Body image, beauty, and what it means to be a woman in America today have been on my mind lately. Sad to say that part of the reason is because I keep watching What Not To Wear and while it makes me covet, it also makes me think. No, really, pretty much any old show brings up class/body image/etc. issues if you're reading it hard enough, and you don't have to look too deeply into WNTW. The entire show is about body image.
In some ways, I appreciate it. They don't tell their makeover subjects that they are fat and ugly—quite the opposite, they tell them their clothes are ugly and if they just changed the clothes they wore, they might stop thinking of themselves that way. It's simplistic, but at least in the show's editing, it seems to be true. I like the notion that looking good, and by extension feeling good, is accessible to everyone, not just those in the fashion industry or with size 2 bodies. What nags at me is that despite their ability to veer away from model beauty, they do have a fairly rigid idea of conventional beauty that must be imposed. They describe their suggested looks as sophisticated feminine. Bad clothes might look like a 12-year-old boy would wear them, or they're homeless, or androgynous. These things are putting up a wall. It's assumed that once a woman feels pretty, that's it, they only want to feel pretty.
In today's culture, there's a shape most women would do well to emulate, just as there's a shape for men, and the two are distinct. Feminine features on a man are faults to be counteracted; masculine aspects of women are de-emphasized. Men are good to go with a short haircut (maybe a little product) and a good moisturizer while women are goaded into cutting off their hair (much as I agree with the suggestion on an aesthetic level) and taught how to do a “five-minute face.”
Maybe I just get too into it, because while I'm down for the shopping (styling advice, $5,000 to buy fabulous clothes, and a free trip to New York sounds awesome) and the hair (I do my own only because I'm cheap), I'm stuck on the makeup. Why do we have to wear makeup?
Ever since my mom took away a green eyeshadow-containing toy when I was a kid, I don't recall being fascinated with the rigors of a daily makeup routine. Sure, I had a large collection of cheap, colorful nail polishes from ages 13 to 15, and there's been at least one tube of some dark red lipstick floating around my room for probably 10 years now, but I never understood the people who were afraid to be seen without a full face of makeup on and never really put it on myself. I have never owned foundation, powder, eyeliner, mascara, any of that. And I think my face looks great without it. My skin isn't perfect and it might look better with makeup on it, but to me, smearing gunk on my face just to feel presentable enough to get out of the door seems antithetical to self-esteem. I don't know why I can justify flattering clothes but not makeup, but there it is.
On a related note, here's a couple links:
- The Cho Show, an interview with Margaret Cho, champion of body issues (among other things)
- The Rise of Bodysnarking, which, wow, really? (via Feministing)