Brittany Murphy and the beastly cult of perfection

What does it say about our society if even Hollywood starlets don't feel up to much?

Did Hollywood kill Brittany Murphy, the Sin City actress who died of a heart attack? Her half-brother, Jeff Bertolotti, seems to think so. He said: "People come with their dreams and get chewed up alive and those who make it get chewed up alive anyway."

Murphy, 32, was said to suffer from a heart murmur and a food disorder. Reports state that up to 10 types of prescription drugs were found in her home – for bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety and to stop seizures. There were also pain-relief pills, for what has been widely described as a "plastic surgery addiction" – breast job, nose job, lip job and liposuction – a list that can only be viewed with sadness and anger.

No one is claiming that Murphy was one of the acting greats but she does not deserve to be written off as just another Valley of the Dolls screw-up, a bargain-bin Marilyn, whose death amounts to nothing more than another stop on a "Hollywood Deaths" coach tour. Murphy acted well in movies such as Clueless, Girl, Interrupted, and 8 Mile. More important, she was a human being, a young woman with supposedly everything going for her.

Which is why her plastic surgery is so jarring. If Murphy had even a mild heart murmur, she should not have been undergoing any unnecessary operations. Moreover, at 32, how could she possibly need it? Clearly Murphy did not feel beautiful enough, which speaks volumes. What does it say about our society, what hope is there for young girls and women, if even Hollywood starlets don't feel up to much?

This isn't a rant against plastic surgery per se. If people feel that a body part is ruining their life, why shouldn't they fix it? However, the plastic surgery age-bar seems to have got lower and lower. Time was when women would be sternly instructed to "start feeling old and ugly" in their 40s. Then it was "start worrying in your 30s", then, somehow unbelievably, their 20s.

In this way, Murphy's craving for physical perfection cannot be dismissed as just a Hollywood thing. This beautiful enough thing trickles all the way down.

Former Scottish footballer Colin Hendry recently gave a moving interview about the death of his wife, Denise, mother of their four children. It is a complex story and an inquest is planned next year to assess the actual cause of death. What we do know is that Denise had spent seven years trying to correct a liposuction operation that perforated her bowel. I remember her appearing on a TV documentary struggling to remember why she had wanted the liposuction – what had seemed so important. Now her widowed husband says that he will "never stop regretting that liposuction".

So there you have it: two different women, different continents, different stages of life and yet both having one thing in common – the feeling of not measuring up. Indeed, one wonders, how can it be that body dysmorphia, once something you had to look up, is now so common a concept, so widespread a psychocultural infection, that we may as well presume all females have it.

Never mind the constant moaning about sex education in schools. The times being as they are, why aren't the young, particularly girls, being taught how to deal with body dysmorphia?

Some people may argue that people who have plastic surgery must accept the risks. Moreover, Murphy's half-brother may be right. Hollywood, with its extra pressures and cruelties, may indeed have chewed his sister up "alive". However, it isn't the whole story.

Out here, in the world outside Hollywood, there is a much more widespread culture of "beautiful enough", or, more precisely, "not beautiful enough". What is also becoming clear is that, given the right dreadful circumstances, it could be pernicious enough to kill.

And after that fiasco, may all your Christmases be sleety

So the snow fell. Britain got the oft-dreamt-of "white Christmas". Was everyone happy? Of course not. Quite apart from the gruesome road hazards, snow is awful even when you don't have to travel. Indeed, snow is the one-night stand of weather conditions: initially surprising, even magical, but you end up wishing it had never happened, and would indeed just melt away.

Even "white Christmas" betting is getting nasty. One presumed placing bets on the likelihood of a white Christmas to be the preserve of gentle eccentrics, but William Hill says it has taken on a Grand National-style importance. Rules state that snow must fall in famous locations, such as Buckingham Palace, on certain days, even at certain times. Otherwise, bookies won't cough up, leading to disgruntled punters banging counters with their fists in betting shops. Merry Christmas, one and all!

Mind you, it's madness to see romance in a white Christmas. The rest of us would rather not be skidding on our backsides on pavements, or getting pelted with snowballs by vile mocking children in striped scarves – some in my area are putting stones in them, calling them 'stingies'.

In Washington DC, police detective Michael Baylor pulled out his gun after being pelted with snowballs. His chief called his actions "totally inappropriate" but how can we be sure? Maybe Officer Baylor was being pelted with stingies. Maybe he'd spent the whole day falling over on his head and couldn't be held responsible for his actions.

The message is clear – snow is trouble. Let's hope for some nice sleet next year.

How cruel to suggest dancing dads are repelling women!

Did anyone see that rather cruel (tee hee!) study on the science of "dad dancing"? Research from the University of Hertfordshire claims that it is nature's way of repelling younger females. There's more: those bizarre shuddering moves dads make in their chunky knits to Lady Gaga at family functions, the ones that make you inquire if they need a lie down and an Alka-Seltzer, are all the "proof" young women need that they are no longer particularly fertile.

To make matters worse, the older men get, the more deluded some of them become about their dancing prowess, so inadvertently they are helping to advertise their own infertility. Has anyone told Jack Nicholson? Has anyone even helped the poor man up off the floor since his last thwarted Y-front-straining attempt at the conga? Or Tony Blair, as he waltzes Cherie around the dance floor, with all the grace and elegance of children tied together for a three-legged race?

These findings seemed particularly brutal when, all over the nation, offices have been full of "men with experience" looking meaningfully over plastic cups of lukewarm cava, twitching their pressed flannels to Beyoncé. Their smiles say: "I've still got it!" Their eyes scream: "Help me. By which I mean, stop me!" Indeed, dancing dads, please stop repelling younger females and advertising your infertility. At the very least, stop doing the wavy-fingers-past-the-eyes move.

Enough of this now. This study is horrid and mean-spirited. Poor dancing dads, frug your little hearts out, my pets, why should society, and now science… well, let's face it, everybody, judge you?

However, it also serves men right. Women have been putting up with this ageist-sexist nonsense for years. We've been judged in terms of fertility by everything from our hip-waist ratio to the positioning of our breasts to the depth of our voices. As if this wasn't enough, they made a few new ones up in recent years, such as the patented "Ugh, look at Madonna's wrinkly hands!" put-down.

Not nice is it, dancing dads, to have a taste of your own chauvinist, judgmental male medicine? Indeed, the dancing shoe is on the other foot now. After all, however old women get, most of us can still do the macarena without looking like we're being positioned by Tony Hart.

Boy George has been punished enough

Boy George, currently wearing an electronic tag after being found guilty of imprisoning a male escort, has been told by a high court judge that as an attempt to lift a probation service order has failed, the restrictions on his freedom will remain, hence he will not be able to appear on the last-ever series of Celebrity Big Brother. Quite right. Good decision. Boy George has been punished enough.


Barbara Ellen

The GuardianTramp

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