Another year, another Grand National. Whatever you think of the sport, the world famous steeplechase turns a worldwide spotlight onto Aintree racecourse for the three days of the meet; the actual race itself being transmitted to over 500 million viewers in 140 countries. No mean feat.

It gathers an audience from those not normally swayed by horse racing: ‘The National’ is often the only time they’ll venture into a betting shop. It’s not unusual to see queues of people outside Ladbrokes on the Saturday afternoon, disturbing the more seasoned pros with their inexperience at filling in the forms, scattering 50p-each-way wagers across the field based on nothing more than the horses name sounding “lucky” or liking the colours of the jockey. It’s not about the winning, it’s a tradition, especially so in Liverpool.

And whilst this year might be slightly overshadowed by a certain football match, the event still looks on course to sell out. It brings a great deal of revenue to the locality and people go to enjoy themselves. None more so than the Scouse contingency. The planning and preparation from those attending is often dragged out over the course of 6-8 months; it’s so much more than buying a ticket and turning up on the day.

(we’ve taken screenshots from the site so you don’t have to bother visiting)

For the girls, a great deal of time and money is invested. They put a dress away at Cricket and pay it off every payday. They book hair at Voodou and make up at Peaches and Cream. They club together with their mates for a champagne breakfast, hire a limo to take them there and save up enough money to put into the kitty and have a flutter at the same time. It’s more than another night on the town, it’s something they look forward to all year. They go to have fun, and not to be ridiculed and criticised by faceless commentators.

Which is where the Daily Mail website comes in and its finely honed misogynistic ways. Renowned for their ‘Sidebar of Shame’ which is usually populated with gossip about the Kardashians or Imogen Thomas’s latest PR stunt, on Grand National weekend they make a special concession to include the general public and send their snappers to Aintree. But this isn’t a beauty parade – their job is to deride, not celebrate.

Reading the captions under each photograph you could be forgiven for thinking they were merely commenting on the fashion, but they’re a crafty bunch at the Mail. They get their readers to do their dirty work for them, and the comments section for the Grand National coverage is one of the most popular for the year.

Imagine getting dolled up for a big day out, something you’ve been looking forward to for a while. You feel great, a photographer asks to take your picture and you acquiesce thinking it’s for positive reasons. You get home, eagerly look for your photo and then you read the comments…

“I think it’s about time Aintree does the same as Ascot and enforces a strict fashion code!
– metalnurse, halifax”

“Deary me, its like a scousewives/towie best of the chavs competition! What on earth was that rather large lady in the v short lime green esemble thinking?? In fact – what were they all thinking with their predominantly ill fitting garish get ups! Better looking nags than wags here I think
– Kerrie, Aberdeen”

“I have to say, some of these ‘ladies’ must have amazing self-confidence to step out of the house looking like they do…
– Amazed, Aberdeen”

“What recession? Most of the photos show people looking overweight and over-preened. How many of those women wasted their benefits money on a mani-pedi?
– Debt-Free Chick, Currently Thailand”

Predictably it garners attention on Twitter too, colloquially referred to as ‘Slags in Hats day’ – social media playing right into the hands of Paul Dacre – as I suppose I am by even writing this.

However, it makes me sad that poking fun at people’s appearance – those on a day out, enjoying themselves, ‘civilians’ who don’t court the press – is seen as acceptable. It doesn’t sit easy with me when celebrities are the target, although there’s an undercurrent where I feel they do invite it, and it’s a hazard of the job. But looking at the pictures on the Mail, I don’t actually see that many ‘slags in hats’. I see groups of friends having fun, generations of families dressed up for a day at the races. Group shots of clashing florals that together looks jarring but when you look at each individual outfit you can tell that thought and time has gone into each ensemble. And for what? To be deemed “fat”, “horrific”, “ugly” and “disgusting” by a bunch of keyboard warriors.

Liverpool does exist in its own style bubble, admittedly. It takes catwalk trends and turns them up instead of toning them down, as per ‘the rules’. There are the ubiquitous rollers in town, the super-sized handbags dangled from the crook of the elbow, a city wide perma-tan fitting for the Costa Del Scouser. But there’s a pride in appearance that should be applauded.

And more than that, there’s a sense of playfulness behind it too. Prints and colours are everywhere, jewellery is bold and shoes are tall. It doesn’t make it wrong, it just makes it more interesting.

