In Bad Company: Girl Tribes.

I had to write about a ridiculous article I read last October. I’ve been sitting on it, actually, waiting for a chance to spatter it with vitriol. It’s about the four ‘Girl Tribes’. Yep, you heard me: FOUR.

Window of Hamleys toy shop, October 2010

That’s right – Company magazine decided to get four male writers to spew some rubbish about Brit Girls and their apparent diversity:

   “Women come in all shapes and sizes, and hurrah for that…”

Promising start, no? But when the examples given are Keira Knightley, Posh and Alexa Chung, you soon realise this article sure ain’t gonna be about body diversity. On the one hand we have a fawning celebration of ‘The English Rose‘ – an original concept, I’m sure you’ll agree – who is lucky enough to have “pale skin, glossy hair…” – and, wait for it! – “…a brain.” To nail this look, ladies, one must be “from a good family” and possess “true beauty”, but more important than that, one must be unaware of these transcendent good looks. Got it? 

The English Rose is also known to display a distaste for falseness, including “fake tan, acrylic nails and chemical peels” (au naturel armpit hair a step too far, I assume), unlike her sister tribe ‘The High Glamourati‘. The HG, aka the “high glam Brit Babe”, would, never dream of owning a pair of trainers. And stop comfort eating in front of your weekly soaps, girls, because in tough times the HG should be able to get through with a high-gloss slick of lippy and 6″ heels, something comparable to the war effort, if this young man is to be believed. Apparently, “every man dreams of coming home to a woman stirring a casserole wearing skyscraper heels (no other clothing required)”. Now Mr Bossa is a red-blooded male, and all that, but even he in his practicality pointed out the dangers of ‘gravy splashback’.

In contrast to this highly-coiffed saucepot, ‘The New Romantic‘ girl (ref Florence Welch and Natasha Khan) “doesn’t belong in a dream that looks like it’s sponsored by Nuts Magazine. She’s better than that”. 

So, ditch the sexy shoes and beauty products – if you want respect rather than a quickie over the cooker you should swathe yourself in chiffon and “celestial wonderfulness”casserole not required, presumably. The NR looks “stunning, almost goddess-like” whether her willowy limbs are wrapped in flowing clothes or “a jumper that looks like it’s been borrowed from Wogan’s wardrobe”. Well I don’t know about you, chicas, but the goddess look is a little grandiose for northern Lancashire, and if I don a Wogan jumper, well…I certainly ain’t gettin’ any.

Terry Wogan: horny devil.
For those feeling a little excluded from these virgin/whore dichotomies – never fear. If you’re prepared to chug down crap lager while regaling fellas with your encyclopaedic knowledge of indie bands, then you are no doubt a ‘Rock ‘n’ Roller‘. A refreshing alternative to American girls and their ‘boob jobs’, “MGMT remixes” hold more appeal for you than silicone augmentation (or the fight for equal pay, presumably) and all you need to do to capture your ‘own style’ is to don some wellies and er, a band t-shirt. So rad. 

So what have we learnt so far? If you can’t be brainy with lips like rose petals, then it pays to be cool. If you can’t be cool enough to brave the mud in festival moshpits, then get flaunting those buttocks in a pair of Louboutins. And if you can’t be a sexpot, then simply stash your sexuality (and your hairbrush) away. If you manage to knock out a few “miniature love poems on fallen leaves”, then, honey, the deal is SEALED.

There is no denying that what we wear is part of our identity (more on that next week), but the lack of scope in this article is infuriating; we are all so much more than these lazy stereotypes. I hate that each group is pitted against each other – the dreamy romantic versus the high maintenance glamour girl, the mud-spattered rock chick versus the brainy English rose. More significantly, I can’t bear the idea that each of these ‘tribes’ is legitimised by some bloke’s wet dream – each group either inspires extreme veneration or a knowing dirty wink…from men. Who exactly do they think we dress for?!

I was appalled when I first read this article, but this has waned into condescension over the months that followed. The stereotyping from these four dreamy idealists may be feeble, but you’re not telling me it doesn’t ring a few bells. I don’t think I need to fight my corner by stating I might like to listen to an odd bit of nu-metal when I’m flitting about in tea dresses. Applying make-up, for me, is a creative and therapeutic process, not the bait on the end of some hook. I may enjoy the stature that heels give me, but I have also been known to use these heels to threaten would-be attackers on the streets of London. Screw your nude cooking.

So, Company, don’t use some glib article to pigeon-hole your ‘girls’ by the height of their heels, the litheness of their limbs, the band on their t-shirts. We’ve had enough. Give us real diversity and let us run amok with our fashion choices. Women come in all shapes and sizes…and hurrah for that.

Who do you dress for, readers? 
How much truth is there in these silly stereotypes?

