Thursday, May 16, 2013

"The Beauty Myth," Part II

And done.

-The sexual-desire part of the book may be more interesting than the cosmetics/cosmetic surgery one. Wolf writes about how a woman, under the beauty-myth regime, can't be both "serious" and "sexual," whereas men are able to be both of those things at once. Not fair! I agree.

And this - digression alert! - points to the challenge of writing on more general topics. I can be reasonably confident that no one has said exactly what I have about 19th century French-Jewish intermarriage, because I can just keep up with the finite set of books and articles on tangentially-related topics. Whereas the topic of female heterosexual desire...

-Wolf on the definition of the ordinary female body being defined as ill: yup, spot-on. I was so happy when she got to the bit about the invention (in 1973 in this country, apparently, although Wikipedia says 1968) of cellulite. What virtually all women look like from at least certain angles (and if you think you don't, consider the possibility that your mirror-area is not as well-lit as you thought, or that your glasses prescription not as up-to-date) is not a 'condition.' While I can understand that there are women who have particularly a lot of this skin texture, who may be particularly bothered by it, the idea that the normal state - or an achievable state - might be to have none at all starts to seem awfully silly when one notices what even slim female athletes look like - not airbrushed - from behind.

-But... what about hair? Presumably body hair wasn't a thing in 1991 as it apparently is in 2013. But I'm referring to the hair on women's heads. To the amount of maintenance it seems to require. To the racial disparities (was intersectionality invented yet in 1991?) in what it takes to look conventional. Wolf barely mentions the existence of hair-primping, devoting endless ink instead to the question of skin creams. I find this surprising, especially given that, from photos, it appears that Wolf and I have the same hair texture (and more importantly, volume), so I would somehow imagine she would know the drill with hair-taming. But then again, in 1991, big hair was in.

-As for her conclusion, yes, a turn to more subjective beauty would be welcome. The problem is, it's not entirely the fault of corporate interests that we now have this idea of a universal Beauty. It's also that  we simply have more images of what other people look like than ever before, not all of which come from advertising. Where there was once the prettiest girl in the village, it now begins to seem plausible that there could be a prettiest girl in the world.

And I suppose I'm also skeptical about how one draws a line between good, fun self-adornment and self-hatred. In theory, such a line might be drawn (surgery bad, neon nail polish good), but in practice it always seems to be that whatever a particular woman does, she may define as reasonable, whereas it's whatever women do above-and-beyond what she does that counts as excessive. And as much as beauty 'obligations' fall on all women, no matter their natural looks, it's clearly going to be much easier to stop caring so much for women who can do so and still be conventionally attractive in whichever area.


Autumn Whitefield-Madrano said...

Two comments:

1) I remember reading about cellulite in women's magazines (maybe even teen mags, egads) as a teenager, and they'd inevitably describe it as "cottage-cheese-looking" and then assure you that everyone has it, but that, yes, of course it can be lessened. From the cottage cheese thing I assumed cellulite must be some horrible wretched malformation--certainly not something I'd ever seen on women, and certainly not something I'd ever had. It wasn't until the internet when I thought to do a search for "cellulite" that I realized I'd had it all along.

2) I recently ran across some interesting research about the "self-adornment" vs. "concealing" thing in makeup, and this study was testing to see if women who described themselves as doing one or the other matched up in other major personality traits (extroversion/introversion, neuroticism, etc.)--and sure enough, they did. I'm not entirely sure what to make of that except to say that if these are two different "types" of women, the beauty industry is doing a fantastic job on marketing to both.

Phoebe said...


1) For some reason, I'd find it far less problematic if cellulite were a 'what virtually all women look like' thing that women might wish they could change (as with wrinkles - virtually all men and women will have them if they don't already), than, as it stands, with it defined as something one gets if one isn't taking care of one's self. That might seem like a pointless distinction, but I think it's important.

2) That's really interesting. I wonder what the researchers make of the tendency of the very same women to do a bit of each, though. Personally, if I use nail polish, this is adornment. Concealer, well, I'd think this would be to conceal. Eyeliner? A bit of both - it's fun to look 1960s, but also to look awake.