I have little understanding of how it is that an article like this is in the balkanised “Women” section of the website of the conservative British newspaper The Telegraph instead of on the front cover of Ms. magazine. As most Canadians know, Lucy Maud Montgomery’s title character in the Anne of Green Gables series, Anne Shirley, is not an airbrushed blonde, as she now appears on the front cover of a new collection of the Green Gables books, but someone marked as an outsider to her Prince Edward Island community by her red hair.
One of the major themes of the books is Anne’s self-consciousness about not looking like everyone else, and at one point in the books, she tries to dye her hair in order to conform to social expectations and accidentally dyes it green, marking herself further as an outsider. The books are quite emphatic that this is a major issue for Anne Shirley’s character. It is an act of violence to literature to put this cover on the front of Montgomery’s books.
The Telegraph article demonstrates that this is not the first time female nonconformity to social beauty norms is something today’s book industry seems not to want to handle. Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar has also been recently given a cover showing a woman checking her makeup in a compact mirror that renders it almost completely indistinguishable from umpteen other “chick-lit” novels. To say that does a considerable disservice to Sylvia Plath, who is no longer alive to defend her work, is a massive understatement.
It’s frustrating to me that “movement” women will waste no time unproblematically comparing the unfree women of the Middle East to Western women, who at least have recognised freedoms to reject these kinds of social expectations. But perhaps it’s more a matter of trying to find positive expressions – maybe we could all get together to actually resist what does happen to those women who represent a bit more of nonconforming female reality? Defending the literary efforts of women who speak in a different voice would be a logical first place to start.