* * * * *

This is part of a series of blog posts by the Feminist Fashion Bloggers. To learn more, click here. To join the group, click here. And to read submissions by the other members, follow the links below:

Adventures in Refashioning – Soldering on in Heels 
Aly en France – My Body Entirely
Fishmonkey – The Man Repeller and the Male Gaze
Jean of all TradesQiu Jin: Modern China’s First Feminist
The Interrobangs – Millie’s Take on Modesty
Knitting Up the Ravelled Sleeve of Care – Knitting a Better World
Magic Square FoundationBody Policing
Northwest is Best – Why 1940s is Not a Fashion Trend
Oranges and Apples Some thoughts on Marthettes, blogging about ‘feminine’ stuff and perfection
Rags Against the Machine – A Gaze of My Own

Techie Style – Feminism and the Slave Leia Costume
What Are Years – My Thoughts on the Recent CBC Documentary ‘The F Word’


52 thoughts on “In Bad Company: Girl Tribes.

  1. Since the first time I read it (Nick Carter, Backstreet Boy, Smash Hits magazine) I have been fascinated by that “beautiful.. but DOESN’T KNOW IT” idea.

    I don’t know if I want to roll my eyes, stridently demand a more thoughtful statement, or FIGHT whoever says it!

      • And how stupid or (worse, as an ideal) dysmorphic are sight-unimpaired girls expected to be? There’s no shame in recognising ‘beauty ideal’ patterns in our faces or bodies, or appreciating the qualities in our personalities that manifest as beauty.

      • can i say something controversial here. I use ‘looks great but totally knows it’ as a way of saying why i don’t fancy hot men all the time. So i guess by logic i do want them to not know they are hot!

      • I use that description too, but I think (at least for me) what I really mean is “he looks great and he is in love with himself for that very fact.” It’s not that I mind if men are aware of their attractiveness, but I mind if they get cocky over it.

      • But what you mean is that they trade on it, right? Not that they’re aware of their hotness, but that they know they can USE it, and DO use it, as a power-tool.


  2. Great post! What I find most bizarre is that magazines apparently for ‘modern women’ like Company still publish this sort of crap, and no one complains – well, apart from people on the FFB! Frankly, Men’s Health is just a thinly veiled cover for what is essentially a homo-erotic publication anyway, and as for the others – pfft. They’ve also missed out a category: the ‘Fuck You Feminist’.

    • Ha ha! You’re right there, Eleanor! I can’t believe we have to put up with this rubbish either – it’s like we’re heading backwards sometimes. Modern women indeed…

    • They’ve also missed out on the “she drinks your milkshake” category: the girl who is so five steps ahead of you that she smelled what you were cookin’ before you even bought the groceries.

    • Company is one of the worst culprits for insulting slender women (rather than addressing body image in the media honestly) then having only very slim models. Why do something positive when you can put some women down??

  3. You tell ’em girl! I absolutely agree. And this kind of “journalism” or “entertainment” is what made me turn my back on women’s magazines (and RUN as fast as I could into the blog scene). And can you imagine – I actually like British women’s magazines *a lot* better than German ones… The Brits add a hilarious biting humour every now and then, while German women’s magazines are plain (and) harmless – in an intellectual way. Concerning body image and women’s self images, they are as dangerous as any other magazine. Back-handedly, of course! Pshaw.

  4. Hi there, fellow FFB-er! This is such a great post, and it’s infuriating to be put into stereotypes like this. Unfortunately, it’s a trend that’s rather pervasive in modern culture: look at the “manic pixie dream girl” ideal in recent movies, for example.

    On the flip side, this is no different than teen and women’s magazines that have articles that show 10 ways to meet your dream mate and matching you up with a jock, musician, geek, etc. I just suppose we need to encourage positive examples of modern people, and not rely on representations in lazy writing.

    • You’re so right about the ‘manic pixie dream girl’! Ha! It’s all a bit sad really.

      You’re also right about the reverse trend – women being matched up with male types. I’d be interested to see how men’s magazines tackle this sort of thing…if at all, of course – do they have to put up with this idealistic tripe?!

  5. Bloody hell, I loathe women’s magazine with avengeance. What utter tripe, it’s as if we haven’t moved on from those lame Cosmopolitan issues of the Seventies with the quizzes to ensure you are pleasing your man in the right way.
    I dress for me and only me. Great if Jon approves but if he doesn’t I ain’t changing a thing. Past lovers have occasionally wondered why I insist on dressing so differently as they get fed up with people looking at me and they’ve been given the elbow. I don’t dress to please anyone.
    Wearing make-up or anything to snare a partner is just laughable. Like you, I apply makeup is a therapeutic process, all part of waking up in the morning and getting ready to face the day.
    Never mind burning those bras, let’s start a bonfire outside WH Smith. xxx

  6. I find it hilarious that all of the articles happen to be written by men and I completely agree with you how demeaning it is that we’re all expected to fit into one of the four categories otherwise we’re an outkast. I can’t believe that in the 21st Century that this is still happening. Also, it really infuriates me that men assume that we dress for them when I know I don’t and I presume that’s the case for many women. I think I’d be worried if I could class myself in any of those categories! Definitely never buying company again – it’s supposedly a magazine for the modern women but all it makes women feel is insecure about the way they look. Something obviously went wrong along the way!

