Wednesday, February 22, 2012

On Beauty

I know I talked about this before -- this impossibility for a woman to opt out of the sex object thing; and many people agree and yet the beauty ideals are still... difficult to discuss. So let me start with a few thoughts and see how they congeal. Also, I want to make it clear up front: I understand why and how women absorb and internalize the demand for beauty. In this case, I feel that the onus is on the society to stop demanding those things rather than on women to simply get over the demand.

"Every woman deserves to feel beautiful". I saw that sentiment expressed on FB and in general media, and I kind of hate it. Because what they mean to say, I think, is that "every woman deserves to feel worthy". It's just that we only allow women to have one kind of worth, and this is the limiting part, not the narrow beauty ideal. (NB: One deeply problematic area of narrow beauty ideal is its whiteness that has spread way too much due to the Western cultural imperialism.)

And yes, the beauty ideal is narrow. It has always been! I'm not exactly comfortable with people rebelling against the limiting view of beauty as very thin and tall by proposing no less limiting version of curvy Christina Hendricks and Marylin Monroe, often sprinkled with a dose of body-hate and misogyny in the form of "Bones are for dogs, meat is for men". Leaving aside that Christina Hendricks' body shape is no more achievable or inclusive than that of Kate Moss (or any less white, for that matter), I object to the idea that women are object for consumption. "Meat", really? And that's the cry of empowerment?

Female competition sadly often goes back to the patriarchal divide and conquer mentality. If they convince women that their only worth is as objects of beauty, to be consumed by men, and that women have no worth outside of this realm, than arguing who's the fairest of them all is understandable although no less problematic. The struggle should be not to make the beauty ideal different, but to tell the world that we are not obligated to feel or be beautiful. Because when they tell you "every woman deserves to feel beautiful", they mean "You MUST try to be beautiful to prove your worth to us."

So then there is a whole ridiculous thing about models. It is often interestingly lumped with other things, like demonizing of eating disorders and transphobia. Take this article for example:

"To me, selling women's clothes using a teenage boy's body is the ultimate cynicism. It's as if the fashion industry is saying, 'Here is the perfect woman for our clothes: a boy!' " says style guru and "Project Runway" mentor Tim Gunn in his forthcoming book "Tim Gunn's Fashion Bible: The Fascinating History of Everything in Your Closet." (He is talking about Andrej Pejic, pictured above.)

(Because clearly non-binary gender constructs have no place in the world today. Androgyny boo.) Also, showing clothes on a certain body type really says little about who should wear their clothes. If you want to encourage more body diversity in fashion, it is easily accomplished. Here: HEY DESIGNERS! CUT YOUR CLOTHES IN SIZES BIGGER THAN 8! Here, done. Lack of body diversity in fashion is not to be blamed on models but lack of sizing ranges.

I don't mind that models look the way the do, as long as it is not expected of ME to look that way. I hear women complaining about magazines with models and actresses and how hard it is to not get jealous and to not hate your own body. And sure, it is hard if the expectations of beauty has been internalized, and I am not blaming them. And yet I wonder, if you see an article about a doctor, should you hate yourself for being unable to do surgery? Of course not. Different jobs, different requirements. Actresses and models are paid for looking a certain way. Just don't expect EVERYONE ELSE to want to look like that for FREE. (Because to do most other jobs? I can be the most hideous troll and a successful scientist! Or a teacher! Or a construction worker!)

And beauty is an imposition. It requires a lot of maintenance, lifestyle changes, expenses. Demanding that an average woman engages in all this extra activity and expense just to prove her social worth is unconscionable. And the irony of course is that people like Tim Gunn, who lament the anti-woman stance of fashion industry are also the same ones who engage in the whole advice regarding body flattery and creating socially acceptable shapes rather than telling women, "You know what? You are a human being with inherent worth not tied to your appearance or style or weight or interest in fashion. You can love clothes and makeup, but you are not required to; you can make yourself beautiful, but you are not obligated to, and we won't think less of you if you are ugly, fat, indifferent to fashion and not seeking male approval every waking minute."

So on balance, I feel that people who tell fat women to "create a waist" with a belt (looking at you, Tim Gunn!) or to never wear short skirts if over 40, can shove it. So can people who complain that models are too thin (their body type is certainly not common, but neither are Marylin Monroe's) and say clever things about men liking meat (because this is what you are, ladies: a product for male consumption). And maybe, just maybe, everyone should just stop telling women what to do, or be, or aspire to. Because the tricky thing about humans is that we all have our desires and interests and inherent worth, and in 2012 I think we can all agree that women are a part of humanity.


Anonymous said...

The paragraph on professional attainment and aspiration is very astute I think.

Alexandriaweb said...

"Bones are for dogs, meat is for men".
I hate this phrase with a passion.

Anonymous said...

I love this article and completely agree with everything you wrote!