It’s not to everyone’s taste, that’s for sure. But there’s an old adage that comes into play here – if you can’t think of anything nice to say, then keep your gob shut. I don’t understand the mentality behind someone who sees a group of women dressed up for the races and thinks the most appropriate reaction is to attack them from an anonymous viewpoint.

But how to combat it? Don’t. The biggest two fingers to the naysayers is to keep on doing what you’re doing – if you want to wear a gold lame dress and sky high platforms than bloody well do so. I have more respect for those who go out to have a good time than their counterparts eagerly typing poisonous words into a comments thread. The personality from the Grand National comes from as much from the crowds as the prestige and history – fun and flamboyance is key.

by Stephanie Heneghan

11 Responses to “Keep your head high, Aintree ladies”

  1. Well said Steph. Brave and nice one for putting your head above the parapet. I might not agree with all you say, but the behaviour of the Mail et al proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the class war is STILL real and not mythologised…

  2. My grandma is a proud Liverpudlian and although she wouldn’t be seen dead with a fake tan daaaahling, she still takes enormous pride in her appearance. Raiding her custom-made 1960s wardrobe is fucking ACE. Nothing wrong with caring about how you look, I think it’s a lovely thing to do if it makes you feel good about yourself. FASHION 4 EVA

  3. Say what they want about our girls, but there is a reason that within recent years girls from Liverpool were voted the best looking girls (on average) in the country. Not forgetting they were also noted for having the BIGGEST breasts in the country too! Dont take my word for it, google it!

    We live in a time of misery and recession, for one day these girls want to let their hair down, put on a pretty dress and indulge in a rare opportunity to enjoy themselves … a tip of the cap to them i say!

  4. Completely agree. Whilst I do think that a lot of the girls look the same, that’s not necessarily a bad thing and certainly shouldn’t attract such vile insults.

  5. Is Daily Mail-bashing not as much of a sport as poking fun at the ‘slags in hats’…?

    It’s not enough of an argument to suggest that ‘they’re doing what they want, so they should be proud and give two fingers to the haterz’; that could be applied to anything controversial!

    The girls picked up on in the photos know exactly what they’re doing – they’re courting any kind of attention, they should be prepared for negative reactions as well as the assumed positives. I hate the Daily Mail as much as the next sane person, but surely it’s their right to photograph and write about anything they think will interest their readers. Otherwise where do you draw the line? Sneering at general celebrity/gossip photography is allowed, but as long as it’s not at a racecourse? Not in Merseyside? At Aintree itself?

    It’s possible to build up excitement between friends, look forward an annual event, make an effort, pay close attention to looks and have a great time without such ostentatious results; women with their pants out getting carried on their boyfriend’s shoulder, tears and vomit come late-afternoon and the antagonising of police.

  6. Russell

    Living 10 minutes from Aintree, I know the tradition and the fun, but it really is spoilt by people getting smashed out of their brains on drink, many of them 14/15.

    Where I went to school, from year 9 up, all the girls would go and get bladdered. It ruins the day for anyone just wanting a good time in a different environment and even more wanting to enjoy the actual racing.

    I’m glad you wrote this and stood up for those ladies, they are a target, but a few spoil it for the rest and get this sort of attention. If people stayed classy, then there wouldn’t be as much attention on the ‘state’ of them.

  7. Have you looked at the photos? They are of normal women, dressed up. Not causing trouble or being antagonistic but heading to a racecourse.

    Then below that is a host of comments discussing how disgusting and vile they are, systematically critiquing every aspect of their appearance.

    Really sorry, but I’m not comfortable with that. And I dont think we should sneer at anyone, but there is a special misogyny found on that site. I know of a few girls who have found themselves on that page – insecure enough about their looks already – and have been crushed by the remarks. They’re not scallies or slags, they’re normal girls who don’t fit the idealistic view of beauty held up by some.

    But hey, there’s always got to be one. I’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response to what I wrote on twitter and via emails. Thanks for stopping by David.

  8. The issue you raise in your article is absolutely valid Steph and points at something beyond media sneering at Liverpool girls. The media sneers at everyone – pop stars, politicians, business people, bankers, the successful, the vulnerable, the ‘toffs’, the ‘chavs’ – everyone gets to be their target at some point.

    Singling out people to pick on is mindless. Its behaviour typical of a bully. It smacks of low self-esteem. If the writer and commentators on the Mail article feel threatened by the exuberance and joie de vivre of Liverpool ladies on their special day, thats their problem. Its unfortunate that they have the means to tell so many people about it! But it reflects badly on them, not on the girls whom they are targeting.