Best Frenemies Forever…?

The trouble with being registered with an upmarket, sought after hairdresser is that you spend more time in the waiting area than you actually do in the chair.

Last Monday in that very waiting area, I sat reading my tome, when I suddenly felt eyes boring in to my soul… oh, no, wait, it was just another female eyeing me up. First she checked out my shoes, then the length of my legs, followed by the width of my thighs, the shade of my skin and of course, the size of my breasts – Shock, horror! Were they bigger than hers?! I smiled at her but instead of returning my smile, she chose to reluctantly avert her gaze. After all, she couldn’t befriend the enemy – could she?

If my human instinct had been sated, I would have thrown down the book, marched up (or indeed teetered in my heels) to this fellow female and shaken her with my bare hands whilst shouting ”Why are you so threatened by me?!” I mean, sure, my hair flowed down by tanned back, my make up dewy and admittedly, on my feet lived the much desired, 14cm, black Python with black flowered lace Christian Louboutins.(I was going out after, honest). Still, did I deserve to be scrutinised, possibly cursed and then have my kind gesture (the smile) ignored?

The more I thought about the scrutiniser, the more I began to feel sorry for her and even empathise with her. After all, aren’t we all, as women, made to feel that we have to be the most beautiful, amazing, intelligent, sexy, maternal, bright, funny, welcoming and inspiring woman in the room?

If men don’t crane their necks to admire us on a night out, then we’re unattractive. If we don’t soar in our careers, we’ve squandered our prospects. If we don’t fit back in to our size 10 jeans a fortnight after giving birth, we’re frumpy. Why do all our efforts have to be mirrored in order for them to be validated?

It doesn’t just begin when we are grown women either. What about when we are at school? Wasn’t it always the pretty girls who were picked to be in the netball team? Or the clever girls picked to be the lead role in the play? How can we really control biased opinions others have of us and what are these biased opinions based on?

I thought about myself. Today was my friend’s husband’s birthday and as a single woman, I had been ordered to look presentable due to the myriad single men rumoured to be attending. (Nobody bothered to realise that I actually liked being single).

So for this one day out of my life, I had my hair professionally blow dried so it hung down like some sort of fantasy goddess; my make-up was straight from the Selfridges counter, my shoes may have been sought after, but the price tag certainly wasn’t and my feet were killing me!

It isn’t just younger women we are competing against. In my last relationship, I practically had to thaw his mother off him when we went out. ”Son, do you want me to iron your shirt?”, ”Would you like dinner instead of eating out, it’s so expensive!?”, ”Doesn’t she cook for you at home?”, ”Oh, son, you are so handsome!”. He lapped it up completely! Needless to say, Oedipus was soon shown the door.

So, the question is… Why do we feel compelled to compete with other women? Why do we feel so threatened if another woman is remotely attractive? If I had a pound for every time I saw a woman firmly grip her boyfriend’s arm and follow his gaze when a pretty woman walked past, I would be writing this from my yacht right now. Just why, oh why do we do it?

Women are judged on many things beyond their control. A woman cannot alter her body shape to conform to society’s views of attractiveness. If a woman is pear shaped, she will have to go to great lengths in order to fit in with the biased view that an hour glass shape is the most aesthetically pleasing, often involving carefully thought out underwear, clothes and in extreme cases, surgery.

A healthy physique and a happy smile just doesn’t seem to suffice nowadays. Women now pay attention to every facet of their physical appearance. The hair needs to be shiny, silky and long. The eyes are to be seductive and telling, mysterious and sultry. The lips are to distend in a lascivious fashion whilst slowly revealing white, straight teeth. The expectations of the female body far super cede any realism with the preference being toned, honed muscles with curves in all the right places and stylish, trendy clothes to temporarily cover them.

This is all before a woman has opened her mouth. After the exhaustion of preening herself to perfection, she then has to worry about sounding interesting, articulate, quick witted and intelligent.

A recent study on 4000 women conducted by Clairol, Perfect Colour 10, found that two thirds of women feel they age more quickly than men, and the women polled rated their appearance a measly five out of 10.

It also emerged that 56 per cent of women worry about losing their looks as they get older and the average woman will spend £600 every year, or more than £49 a month, on beauty products in a bid to stay looking young. The pressure to stay in the race for that all important job, or that loyal husband who will love you for who you are, is enormous and often, incredibly palpable as well as unjustified. The study concludes by saying that the happiest age for women is 28. It is during this time that women feel as if they look their best but the happiness is short lived, with women worrying about wrinkles and grey hair shortly after.

Yes, being a woman in today’s society is a job within itself and we’re competing for it all the time. However, does the fault really lie with other women? Surely if we are all in the same boat, we should seek solace in the pressures of being a woman? Hmmm… I wonder if I am simply being too hopeful and naïve, soon to be stamped all over by an Amazonian woman ready to take my place?

Thankfully, I am not alone in my optimistic vista; Cultural historian Professor Shere Hite remains hopeful. She writes that cattiness and jealousy are tired old clichés and that we love and need each other far more than we like to acknowledge. As a girl who is no stranger to preening, I am still compelled to agree. I hold on to hope that females are our sisters and are there in times of need. If we all just overcame the instinct to compete, we would cause a real revolution – Spice Girls not included.

The Tending Instinct by Shelley E. Taylor backs this by saying that women under stress have the need to ‘tend and befriend.’ We want to tend to our young and be with our friends. It is our natural instinct to want to turn to our female friends for that needed, soul saving advice and love. A solid friendship can even add years on our lives as time with our friends actually reduces our stress levels, which in turn, results in us living longer. So, is it really worth jeopardising our true soul mates for a man or a job?

Perhaps when you take the time and effort to invest in good, solid friendships, you won’t feel threatened by your female friends because you can remember when they had that thick fringe in school; your mind is indelibly etched with the night you held her hair back when she was being sick after one too many tequila shots and you just know that no one else can fully understand you the way another female can. Spice girl shoes included.