The Fleabag actor has said the washboard stomach she sported at the SAG awards was painted on by a makeup artist. Are these visible contours the height of body fascism?
Zoe Williams – The Guardian
Phoebe Waller-Bridge reveals her painted-on abs at the Screen Actors Guild awards. Photograph: Gregg DeGuire/Getty Images for Turner
The only time I have ever seen abdominal muscles that had actually been painted on by a makeup artist was on a man dressed as a pirate at a fancy-dress wedding. Fair enough; you would struggle to survive on the open seas without being buff. But this ab trend is generally more of a woman-thing, and finds its purest expression in Phoebe Waller-Bridge, as so many woman-things do: she appeared at the Screen Actors Guild awards in midriff-centric attire by Armani Prive, looking as if she could have lifted a Robin Reliant simply by engaging her core. Her abs, though, were really all down to a shading effect, for which she thanked her makeup artist.
Visible contours have become a must-have status symbol for women, thanks not so much to the stomach crunching of pioneers, as the obsessive media watch: household names – Miley Cyrus, Jennifer Lopez – are boosted by their washboard tums, and there are definitely people, Bella Hadid, for one, whose myology I feel I know better than their professional output (although since Hadid is a model, you could say there was an overlap). I put it to you, patriarchy, that the six-pack is the ultimate policing of the female form, the point at which the requirement of ever-greater thinness – a basic and timeless tool of oppression – meets the demand for constant self-improvement and maximisation. In a contortion typical of late capitalism, the effort has become more important than the appearance, so you probably wouldn’t even make it as a beach body now if your stomach were merely flat. The message is very much on brand for perhaps even the apotheosis of body-fascism; there is no such thing as difference and variety, there is only trying and not trying, success and failure.
In this fat-free world, contouring makeup is subversive in a way that regular makeup rarely is. Choosing artifice over effort is one thing; by then admitting as much, Waller-Bridge capsized the pretence and implicitly called bullshit on the whole enterprise. NB, she could also have called bullshit by wearing a vest, but that is a very 90s solution.