The Vagenda

So I Found an Old Copy of Trinny & Susannah’s Book, and it has Shaken me to the Core


So, I’ve just done the whole ‘boomerang baby’ thing and moved back home after uni. There have been many bad things about this, most of which I probably wouldn’t go into because we’d need a few good hours of therapy and a mop for the TEARS OF FIRST WORLD SUFFERING. But I digress. One of them has been not being able to borrow my friend’s books.

When I say books, obviously I mean magazines. I had a Digest-sized hole in my heart for the first few weeks after I returned to The Homeland, which sounds kind of gross and biologically counterintuitive but we’ll run with it. In desperation/ultimate boredom, I went to my Mum’s bookshelf for something equally as inane and entertaining as the real life stories in Take A Break (‘A spirit sat my Geography O Level’) and found Trinny and Susannah’s book ‘What you wear can change your life’. In some respects, it failed to disappoint. In others, it just downright failed.
Ultimately and unfortunately, this so-called fashion bible fails to do the two things it is intended for: boosting confidence, and offering solid fashion advice. Now, I know it was written in 2004 when pickings were slim and fashion meant pedal-pushers and nine inch heels with a long beaded necklace from that weird jewellery section in Superdrug (possibly with a gladiator belt to match), but seriously, ladies? An orange corduroy skirt with a velvet burgundy jacket and brown, suede knee-high boots? Really?
But hey, let’s dive right in. It’s going to get weird.
You might have forgotten that this book signalled the beginning of the whole ‘what shape are you’ body fascism trend and a deluge of other such books and articles which continue to this day. Which is why it’s even stranger to look back on, away from the hype of the beginning of the 21st century when we were all so drunk from celebrating 2000 and stupefied by back-to-back radio plays of Robbie Williams’ ‘Millennium’ (tune) that we didn’t stop to examine shit properly. For instance, how about one of the opening home truths for home girls that T and S serve up: ‘Men don’t give a damn whether she’s a wonderful person inside’. YA, RLY.
Apparently the way to start your own process of transformation is to do ‘the vile and hideous’ task of stripping, looking at yourself in the mirror and working out your shape. Now this I never understand – invariably the most accurate answer is human. Hourglass, pear, apple, rectangle: they all have their problems, not to mention the fact that not one of them has any legs. If I looked in the mirror and suddenly thought that the thing I most resemble in this world is a pear I’d think, ‘What the fuck has happened? and, ‘How the hell am I going to get to work now?’, not, ‘Woah, how do I make my butt look smaller?’
‘We are certain the idea of standing starkers in front of a full-length mirror makes you want to reach for the nearest plastic bowl to vomit in,’ continues the narrative. A great start, naturally. But hey, accepting yourself as a ‘fat, white, maggot’ (seriously) and vowing to change that is the beginning of changing your life. Sounds to me like it’s the beginning of ending your life. Also, why the hell do Trinny and Susannah keep their full-length mirror and their plastic bowls in the same room, what? Further question: why are their voms so planned that they keep specific plastic bowls for the purpose? The only time I’ve ever seen someone purposefully vom in anything other than a toilet – sick bags aside – was on ‘Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents’ where, right after the gentleman in question regurgitated his dinner and pint of wkd into a cup, he immediately downed it.
Anyway. The next step in your transformation is to make sure you get the right underwear: pretty solid advice, despite the fact that it involves a tableau of Trinny being sad about having ‘NO TITS’ and a homunculus of Susannah diving into an unsuspecting model’s cleavage.
Admittedly this is their most absurdist chapter.
It gets worse when they talk about shoes. If you have big ankles you’re told ‘a high ankle strap strangles the ankle, and a low kitten heel is in danger of looking like it’s going to snap under your weight’ (you fat, fat bitch.) But hey, no matter, because they find this shoe to be the best for extending the leg and shrinking the ankle. Lucky they found a shoe that goes with all your dressiest outfits, amirite?
Later on, in quite possibly my favourite photo in the whole book, while modelling travel wearz the pair seem to disobey their own shoe advice:
(note that Susannah’s heel seems to have actually vanished under her self-proclaimed ‘fat ankles’).
In the following make-up section comes perhaps the saddest quote of all: ‘They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. As far as we are concerned, the beholder needs to be blind or desperate ever to be attracted to our make-up free faces’. Dude, say how you feel, jeez. I mean, these books were part of a bestselling series that earned them millions and accompanied their weekly newspaper column and hit BBC series. Wasn’t the whole ‘keep on your slap or lose your husband’ shtick a bit outdated by then, even by 2004’s standards?
Then again, this was the era that brought us Channel 4’s ’10 Years Younger (in 10 days)’ which starts off with the victim standing in the street being judged and shamed by 100 passers-by who have to guess their age. The victim is then drilled ,broken, put back together again, and finally revealed to their family as a new person. It’s like going through purgatory and ending up in a hell where people tell you how much better you look. The stuff of Dante’s work, for sure. Thank the starry skies above us Frankenstein’s monster isn’t real and alive and kicking in the 21st century or they’d have him looking like Heidi Montag before you can even say ‘I just don’t like bootcut jeans’.
Maybe all this darkness is why T&S decided to fill their book with comic relief. In the best section, our fashionistas offer us some advice on how to pose in holiday photos. I’m not really sure what Susannah is going for in this next photo but it is in the ‘BIG TITS’ section and from what I can gather involves wearing a hat and looking like you are on day release:
Trinny, on the other hand, wants to help makes your legs look six inches longer by splaying them and going for ‘that newborn foal or Bambi stance’. You know, the kind of stance where you don’t need to walk – but, meh. Who needs ambulation anyway?
I feel the most illuminating section of the whole book is their advice on how to hang and fold clothes. They clearly have high hopes for their readership:
At the end of the day, this book was supposed to help you ‘look at yourself and see what you can make better’ when really, women should be looking in the mirror and seeing what they love. What they love, not what others should love. In 2013, Trinny and Susannah themselves are no longer a regular fixture on our TVs but their kind of thinking is everywhere, in nearly every makeover sequence or series we see. Of course there are some body-positive people out there – but for every (supremely irritating but slightly less fascist) Gok Wan there are ten makeover sequences to help the girl nab that guy. Why do we choose to be told this, why do we believe it, why do we buy into it, and when will it end?
And most importantly, what the hell is Susannah wearing?
- CB

