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Hayley Marsten calls-out beauty standards in Aussie entertainment

8 September 2020 | 5:05 pm | Mallory Arbour

Hayley Marsten talks her new single Pretty from her album 'Spectacular Heartbreak' and calls-out beauty standards in Aussie entertainment.

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Hayley Marsten has had a spectacular year since releasing her alt-country Golden Guitar nominated debut album, 'Spectacular Heartbreak' a year ago, which peaked at #3 on the Australian country music airplay chart, received over 260,000 streams on Spotify and was added to country and commercial mainstream radio rotation across the nation. She recently released her latest single Pretty, a song she penned about the ugly reality of the entertainment industry and its damaging beauty standards. Accompanied by its music video, which she also directed, produced and edited, she’s out to prove women are more than their looks.

On August 17, you posted a photo on your Instagram account with the caption: ‘Making music with two of my most favorite people last month was the closest thrill of normalcy I’ve had this year. You can find good help anywhere you look!’ So, can we expect to hear some new recorded material soon?

I cannot give too much away. I have found that being forced to sit still is how I write music and I had forgotten that. I was constantly in a manic state for most of last year, so I couldn't write because I wasn't anywhere near to being relaxed enough to reflect on my life to write about it. So yes, I have been writing quite a lot of new music and I am very fortunate to be around very talented people. My partner, Dan [Sugars] is a producer and one of my closest friends is an incredible songwriter that I've been working with. He's also a very good instrumentalist, as is Dan, and so we thought let's make some demos. It's been fun just to create a little snapshot of what might be happening in the future. I have no release plans as yet. It's very much just the early baby stages of that.

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I feel like in isolation, when Queensland was in lockdown, I literally did anything I could possibly do just to keep my mind off the fact that the world was shutting down completely. I don't think I've ever cleaned or baked so much. I did a lot of stuff that I like to do but never do because I never have any time. But also, I think the narrative that you have to be hyper productive in this time is very damaging. If all you did in isolation is sit on the couch, that's good as well because you survived, and look, if you build up a good Sims family, there's nothing that can hold you down [laughs].

Your new single Pretty tackles the ugly reality of the entertainment industry and its damaging beauty standards. What inspired you to write the song?

I don't think it's any secret when you are a woman, people want to tell you that you need to smile more, the things you're wearing are inappropriate and, if you are wearing something that might be deemed inappropriate, then everyone on the internet or in real life has the right and privilege to objectify and sexualize you. I had experienced quite a lot of that prior to the album coming out.

It became a thing where, if I had posted something on social media – whether it be something I had achieved because I’m a good songwriter or something I had organised because I’m a good business woman – regardless of what I was saying, the only thing that would come back to me were disgusting, objectifying comments about my body [and] the way I look. If I was talking about my own mental health and was not doing well, people would tell me I should smile more. It was impossible to deal with and I don't think it is an isolated incident because, since the song has come out, so many women inside the entertainment industry and in society have reached out and said how much this resonates with them.

In an online survey conducted in January 2018 by a non-profit called Stop Street Harassment found that 81 percent of women and 43 percent of men had experienced some form of sexual harassment during their lifetime. Men in the entertainment industry are also subject to those same damaging beauty standards. For example, men in Hollywood are forced to get into shape for gratuitous topless scenes used as marketing pawn to appeal to certain audience demographics and then receive inappropriate comments on social media.
While this is far removed from the Australian country music scene, the statistics show, while not one sided, women do have it harder.

There is a bias that exists for everyone – but it's harder for females. If I got up on stage and wore a singlet, a pair of shorts and thongs so many people would say, “That's so unprofessional of her.” I'm not saying this is a bad thing to do. If you feel that's your power outfit, then you wear it. But, if a guy wears that, he's a good ol' Aussie battler. It's definitely not the same. Everyone has stuff that's hard for them, but I think that women are put under a larger microscope. I'm sick of being called the very beautiful Hayley Marsten when none of my male counterparts are called that.

The judgement around women is what we need to combat. Just because someone is wearing something you wouldn’t wear, or you don’t approve of, doesn’t mean you get the right to call her a slut. There’s so much internalised misogyny in everyone that we all need to work on. 2020 has been incredible for people coming together and standing up against issues much bigger than this and saying we don't accept this anymore. The only reason why we’re going to get changes is if we all come together, stop accepting it and stop being polite – because, to be perfectly honest, it’s fucked.

