Sunday, January 24, 2010

A note on beauty...

I've been having a conversation with a friend - a male friend, in case it's relevant - about the nature of beauty. He feels that women have been sold a bill of goods about the whole beauty myth - that we have accepted that it's ok to have feminine beauty defined by the cosmetics and fashion industries. On the surface, I understand why he would think that, because it's certainly true that if we look at newsstands, the image of beauty, even on fitness magazines, seems to insist that beautiful women are also those who wear makeup. It also demands that we wear stylishly-designed clothes, artfully created to mask the figure flaws that we might not know we had if we didn't read those very same magazines.

Now, I'd never suggest that no women buy into this, because I know better. I have known women all my life who allow themselves to be measured by someone else's standards of what is beautiful, what is feminine, what is, in fact, acceptable - to men and to the world at large. The challenge - and I've had a tough time articulating this to my friend - is that not all women who wear makeup, not all women who walk in high heels, or who wear clothes one might define as 'fashionable' are, in fact, slaves to the fashion and beauty industry.

There are women who have cosmetics in a drawer, hair products in a bathroom cabinet, high heels waiting ready by the front door (or under our desks at the office!), and clothes for each season (or each mood...) hanging in a closet. Sometimes, these women - and in the interest of full disclosure, I count myself as one of them - look at the so-called beauty industry and nod and wink. We know what the industry is up to - it's not about trying to help us be better in some way that we cannot define for ourselves, but rather, about making money.

Why do I wear makeup? Well, in the shortest possible explanation of all, I suppose it's because I'm vain! I wear eyeglasses, and because I believe my mother's assertion that I have beautiful blue eyes, like to see those eyes, which I feel are lost behind the glasses. So I wear makeup to draw attention to my eyes. Very simple. And I wear bright red lipstick almost all the time, because I like the shape of my mouth, and I like it even more when it's got lipstick on it. I don't wear makeup for men, or because I think I'm not good enough without it. I wear makeup because I like it, it's as simple as that! I wear makeup because it pleases me.

That's the explanation for clothes and shoes as well. I wear what pleases me. I choose colours and styles that look well on me. And yes, I love wearing high heels. I suspect that as I grow older, my heels will get smaller, and that's ok - but for now, I wear them and love them. Does that mean that I don't wear jeans and tshirts? Certainly not - but I wear jeans and tshirts that please me, not somebody else. Sometimes, I even wear red high heels with blue jeans.

Does this mark me as a shallow and insecure woman? I doubt that anybody who knows me would find that assertion supportible. I'm confident, happy, secure in my ability to provide for myself and live an authentic life, even with the artifice afforded me by makeup.

I'm a feminist and have raised my daughter with feminist ideals. I contribute to my community in as many ways as I can - I do volunteer work, I lend expertise where I have it, I am politically engaged, I'm well-read and articulate, and I contribute as generously as I can to charitable causes that are important to me.

To my knowledge, my female friends are, without exception, feminists. And most of them wear makeup and heels as well! (Granted, it's entirely possible that I wear both more often than many of my friends do, but that's as much a statement of my current place in existence - I'm not raising a small child anymore, so I have more time to play with stuff that's socially valueless but that amuses me. And I'm ok with that!)

I invite comments on the subject from friends, both male and female... you who know me, tell me what you think... have I bought into a feminine beauty myth? Or am I, as I insist, merely exprssing myself in a way that pleases me, Cosmo and Elizabeth Arden be damned?