch of others profiled on the website) take such a drastic step?

And why – in heaven’s name why – would Glamour run this irresponsible advert? For financial gain? Don’t they have some semblance of a duty of care for their younger readers? It’s enough to make me ignore next latest lucrative freebie issue and pay full price (for a cheaper copycat version of the same product).

Monikh Dale, another featured blogger who Transform have given a “lip enhancement” explains on the site that “I wanted to be the best version of me I could¬†be” – the same slogan that the Army are currently using in their latest recruitment campaign. But don’t get me started on that one, or I’ll never find out if Rory and Jess get together. (Gilmore Girls. Seriously – you need to watch it!)


A tale from the night bus

Last Saturday I headed out and equipped myself with a weapon; a laser shooting gun that fired grenades, smart bombs and ‘standard’ red laser-y bullets. Oh yes, I celebrated my belated birthday with a round of laser quest, followed by a more adult trip to my favourite wine bar, the genius self-service Vagabond. Inspired by my boyfriend Luke, and after a 1am pitstop for coffee and cheesecake at Bar Italia in Soho, we rounded things off with two hours of karaoke; Alanis Morrisette, Little Shop of Horrors sound track, Barenaked Ladies – the works!

All in all, a pretty full night. And I’m clearly telling you all this because the last time I headed home at 4am was Halloween, and that was a party down the road where I’d consumed a small bottle’s worth of beer throughout the entire evening. I’m proud. But laser quest and karaoke and wine AND cheesecake? Of course I was asking for trouble…

I’d been drinking throughout the evening, but at a very slow pace, so by the time we got the N1 back to Luke’s flat in Greenwich, I was fairly sober – and entirely coherent. You probably wouldn’t be able to tell I’d been drinking, party outfit and time of day aside.


We headed straight up to the top floor of the deserted double decker bus and sat in the scenic bit; on the left at the very front of the bus. We took a celebratory photo. I sat by the window and watched the snow fall. A few stops in, more people joined us; a group of drunk students who spread themselves out across the seats in the middle of the bus and a pair of men, who sat directly behind us.

I just happened to be looking out of the window to my left when I noticed a hand – quick as a flash – reach through the gap next to the wall of the bus and wriggle itself next to my waist. I’ve gone over this moment many times in my head since; was he trying to tickle me? Steal from me? Reach further?

I turned around; “Why did you just touch me? You just touched me!” I exclaimed loudly, projecting my voice down the aisle. The man looked despondent for a moment. “I want you to move.” I said.

By now the man had worked out how to respond; by twisting a finger to his head as if to say I was crazy and miming a drink, to say I was too drunk to know better. “I have girlfriend, why would I do this?” he said in broken
English, his friend silent and passive next to him.

“You did touch me and I want you to move right now,” I exclaimed. I was not going to be fobbed off my a man accusing me of being crazy. He began to protest more. “I want you to move to another seat. I’m not having you sit behind me.”

By now the students were saying nothing. Although I spoke loudly, I had a strong sense of control and did not mind that they were watching. If I moved, I’d admit defeat and show weakness to these men. If I moved I’d look like I was lying. But I was going to sit this one out.

Less than a minute after I’d called the man out, he moved to the empty seat behind his. His friend remained in place, until a couple of minutes later when he too moved. Now all we had to do was remain on the bus for 15 more excruciating minutes and we’d be rid of them. And we did.

It was a small moment in an epic evening – and it’ll never be able to overshadow the night. But I won’t forget it in a hurry. I will never understand his motives either – was it a joke at my expense? Was it a kink? Was it an attempt to take my Oyster card? And the worst – does he do it often to other women?

The love list

Right now I’m loving…

Taylor Swift

When I first heard¬†Love Story, the breakthrough song that made Taylor Swift an international star back in 2008, I never thought; ‘in six years time, I shall be running up and down Oxford Street desperately seeking a copy of Taylor Swift’s ridiculously popular fifth album.’ And yet, yesterday, there I was in HMV, feeling slightly sheepish as the cashier expressed her surprise at how insanely popular the album, titled 1989, has been.

Considering how hard Taylor (it feels odd referring to her as Swift, given her personable image) has been working to promote her record, it shouldn’t be a surprise that it’s such a quick hit – or that for the first time in a while, CDs are flying off the shelves at such a rate that they’re selling out (the polaroid images featured in a neat packet inside along with infamous liner notes complete with coded messages about Taylor’s private life are definitely an incentive), but also her sudden credibility – see¬†her Radio 1 Live Lounge reversioning of the aforementioned¬†Love Story.

Clever marketing and changes of sound aside, it really helps that the album is wickedly, infectiously good (and makes focusing on reading on the tube¬†really hard with it playing on the iPod). My current addictive track is¬†Blank Space, but I’d be lying if I said that I won’t be switching my allegiance to another track sometime soon. It might not be for everyone, but I imagine I’m not on my own with my new found enthusiasm for her!

