As I understand it, the latest boy band phenomenon, One Direction, is a group that was packaged from solo talent auditioning for The X Factor in the UK. I note that because it absolves them of the songwriting sins I am about to censure. No, the fault lies with Rami Yacoub, Carl Falk and Savan Kotecha, writers of the perky, and very listenable, What Makes You Beautiful.
First, let’s talk about what I think makes you beautiful. That would be your confidence, your sense of humor, your intelligence and ability to carry on a conversation, your drive and ambition, the way you navigate through traffic, how you bake, your ability to sew anything out of nothing, your ability to do math in your head, the way you can make people feel at ease, your bartending skills, your laugh, how you know exactly the right thing to say, your ability to always choose the most amazing presents for people…you know, little things like that.
What do Yacoub, Falk and Kotecha think makes you beautiful? Your insecurity, your great skin, your nervous hair flippery, your inability to maintain eye contact.
Why do I care? What does it matter to me, a 41-year-old woman, what a group of adorable, mop-topped, English stud-muffins are singing? Especially since the song has a great hook, a great beat, and I can car dance to it–why do I care?
I care because I used to be 13-years-old, and I used to be in love with Duran Duran. (Yes, all of them. Well, not really Andy, but I thought he seemed like someone who could teach me how to shoot pool.) And, being in love with Duran Duran, and being a 13-year-old, my friends and I would scour their song lyrics to determine what would make us attractive to them. Not easy, considering Simon LeBon’s lyrics are about as straightforward as a Faulkner novel.
Still, by the time the Duran Duran side projects, Arcadia and the Power Station, had come out, we had at least pieced together that these men seemed to like women who read books and knew philosophy (Last Chance on the Stairway), enjoyed art or could at least identify Rembrandts (The Reflex) , could dance well, were strong and fiery, and who knew just how much they were admired, and used it to their advantage (Rio), were take-charge types (Election Day), were comfortable with their sexuality (Girls on Film), presented a challenge (Hungry Like the Wolf), but who were not opposed to enjoying a no-strings encounter (Save a Prayer), who were memorable (Careless Memory), and who were built like trucks, oh my (Get it On.) No wallflowers or milquetoasts for these once adorable, mop-topped, English stud-muffins.
I mean, we studied the lyrics! We used music as a manual for what was desirable in women. Forget Cosmopolitan, AC/DC told us that men liked women who kept their motors clean and were in good enough shape to outlast any rocker. Prince told us that women, not girls ruled his world. Foreigner was sure that a woman could teach what love was. Bon Jovi’s type was a woman who gave love a bad name. We considered what Night Ranger told us, what Hall and Oates were saying, what Wham was suggesting, and we put it all together, dressed it neon belly shirts and fedora hats, and walked out the door trying to show that we were confident, secure, intelligent women-to-be, with hair bigger than God’s head.
None of our idols told us to simmer down and wait to be noticed. They told us to rock out with our–well, they liked Madonna as much as we did, and we know that Madonna rocked out with her everything showing. And she said who, she said when, she said how much. Good lord, even our idealized hookers were more confident. We weren’t victims!
It drives me mad to think that right this second, there is a gaggle of girls huddled together in the locker room of their YMCA daycamp/standing in front of the mirror in a pink bathroom/squeezed into one seat at the back of the bus heads bent over a lyric sheet, working out that to get a One Direction member’s attention, she must pretend to be shy and think she is ugly. It aggravates me that instead of practicing their steps to the left, and flicks to the right, little girls are practicing how to flip their hair in such a way that it telegraphs insecurity and a need for outside validation of their worth.
Then again, my little friends and I were emulating strong women. We grew up with Wonder Woman and Isis, Charlie’s Angels, and strong, intelligent, well written married and single mothers on television. We had Cyndi Lauper, Debbie Harry, Terri Nunn, Pat Benetar, Tina Turner, Sade, The Go-Gos, The Bangles, Sheila E., Janet Jackson and, yes, Madonna in music. Women who were all confident, self-aware, self-sufficient, and in-your-face with their own acknowledgment of self-worth and desirability.
You know, all the things I would want my daughter to be. All the things I want the girls I know to be.
In your face KNOWING they are beautiful.
Butter your stud-muffin with that, girls, and enjoy.