    • I know – I could bear it more if they were more open about it…but to paint themselves as the magazine choice of the emancipated woman is just plain wrong. I certainly wouldn’t want any daughter of mine taking this stuff on board.

  7. being a guy I think that you have to take these sorts of articles with a pinch of salt. They used to post similar sorts of articles in Mens Health magazine and that’s why I stopped reading it. It’s nonsense stereotyping for people with short attention spans.

  8. Bravo, Mrs. B! This was a fantastic post. The original article sounds like mindless dribble unworthy of the paper it’s printed on. As to the men writing it, I can’t really blame it on their sex because I’ve read a few articles in the same vein that were written by women, too. Sometimes the media itself doesn’t have a gender, you know? But regardless, the fact that this idea seems to occasionally be accepted by a rather big audience is infuriating and I’m so glad you took a stand here!

    • No, I don’t blame it on the men as such – did they even write their sections? – it’s more the idea they’re perpetuating that women dress to type for the men around them. You’re right – there are plenty of articles in this vein written by women!

  9. Great post! Infuriating editorials from the writers at Company magazine. You said it best: it’s lazy stereotyping. Real people can’t be categorized that way. Not the first time I’ve seen that type of things, but you’d think writers would have more interesting things to publish.

  10. I never read Company, I think all their articles are a bit stupid and this certainly goes along with that!

  11. Good one. I am of the “who cares what men think” school of feminism and it makes me sick the way these types of articles perpetuate the idea that women are here to please men and should dress/behave according to what they want. It also encourages young men/boys to objectify and disrespect MY DAUGHTERS and be told that’s perfectly acceptable, nay, encouraged. Digusting, truly.

  12. Great review. I could never classify myslef into anyone tribe. I like to be different every day. I can see this is most definitely written through a mans eyes. Interesting to see how life looks from mans point of view I suppose.

    • But is this really a man’s point of view? I’d be interested to know if men are encouraged to pigeonhole women this way, or it is just some silly idea that women’s magazines peddle to fill their pages.

  13. Excellent post. I find that fashion magazines and fitness magazines marketed toward women do these things all the time. Break women down into four archetypal camps and tell them that a romantic floral scent or a breezy citrus scent or a musky patchouli scent is what matches their personality, etc., etc.. It’s annoying and insulting. Your critique here is fantastic and fantastically funny!

  14. Their article is appalling. Yours is awesome both in form and in content! Putting people in boxes is something we can’t completely eschew – our cognition works that way – but we can at least become aware of it, question what boxes we make, and if we might not need a lot more than just four… 🙂

    • …And we could probably have a bit more fun doing that! You’re right, of course: to some degree we like to categorise ourselves. I wouldn’t mind so much if they weren’t so cliched!

  15. Well. I am rolling my eyes and swearing reading this. I dress for me and I define my self. There you go. I love your blog and am such a happy follower.

  16. Truly depressing.
    I think I bought Company once a long long time ago when I was absolutely desperate for something to read on a train and had done the cascade of Vogue/Elle/Marie Claire et al… I never bought it again and you reminded me why that was likely to have been the case.

  17. i am so sick of all this feminist blah blah blah. the second you start talking about feminism is the second someone can be sure you are fat and ugly. this seems like such an interesting article to just take at face value. there’s no reason to over analyze everything you read…magazine employees have to write something to fill up the pages…

  18. I’m going to both agree and disagree. I do agree that its stupid to pigeonhole us girlies into 4 types as I don’t fit any of the types they mention but i think you have to take it with a pinch of salt i don’t think its supposed to be a serious article and my 2nd point is these kinds of mags often do the same kind of posts about men too as do mens mags too. saying all that company mag is a bit crap anyway. i’m not really a fan of womens mags in general.

    • Absolutely. I’ve just been dying to have a bit of fun with this article. though I do think it’s representative of a general tendency to pigeonhole people – both men and women.

  19. This article is so shallow I’m speechless right now. I guess there’s some truth in it though.These four types of girls exist, but not separately. They live in each and every woman. I can be a high maintenance glam girl and in the next moment I can be all shy and romantic… We don’t fit in pigeon holes and thank God for that!


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