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?


MiriamM said...

I agree with you Bobbi, for the most part. I, personally, DONT wear makeup often but not because I am making a political statement of any kind. I'm too friggin' lazy to wear it too often - all that clean up afterwards or be prepared to wake up with panda eyes!!

On the other hand when I do wear makeup, it is because I too, like most of what I see in the mirror. Mascara and eyeliner tend to bring out my eyes and a little bit of foundation/powder stop me from looking too pale.

My clothes are a mixed bag - most I have bought for their utility. Can they be worn in a school environment without too much trouble? Can I live with it if they get damaged by pens, markers, tears etc?

Having said that I too like to look in the mirror and be happy with what I see. I'll never be a fashion model, but then I never wanted to be one. I want to be comfortable and feel happy.

As a bargain hunter price is important too. When I see the price tags on high fashion items I am staggered that anyone would pay those prices but I don't begrudge them that opportunity. I think life is too short to not enjoy it - if you have the money go for it. Bugger what anyone else thinks.

The fashion and cosmetics industries are insidious - they do give us definitions about what beauty is but as free thinking women we have the option to reject/ignore those definitions. I have never been a slave to fashion and, apart from when I was younger and experimenting with the latest make up colors (remember the blue mascara!!)I haven't been a slave to media images of beauty either. But I guess that to some degree albeit subconsciously, I have been influenced by that media.

I think that the real danger of that media is with the young who are still at the stage of forming their identities/sense of self. It was there too, when we were growing up but it was nowhere near as all pervasive as it is today. It would require careful nurturing to help young people through this maze!!

I don't think I am making much sense here. I guess in summary I am a mixture of feminist independence and media hype. But I am okay with that because I am conscious of that mixture - I pick and choose what I accept and what I ignore. Isn't that at the heart of feminism - having choices?

Chaviva said...

Thank you, Miriam! You are making sense to me! Agreed completely on the ridiculous cost of clothes, which is why I rarely, if ever, pay the original tag price for anything... And my clothes (with the exception of one or two very dressy pieces) have to be utilitarian - otherwise, they're really not much use to me.

And yes, I remember blue mascara...

Amir.M said...

Hi Bobbi,
I think the point is that we live in a very commercial world, we are bombarded with adds day and night which try to shape the way we think, and they do it with much success! using the media make you get the idea about the "perfect look" and people, mostly women, tends to play according to what they see. The fashion and cosmetics industries always trying to re-invent themselves by pouring millions of Dollars trying to convince as to buy their "new" products.So there is something in what your male friend told you- today many young women do tend to buy according to what the fashion say and not just because they want to feel good or look better. I myself prefer to see a shipshape woman who use makeup/perfume/fashion cloths... but this is some kind of an art, to choose the right balance, the right colors, and many times you can do it without spending too much money.
In my case I always use perfumes or clothes that fits my preferences but sometimes my preferences do influenced from what I see around, and I don't see anything wrong about it, so long it fits me. For me it is not about feminism or chauvinism, it is just a day by day decision and not more than that.In general I think the whole issue of dressing is over exaggerated from the reason I mentioned from the beginning- an Industry that feeds itself.

Chaviva said...

Todah, Amir!

You're right on both counts - it is definitely an industry that feeds itself... but it is also, individually, a day-by-day decision. While I think it's sad that younger women (and I suppose some older ones) define themselves by what the industry says is beautiful, I do not, as I think you know, yes?