13 thoughts on “So I Found an Old Copy of Trinny & Susannah’s Book, and it has Shaken me to the Core

  1. Hahahaha this article made my day! Specially the last line! xD This is indeed sad though! Pathetic way of trying to sell traditional beauty ideas in the name of a self confidence boost!

  2. ‘First world problems’? ‘Day release’? Okay, using a phrase which degrades people in countries with low GDPs is bad enough but mocking mental illness by suggesting that someone dressed comedically is mentally ill? Pretty flawed feminism here.

  3. Was it Orwell that said that the problem with adverts is that they sell you the problem and the solution.
    T & S, tell yourself you look like sh*t, dress like this and then we’ll decide you look better. Thanks, that will be £14 for the book and a few hundred quid for ‘real’ clothes please!

    Sorry T & S, i look awesome and my charity shop outfit and my ebay clothes rock.

  4. I really have no idea who these people are, thank you for apparently keeping them on your side of the North Sea, but is there anyway to get in contact with them and see if they’d be willing to write a piece about how they feel about this publication today?
    It’s not really clear from this piece if they are still out there being “helpful”, if so I guess they still believe in this absurdity.

  5. Oh my God. Please get something better to do with your day than be offended on behalf of other people. I’ve never ever heard of the idea that the ‘first world problems’ meme degrades people in countries with low GDPs. The whole idea is that it’s saying people have more serious shit going on than living with their parents. How is that offensive. And as for the day release thing, I was a patient in a mental hospital for two months, and I looked like shit when I was on day release, so I think it’s a point well made, and was not offended in the least. I’m pretty sure all the other in patients would feel the same, because most people have a sense of humour about it.

  6. @SaracottaPie: You are aware that ‘the First World’, although an outdated expression, refers to HIGH-income countries, right? The expression is in and of itself a tongue-in-cheek way of saying ‘I’m going to talk about this issue as being a big problem, but I’m totally aware that I’m very privileged to be able to think of it as a problem as a lot of people are way worse off’.

  7. Um – I have to say I found their book very useful, particularly the section on colour. It’s easy to mock two posh girls doling out fashion advice but in their defence, they are not body fascists and are cheerfully upfront about their own bodies, they are not fashion hags enthusing about ‘labels’ and all the women (and men) they dress come out looking 100% better. I remember a programme they did aimed at getting women over 60 to not dress in pastel or beige sacks, sending the women to Top Shop and other high street stores. I can’t think of any other programme that took into account the fashion needs of women over 60.

  8. Wow, those pictures are dated! In their defense though, I do think they helped a lot of people to feel more confident about the way they dress, say what you like about how we should all be happy with how we are but everyone has bits they are less happy with than other bits. My mum has always worked in an all-male environment and used to wear baggy shirts and jeans to work until one day she saw a T&S episode about dressing in a male-dominated workplace. I realise this sounds silly, but she was honestly delighted by it and it really changed the way she dressed and felt about her appearance.

  9. I have to agree with both Kaity and SaracottaPie. I think there are two things going on here.

    The first is that as feminists, when we call out another person for saying something that we find offensive, the best possible response if for them to say “wow,I did’t kow it wasn’t cool to do that, explain why” What also might happen is that we get slapped down or dismissed, with a “Jesus, get overyourself, not every woman is offended by that” etc.

    But whilst femiists are often good at calling out others, we are not often so good at responding respectfully to being called out. If somone here is saying that they find “first world problems” offensive then, just as I want to be listened to about what I am offended by I should listen to others. Especially on Vagenda- a site dedicated to calling out sexism.

    The post that Kaity put up is one of the best written discriptions of why “first world problems” is problematic, and for me its also a lazy discriptive trope that we could do without. Kaity is also right to say that even if we don’t agree, we might want to respectfully hear people out.

    The second thing is that discourse on Vagenda seems to be alot about reactionary slap-downs more that discussion, and I know younger women who are afraid to post here, which I think is sad.