Putting my face in ‘those things you put your face in’ on the wrong side

Firstly, I have no idea what these are called – I’m just going by comic James Acaster’s description in his brilliant 2014 show¬†Recognise –¬†but for some reason, since accidentally putting my face through the wrong side during the summer at Latitude, I have a compulsion to keep doing it…

Face in the wrong place

Sephora jumbo liners

I ‘popped’ over to Paris via a ten hour coach to see my boyfriend Luke at the weekend. He’s abandoned me to go to a French clown school for a month and therefore was a charmingly good sport when I dragged him round Sephora – I bought one of these crayons on a whim (in green) and have totally fallen in love with it – it’s really easy to get thin lines, despite its chubby size, and looks like a liquid liner. It also totally stays put – far more so than a recent liquid liner I bought. It works smudged as a shadow too. Basically I’m in love and want one in every colour. (Please Santa?)

Lena Dunham and ‘Team Legend’

I confess, I’m probably a terribly embarrassing manager – I refer to us as Team Legend for goodness sake, but I’m very lucky to work with two lovely researchers, Shabana and Katie, who stood in the mind numbing long queue to get Lena Dunham to sign a copy of her new book,¬†Not That Kind of Girl, for me on Wednesday.

The book itself is great so far – funny, frank and everything you’d want from Dunham, who has been popping up all over London this week and for some reason hasn’t visited W12. What. A. Shame. Still, I have a signed copy of the book to comfort myself with in these hard times. Thanks Team Legend!

A response to Angela Epstein

Congratulations Daily Mail, I have finally succumbed to your baiting.

Before I tear the barb from my lip and get on with my life, I’ll address a few points from your post by Angela Epstein.

In the article she writes about her appearance on Newsnight with Mary Beard (LEGEND) and Natasha McElhone.

Here’s her response to host Emily Maitlis’s enquiry as to whether she would call herself a feminist:

“I hoped my blow-dried hair and figure-hugging dress would give her some clue as to the answer.

“Feeling a little mischievous, I was tempted to ask her whether I looked like one of those grumpy women in bad clothes who spend their days in a state of agitation about whether it’s right to let girls play with dolls.”

So, as a feminist, here’s my response:

  • I don’t blow dry my hair because it doesn’t work. Even hairdressers haven’t cracked it. A visit to the hairdressers is akin to others’ fear of the dentist. There is nothing anti-feminist about having your hair cut.
  • I’m not a thong fan, therefore figure-hugging isn’t really my style
  • I’d like to see a picture of one of these ¬†‘grumpy women’ please – this is pure speculation
  • The ‘pink stinks’¬†campaign, and others like it, is not about removing dolls from the arms of little girls, it’s about removing gender bias from children’s toys. So in other words, boys can play with dolls and girls can be free to dress up as doctors

Then Emily takes affront with the simple, but effective, Everyday Sexist Project, which allows users to submit their experiences of sexism directly on the site or via social media

“Rather than campaigning to help women, feminists today are more likely to be picking fights on Twitter, or dressing up petty grievances as proof of rampant ‘sexism’.”

If ¬†you don’t tell someone that calling women sexist names, groping the body parts of women in clubs entirely uninvited, kerb crawling after school girls and making comments is wrong, then who will? Emily’s issue with Everyday Sexism is the fact that it does as it says ‘on the tin’; it reports ‘everyday’ sexism. If women (and men) don’t reject the tiresome, patronising comments or don’t resist behaviour, it becomes (and remains) acceptable, as it has. Hence the rise of ‘LAD culture’. I used to be scared to walk home in the dark as a school girl. As an adult, occasionally that feeling returns.

On Friday night I went to St Moritz in Soho, celebrating the last performance of Bouncers and Shakers, two plays performed at the BBC (as part of a BBC Club society). Now, I have problems with Bouncers as a play – the behaviour it depicts is so laden with misogyny, you feel playwright John Godber but be against it, but then so much of it comes at you in the hour-long duration of the play that it’s possible to feel offended rather than inspired to do anything; that you as a woman are a solitary object – the butt of a joke – and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Issues with Bouncers aside, I was following my friend to the club’s cloakroom when a young man said to his friend rather loudly; “I’d like to set them on fire”.

Just like that, tripping off his tongue like it was something everyone was thinking.

I turned around and said “excuse me?” and joined the man at his table. I questioned why he felt so strongly in his reaction to me walking across the room (calling out “Are you in there?” to my friend). I stated that my loud voice may have been irritating but was surprised that it would evoke such a response. We had a calm, humorous conversation about the ‘fiery phrase’ (ahem, sorry!) Ten minutes later, he’d taken what he’d said back, apologised, called me ‘very cool’ and we parted with a handshake.

