Ladies’ Day is one big filtered, flatteringly- angled selfie

The social pages are filled with glamorous ladies at the races and horse shows, but behind the fake smiles is a bigger lie

Best-dressed at the RDS: Carol Kennelly. Photograph: Paul Sherwood

Best-dressed at the RDS: Carol Kennelly. Photograph: Paul Sherwood

Sat, Aug 9, 2014, 01:00

If I see one more hat. It’s tough being a party-pooper, but someone has to do it. Summertime means Ladies’ Days at the races and horse shows, modern-day social pageants with prizes and kudos to be won for the right heels and the most spectacular hat. It’s all a bit of fun, so why does it feel so deflating?

Probably because it’s not so much a celebration of style as a judgment of a particular type of femininity. It’s about a certain sector of society having a ball, and others looking in, pressed against the invisible glass of expensive clothes and privileged access.

The Galway Races are positioned as a rambunctious gathering of gamblers and owners, socialites and proletariat, pint-guzzling and champagne-quaffing. Following the tweets of people working in Galway city during race week offered a depressing insight into something the papers don’t cover. We see photographs of glamorous women, but we don’t see photographs of the gauntlet of Galway afterwards; the public urination and running mascara and puking and fighting and crying.

The social highlight is Ladies’ Day, when women dress up in their finery and are tapped on the shoulder if they look the best, an ominous invitation to the principal’s office, where recognition and social approval, not detention, are handed out.

Ladies’ Day style comes to the masses in the social pages and front-page photographs and online slideshows of women in dresses, smiling with their friends while teetering in heels under the shade of the elaborate creations of milliners.

On the surface this is about fun, frocks and frolics, but it also reinforces the idea that women are worth something at these events only if they turn up and look pretty.

It’s a strange idea in sports that are otherwise egalitarian. Horseracing and showjumping are two of those rare sporting activities in which women and men compete side by side. You’d think that would be an opportunity to level the playing field in the stands as well. Instead, the divide is enhanced.

Social pages are a lie. When we see photographs of grinning, vaguely recognisable people at launches and Ladies’ Days, one assumes they’re having fun in an impossibly glamorous setting. But, like public relations itself, it’s a tedious and false construct.

At a time when social media not only reinforces but fosters the projection of fakery in relation to one’s image, personality, pastimes and experience, Ladies’ Day is one big filtered and flatteringly angled selfie.

Real heroes

In stark contrast to this flouncy fandom are the real female sporting heroes and fans this week. On the pitch against New Zealand, just a stone’s throw from glam Paris, Ireland’s female elite destroyed the Black Ferns with brute force, tactical genius, skill and solidarity.

In the stands, as ever at women’s matches, the female supporters waved flags and wore jerseys and screamed with their faces painted and fists pumping. That ain’t fashion, but those women on the pitch are at the top of the social pile in my eyes.

Female fans of sport are largely ignored by advertisers and press alike. The relentlessly boring depiction of women during soccer’s biggest tournament as “World Cup widows” was offensive, but its roots are in the assumption that women are dainty and uninterested in sport, even though the average global television viewership of the 2010 tournament was 43 per cent female.

To be visible as a woman at a sporting event one must be pretty enough for the broadcaster’s camera to focus on you during goal celebrations.

To be visible in Galway and at the RDS, one must be in killer heels and expensive clothes. Be pretty or don’t be there: that’s the message.

And here’s me now, judging these women who show up and look great. That judgment too is probably unfair, but I can only imagine the awkwardness and exclusion if one were to turn up to Ladies’ Day in jeans and a T-shirt.

We all know that feeling of getting side eyes at a fancy club if you don’t conform to the dress code. If you’re not a particular type of bird, they’re saying, you simply don’t belong.

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