Along with everyone and their grandmother, I tucked into Netflix’s new Beckham documentary last week, which chronicles David’s Beckham’s eventful football career. Aside from his on-field achievements and faux pas, his relationship with Victoria Beckham features heavily in the series. By the final episode I was shocked at quite how much I had begun to like and respect Victoria Beckham. In company with the majority of the Great British public, I must admit, I have always thought of Victoria as slightly haughty, grumpy, and generally just quite unlikeable.
However, after witnessing Victoria’s story in her own words, she comes across as a distinctly warm and funny woman, who has remained strong in the face of public disapproval and always prioritised the wellbeing of her children in the face of David’s many club moves. It is clear that the critical common perception of her is rooted purely in the harmful and misogynistic representation by the British tabloids. While it’s worth mentioning that the show is itself an undeniably biased depiction, it serves to highlight the poor treatment of female public figures by tabloids and the lasting impact this has on their perception by the public.
From the beginning of their relationship, the negative narrative surrounding Victoria had already begun to take hold. As she recounts in the series: “I was always a villain”. The tabloids depicted her as a distraction that might jeopardise David’s career. Although she too was forging a career of her own as a member of the Spice Girls, she was presented by the media as a risk to his ambitions simply because she held her own.
Interestingly, much of the negative press surrounding her in the ‘90s and ‘00s was concerned with her apparent refusal to smile, with most paparazzi and red carpet photos at the time capturing her sans pearly whites. Given the often distortive male lens of the tabloids, this lambasting of Victoria for her stern face has distinctly misogynistic connotations. Often shouted at by men in the street in a nature not dissimilar to a catcall, the order for women to smile hails female passivity and seems to be founded in the belief that women must pander to the male gaze to be liked and respected. After being subjected to countless death and kidnapping threats as well as the abuse of football crowds, who once began to sing “Posh Spice takes it up the arse” as she watched David play, few would argue that she had any reason to smile.
Shockingly, Victoria’s is a somewhat mild case in the media’s vilification of female celebrities, with Caroline Flack and Meghan Markle just two of many who have been even more viciously reviled by the tabloids. Following the tragic death of Flack in 2020, it is due time we reflect on the very real consequences of the ritual cruelty of the tabloid press and unpack the nation’s base need for brutal bilge.
Beckham serves as an important reminder of the impacts of the modern obsession with celebrity, with Victoria explaining that several of the most challenging times in her life were ones rife with misrepresentation and attacks by the media. Although there is certainly strength to be found in the tabloid mentality, which can prove important in holding institutions and individuals to account, the reputation of the British tabloid press as one of the cruellest internationally signifies a need to re-evaluate the nature of what we read and believe.
While Netflix documentaries are unfortunately not a feasible solution to the unceasing, harmful rhetoric fuelled by tabloids, Beckham perhaps signals the importance of giving voices to those who have for too long been spoken for.
Illustration by Clodagh Earl