October 20th 2020
Why The Spice Girls’ 'girl power' isn’t what you’d think
November 6th 2018 / 0 comment
Whatever you think of the Spice Girls’ and their recently announced reunion tour, they’ve collectively broken away from the archetypes they were given and face issues familiar to many of us with honesty. Here’s why girl power 2.0 looks a lot different…
Whether you’ve set an alarm for 10:30am on Saturday in anticipation of the Spice Girls 2019 reunion tour ticket sales, don’t really get what all the fuss is about or have a more cynical view of their recent announcement (£), the evolution of the band members, and the frankness with which they’ve documented their experiences, is far from the Spice World fairytale. Scary, Sporty, Ginger, Baby and Posh have all broken away from their ring fenced roles and designated characteristics since the band formed in 1994, running the full gamut of female experience and resisting the no doubt tempting sheen of keeping up appearances and maintaining a kind of glossy girl band image.
Not that they ever really appeared to subscribe to the glitzy veneer in the first place - see “outspoken” public appearances with royals and politicians, repeatedly refusing to acquiesce to record company demands and the fact that Nelson Mandela dubbed them “heroines”. Silent puppets they have never been, but matters they’ve touched on since the band split up are as just as impactful as the original girl power message they trumpeted, albeit not as marketable.
Despite the fact that Victoria Beckham won’t be going along for the reunion ride, each Spice story is significant, especially when considered in the context of today’s national conversation. All have somehow both embraced and shaken off the caricatures originally assigned to them by Top of The Pops magazine, and since the band blast onto the scene they’ve contributed to the open discussion of topics that were most definitely considered taboo back in ‘Wannabe’ days.
Just as Princess Diana contradicted her “shy Di” moniker in speaking out about previously hushed subjects such as divorce, HIV and AIDs and eating disorders around the time that the Spice Girls soared to fame, so the band members have stepped out of their “boxes” to go public on matters that have traditionally been swept under the carpet. “Sporty” Melanie Chisholm has contrasted any “hard” connotations of her allotted role by speaking frankly about her struggle with eating disorders, obsessive exercise and episodes of depression, both while she was in the band and afterwards, going on to raise awareness and funding for mental health research charity MQ. She shared the relief she felt when she finally sought help from her GP on Bryony Gordon’s Mad World podcast last year, describing the techniques, medication and therapies that help her the most, from antidepressants to acupuncture, while underlining that relapses still happen.
“Scary” Spice Melanie Brown, meanwhile, has described suffering “emotional and physical abuse” perpetrated by her ex-husband, with past partners also being prosecuted for threatening and abusive behavior. These are sadly relatable experiences for many women in society and Brown has been frank about both her past, her PTSD diagnosis and her recent decision to go into rehab for alcohol and sex addiction. This week’s news that the Spice Girls will reform next year only speaks of her ambition and drive to get better, which is admirable no matter how much you write off the tour as a pure money making exercise (also while we're at it let's not snide at women going into the world and earning the cold hard cash they've put in the work for).
“Ginger” Geri Horner has also lived out the common experience of many women, fame and fortune aside. She grew up on a council estate, was a long-time single mother, announced that she was originally leaving the Spice Girls on account of her depression (a very open statement to make at a time when mental health was all but off limits matter in public discourse) and has also revealed her battle with bulimia. Since leaving The Spice Girls she became a UN Goodwill Ambassador, campaigning against domestic violence in Nepal and promoting initiatives to prevent maternal death and the spread of HIV/AIDs in Africa.
Other ‘Spice’ trajectories are reflective of women’s real ‘warts and all’ lives too and speak volumes about how we both treat and give a voice to women in the public domain. Victoria Beckham has built a phenomenally successful business empire from scratch, despite initial/ongoing ridicule and all the while weathering repeated infidelity rumours from day dot of her marriage. She’s been candid about the fact that her managers used to turn her microphone off during live performances to “let the others sing”, with the clear implication being that she couldn’t. Of course she lives a privileged life, but she also shares her f*ck ups and hang-ups, which is refreshing in a world of filtered fakery.
As for “Baby” Emma Bunton, she has followed the most seemingly traditional path of them all, with a stable long-term relationship and two children alongside a successful career as a Heart radio presenter. She’s been under the press parapet but has been supporting and donating to to multiple children’s charities since the original Spice Girls era and in 2014 become a UNICEF ambassador, raising awareness and funding for vaccination against maternal and newborn tetanus in in Africa in particular. From anti-bullying initiatives to championing LGBT rights, she may not make headlines but her philanthropic dedication to this day demonstrates that “girl power” wasn’t a fleeting soundbite on a T-shirt - all of these women meant it in their own different ways. From Brown’s bankruptcy to Bunton’s endometriosis diagnosis, not to mention mental health problems, stories of abuse and being laughed at simply for endeavouring to start businesses, each band member shows what women go through in daily life in a different way, and that will always, always be relevant, whether you’re game for another Spice Girls outing or not. Dismiss their impact on the next generation at your peril - today’s teens may never have blared ‘Spice Up Your Life’ from a boombox, but you can bet that the empowering energy still resonates.