I did make a post [on social media] just after Tamworth this year, because, while I was in Tamworth, I had a lot of good stuff to post about – my album with up for a Golden Guitar and I got the news I had been nominated for a Queensland Music Award so a lot of professional achievements were happening in that time that I was posting about. One man commented about my legs and was gross. I said, “I hope what you mean by that is my legs are able to help me do my job and they're very strong”, like trying to deflect it. Then he said something like, “Well, you know, you're asking for it.” And I was literally just wearing shorts, so my legs were just existing so that was like the straw that broke the camel's back. I put a big post up saying, “if you comment anything on any of my photos any more that is objectifying, disgusting or sexual in any way, I'm going to immediately block you. I'm not gonna have it anymore.”

I was worried about it, because as a female, I always am worried that people will say, “She's such a bitch. She's hysterical about a comment on the internet”, but people were really supportive. Now men, women or non-binary, if someone comments on my photos and say something disrespectful, there's five people that jump onto them before I even have and say, “we don't accept this here. It's not on.” It makes me feel really proud that the people who like my music have the same idea as me and it's been wonderful because not only have I seen that happen on my own page, but I've seen it happen on other women's social medias, and it's really encouraging to see I have a wonderful community around me who have stamped that behaviour out.

According to Cambridge Dictionary, feminism is: the belief that women should be allowed the same rights, power, and opportunities as men and be treated in the same way, or the set of activities intended to achieve this state. Do you think that definition has been forgotten?

I think people get scared by the word feminism because it seems like the movement wants females to be at the top and everyone else underneath, which is kind of the opposite. It literally is about everyone being equal. It's not just for females – it's for men to be freely able to be emotional or have feminine traits without being completely ostracised or given so much hate.

I think a lot of men aren't blinded to the fact that things are different for women. There's a lot of guys who have seen this stuff going on their whole life and realised it's not something they would want for themselves or their friends, sisters, wives, whatever. The men I associate with are empathetic humans who can look past their own life experience and realise that somebody might have had it a bit more difficult. We all need to look past out own experience and realise that other people are maybe being oppressed for things they can't control and all we can do is stand by them and help them amplify their voices.

Not only did you write the song, but also directed, produced and edited the music video for Pretty. Left purposely raw and simple, shot in your lounge room in your natural state – with no make-up, hair styling or fancy clothes – and featuring polaroids of women with something about them they are proud of which isn’t related to looks. Did the idea for the video remain unchanged having shot it while in the middle of the pandemic?

No, it was similar. I wanted a lot more women involved in it and I wanted to shoot artistic shots of the things that we deem as imperfections on women. I was going to get someone to shoot these shots that looked like works of art of stretch marks, cellulite, tummy rolls and varicose veins and try and make it look like pieces of art and how it's not something you need to be ashamed of. I was trying to expand out on that idea but, that being said, I'm actually so proud of the video and I wouldn't change it at all because I think it has come out exactly how it was supposed to be.

The fact that it was all on me if it didn't turn out very well was something I put a lot of extra pressure on myself for because if everyone hated it, there was nowhere to hide. In the end, it turned out to be quite an empowering experience. I remember watching the last edit of it and I felt very, very proud. And the outpouring of love and support I had the day the video came out, I was very surprised, overwhelmed and so grateful so many got behind it, supported it and loved and connected with it.

What advice would you give to young females who are entering the music industry today?

You don't have to be anybody's version of a beautiful, pretty or perfect. You don't have to be polite to people who are rude to you – obviously don't go around and being like, crazy. But when I was starting out, so many people told me what was expected of me when I was on stage even when I was off stage. Someone told me when I was at the Gympie Muster for the first time, that I must have a full face of makeup and my hair done every single day – and I was camping. I did it because I thought otherwise I'd be unprofessional but if you don't want to do that, then that's your prerogative.

At the end of the day, I think, especially people in country music, want to know your real self, they want to know what's real for you, and they can sniff out inauthenticity straightaway, so don't worry about trying to be this perfect version of yourself that other people have told you you have to be because the perfect version of yourself is the version that you are proud of.

Pretty off the album 'Spectacular Heartbreak' is out now.

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