Long live Kathy Burke. Last night the beloved actress and comedian appeared on our screens once more, this time to host a new Channel 4 documentary All Woman. This episode, the first of a three-part docuseries, explored what 'beauty' means in 2019. What does it look like, who decides, and why are young women in particular so negatively affected by its narrow, unrealistic constructs?
Kathy first meets Love Island alum Megan Barton-Hanson, who admitted to receiving death threats while on the reality TV show and said she was targeted for having had multiple plastic surgeries. Kathy asked whether she thought she would have made it on to Love Island had she not had the work done, to which Megan replied "probably not".
We’re no strangers to society's troubling perception of what beautiful looks like. With targeted advertising and apps like Instagram and Facetune leading the way, young women like 20-year-old Laura are taking the brunt of it. Kathy meets Laura at the clinic she’s visiting for a breast enlargement consultation. "You just want to be as perfect as possible," Laura says. "Whatever it takes." Her awareness of the role of social media in making her feel anything less than beautiful is almost as difficult to swallow as her quiet conviction that getting a boob job will make her happier. But cutting through the familiar concerns about image, self-esteem and beauty standards is, of course, Kathy’s compassionate yet no-nonsense response to the absurdity of it all.
"Steam your fanny? Fuck off!" Kathy says when she’s told about vagacials (vagina facials). When she visits a private surgeon on Harley Street who took the liberty of preparing a digital mock-up of Kathy’s face after reconstructive surgery, she tells him it looks ridiculous. "The only thing that’s different is my double chin," she says, before telling viewers that it’s the only thing she doesn’t like about her appearance but has learned to love nonetheless. Kathy also meets Sue Tilley – or 'Big Sue' – who modelled for Lucian Freud in the '90s, and rapper Nadia Rose, who speaks about not being sucked in by messages about what we should and shouldn't look like, and reminds us of the power of telling yourself: "I am great, even if someone tells me different."
"If you are a wonderful human being, declare yourself – we are needed. And I say we because I am one of the wonderful," Kathy says towards the end of the documentary. If you need further confirmation of this sentiment, from the hilariously outrageous to the 100% accurate, here are some of the greatest things Kathy said in her hourlong exploration of what our standard of 'beauty' is and isn't.
1. On how she's felt about her own image
"I was more concerned about being called stupid than being called ugly."
2. On beauty being in the eye of the beholder
"Somebody could be incredibly beautiful but be a fucking horrible person. I mean, Eva Braun was attractive and she was a Nazi."
3. On discovering that a 'Hollywood' wax is having all your pubic hair removed
"It's all a bit peady. What's wrong with a hairy fanny?"
4. On the vagina facials and Gwyneth Paltrow
"Apparently, Gwyneth Paltrow, her vagina is a real stinking hole but I think, why do you need that?"
5. On receiving compliments from men vs compliments from women
"I think it's women that give women a harder time than men. Men just want to have a quiet life. As long as they have their penis tickled they don't give a shit about anything."
6. On the historical investigation into physical beauty dating back to the ancient Greeks
Doctor: "Philosophers have debated what beauty is..."
Kathy: "Male philosophers..."
7. On the expectation that girls should be quiet and modest
"Girls, we've got to have this attitude where we're meant to be humble and quiet and modest, well fuck that. Jane Austen is dead and buried. There's a new generation of young women coming up that are confident and want to say that they're confident."
Kathy Burke’s All Woman is available on All 4