Kathy Burke’s All Woman, review: A sobering exploration of society’s unattainable beauty standards
The comedian tackles the pressure on women to be ‘perfect’ in this new series
“I just don’t understand what has happened to the world,” says Kathy Burke in a sobering speech about the modern pressures on women to be beautiful. “I just think it’s appalling. And oh my god, I’m just really f***ing glad I don’t have kids. I am so glad more than ever in my life that in this day and age I don’t have children. I would just hate it if I had a daughter who was 20 and looked like me. Can you imagine the abuse she would get?”
In Kathy Burke’s All Women on Channel 4, the unapologetic, effing-and-blinding, salt-of-the-earth actor meets lots of different women – from nuns to reality stars – to understand what it means to be a member of the fairer sex, so to speak, in 2019. The first episode concentrates on attitudes to beauty.
“They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” says Burke. “But we all know that’s b*****ks. Some of us are lookers and some of us, not so much.” The documentary is full of pearls of wisdom from the famously outspoken Gimme Gimme Gimme star. On why the question of beauty is one worth discussing, Burke simply explains: “It’s people fancying each other that makes the world go round.” But what Burke doesn’t understand is the pressure for women to be “perfect”: “It’s like, what the f***? Babies don’t come out looking like Beyoncé.”
Burke’s first interviewee is Love Island’s Megan Barton-Hanson, who spent an estimated £40,000 transforming her looks through surgery. The reality star explains that whether she edits herself digitally on social media apps or in real life under the knife, she still gets “so much stick” and has even received death threats.
Even after the surgery, Barton-Hanson explains, it takes hours to perfect her look before she goes out in public and she doesn’t “want girls to have unrealistic expectations like I did”. But when Burke asks Barton-Hanson how she can reassure her young followers that it’s being beautiful on the inside that matters, she doesn’t have an answer.
Later, Burke meets celebrity plastic surgeon Dr De Silva, who tells her that since the times of the Greeks, philosophers have debated the definition of beauty. “Male philosophers,” Burke is quick to correct him. He nervously concedes that yes, that is “absolutely true”, before showing Burke how science (yep, science) proves that Amber Heard is the most beautiful woman in the world, as her face is 91.85 per cent accurate to the Greek Golden Ratio of Beauty Phi.
Burke just stares at him. After leaving the clinic on Harley Street, she decides that his theory is “crap”.
Dr De Silva isn’t the only man Burke calls out for dictating what beauty is. She meets the fashion photographer Rankin, who took her picture at the turn of the millennium, and when she accuses him of being largely responsible for the “heroin chic” look which was popular in the Nineties, he admits: “We got loads of flack for that, but we did do it.”
By the end, it is depressingly clear that the definition of beauty dictated by men in the Nineties – well, since Ancient Greece – combined with social media, is putting women today under so much pressure that their mental health is suffering, and many are resorting to surgery.
But not Burke. “Listen,” she says. “I’m an acquired taste.”
Oh Kath, never change.
Kathy Burke’s All Woman continues next Tuesday at 10pm on Channel 4