Holly Willoughby shared photos of her new Marks & Spencer line this week. Right on cue: the tabloids seized the opportunity to examine her body.
The nation is obsessed with Holly Willoughby. And why shouldn’t we be? Willoughby has become a part of daily life for many people in the UK, using her naturally down-to-earth presenting skills on This Morning for over a decade. And, as an advocate for the British high-street, her trendsetting outfits (with help from stylist Angie Smith) have led to an ongoing collaboration with Marks & Spencer.
As the proud owner of last year’s sell-out lilac coat – and a freshly bleached bob – I’m here for The Willoughby. I’ve also been known to watch many a ‘Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield cracking up on This Morning” YouTube clip to get me through a tough day. But there is a problem which lies in the fact that her stellar presenting skills and impeccable style don’t feed the rest of the country’s insatiable obsession with the star. Despite the fact that she rarely chooses to discuss her marriage, body, holidays and children – they are the very things that people are desperate to know everything about.
Explaining her decision to keep shtum about her diet and exercise regime, she recently told The Sunday Times: “I very deliberately don’t talk about it. Just because I don’t think it’s helpful to the conversation for women generally. As long as you are healthy and happy, that’s really all that matters.” The empowering answer is yet another reason to count Willoughby as a national treasure, but it hasn’t stopped the tabloids and members of the public fixating on her body.
In fact, two photographs that she shared on Instagram this week immediately caused scrutinization once more. As part of the promotion of her new M&S summer collection, Willoughby posted pictures of herself wearing a white shirt and pair of navy shorts from the range. Along with the rest of the country, she was navigating the nauseating task of finding something suitable to wear in a freak UK heatwave. “Suns out… legs out! This is definitely shorts weather,” she captioned the innocuous shot.
Right on cue, the headlines came thick and fast about how Willoughby was “flashing her pins”. There were a few highly-original variations on the take, with one writing “flaunts her amazing legs,” another penning “flaunts slender pins” and a fourth going with “shows off her killer legs”.
At first glance, these might seem like celebrations of Willoughby’s legs, but the truth behind them is toxic.
First, let’s quickly unpack what “flaunt” means. According to the Oxford Dictionary, to flaunt is to “dress or behave in a sexually provocative way”. So, by wearing shorts and a (long-sleeved) shirt in a heatwave of up to 38°C, Willoughby was supposedly being provocative. Even if this is true - and she wasn’t just trying to wear something comfortable that woulnd’t be sodden with sweat within an hour - a woman has the right to dress how she wants without inviting sexual commentary around her body.
Also, the articles conflate “slender” with “amazing”. Would the same adjectives be used if Willoughby’s legs were a little bit wider, slimmer or shorter? Of course she has beautiful legs, but it has nothing to do with the size, shape, colour and length of them. Her legs are amazing because they are strong enough to keep her on her feet all day while running around after three children following hours of presenting while stood up (mostly in heels) .
And, sorry but… are we in the 1950s? Does anybody use the word pins in 2019? The headlines read like something Uncle Geoffrey from Bridget Jones’s Diary would shout after a few whiskeys at a barbecue.
One paper even moved the focus onto her white shirt, writing: “Holly demanded attention in a paper-thin white blouse, which she cheekily left unbuttoned at the top.”
I think we can all agree that absolutely nobody was “demanding attention” as they sweated through the unbearable heat. The fact that Willoughby undid a button, to get some air to her body, wasn’t a “cheeky” move – it was pretty much an act of survival.
Sadly, it wasn’t just the newspapers who fixated on Willoughby’s legs, as fans also commented. “Wish I had your legs! No shorts for me,” wrote one follower. “Aye if I had legs like yours, not a problem Holly… But unfortunately I don’t,” added another. “Where did you get your legs from? I really want a pair!” asked a third. The conversation surrounding the photos isn’t exactly body-positive, which is why the media needs to take more responsibility when discussing them.
Although Willoughby’s own responsibility could arguably be brought into question here, it’s important to remember that she doesn’t discuss or promote any diet and fitness routine. The photos are certainly not provocative and they are clearly selling the clothes - not her body.