The problem is of course, that I don’t get to have these conversations with everyone, but I think it’s important that we have them whenever we can. That’s one of the reasons I’m not commenting directly on the Daily Mail article. Because here I can respond in a controlled, collected way. In a comments section, it’s hard to have a face-to-face style discussion. There’s very little chance for a structured debate and the increase of frustration is commonplace.

Back to the article; feeling incensed (or perhaps proud, given that she is being paid to write her article), Epstein takes a potshot at the Twitter users who have commented on her Newsnight appearance;

“Firebrand feminists who pit sister against sister‚Ķ those who claim to champion women want to bully me for saying I don’t believe in a cause they have bastardised

Now, I’m surprised at this. Firstly, I never feel like I have been attacked by another feminist – on Twitter or otherwise. Also, disagreeing with someone’s opinions on social media is not bullying. Trolling someone – saying that they should die, are ugly, too old, etc‚Ķ – is what happened to Mary Beard, not Epstein during her Newsnight appearance. By writing this article, Epstein is pitting herself against an entire community. As an educated woman (as she’s keen to point out in the article), she will be aware of this.

“Indeed, what the sour Lefty Twitterati won’t admit is that all the great battles on which feminism was founded have been won – including political representation, and equality in education, the workplace and other areas of public life.”

(My first reaction to this was “well this is a pile of‚Ķ”) I’m going to try and be constructive here. They haven’t been won. There still aren’t enough women in Parliament – in fact in general, the government does not represent a cross-section of British society. Sexual discrimination is still rife (did I ever tell you the story of how the all-male staff of Sports Direct in Maidstone had a competition to see who could touch my chest when I wasn’t looking? Boxing Day 2007. I never went back.) Women in comedy are still in the minority – the boring ‘are women funny?’ debate proving popular with ‘but they aren’t’ commenters and let’s not get started on women in radio and sports, the fascination with women’s post-pregnancy weight in the media and pretty much all of the Daily Mail’s ‘sidebar of shame’. Oh and Robin Thicke. (Needless to say, the ‘ass float’ in his most recent video wasn’t the biggest ass on screen‚Ķ)

“An emancipated, financially independent woman couldn’t care less whether Jane Austen is emblazoned on a tenner. I don’t: I just care that I’m being paid enough of them”

I’m an emancipated, financially independent woman, took my eleven plus exam to go to a girls’ grammar school and went to University – just like Epstein. I carved out a career for myself. I don’t have the husband or kids yet. I don’t reject the idea, nor to I reject it – so therefore, there are potential parallels in our lives. However, I care that a major female figure was set to be replaced on a bank note by another ‘white male’ (as campaign organiser The Woman’s Room describes it) – currency is part of a national identity after all.

“One survey found that women who own businesses earn nearly 17 per cent more than men in the same position. That’s my definition of feminism – not some spurious insistence on female quotas and women-only shortlists.”

Two things to comment on here:

  • This is a survey about women who ‘own businesses’, it doesn’t represent women who work for someone else. Business is such a wide area, it’s fairly impossible to take such a statistic seriously – what kind of businesses are we talking here? Banking? Bakeries? A venues group?
  • Feminism isn’t defined by ‘quotas’. It’s not defined by women owning their own businesses either. The option for this to happen is obviously part of it, but I doubt you’ll find ‘quotas’ in the dictionary under ‘feminism’.

This quote really does sum up Epstein’s unsteady line of fire quite well:

“If I ever was a feminist, I can’t be now – not according to those who loathe the fact I see marriage as more than a piece of paper, that I believe women have no place in a combat zone, and that I know my daughter won’t be stereotyped for playing with dolls.”

Here, Epstein brings up three unsubstainsiated thoughts:

  • Feminism doesn’t disagree with marriage – however the old fashioned vows that saw a woman declared a ‘man’s wife honouring and obeying’ are agreed by many to be outdated, even by some religious organisations.
  • Where did a debate about women in a combat zone come in? Surely that’s another complex issue she should devote a whole article to rather than bringing it up at the last moment? Should women not be bringing their strategy and medical skills to the battlefield as well as on the front line itself? Or should women be banned from the armed forces altogether? Be clearer, Epstein!
  • Girls aren’t stereotyped for playing with dolls – the issue people have is that the dolls themselves are usually stereotypes.

“So ashamed and depressed am I by a once-laudable movement which has corrupted its heritage and condemns me for saying so.

“For that, I think any sensible woman will join me in feeling saddened by how irrelevant and niche modern feminism has become.”

I don’t feminism isn’t corrupted, I believe it is fighting corruption before it itself becomes heritage. If the suffragettes were around today, of course they would be talking on social media. It’s a totally modern, intuitive way of linking up voices around the world. How amazing is that? If there wasn’t a reason for people to agree, that voice would have died out a long time ago.

Instead, those who don’t agree with feminism decide to try and drown this global voice instead, but it’s not working. Those who oppose it are more than welcome to sit down with me in Soho to talk it out. And that includes you, Epstein.