What cost beauty?

In­vent­ing prob­lems with women’s (and now men’s) bod­ies and of­fer­ing a ‘cure’ fu­els the multi-bil­lion dol­lar beauty in­dus­try.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - WOMAN - By JILL FILIPOVIC

LADIES, I have good news and bad news. The first piece of good news is that I will never again be­gin a col­umn with the word “ladies” be­cause typ­ing that opener makes me cringe at the thought of one too many all-fe­male e-mail threads or­gan­is­ing Sun­day brunches and bach­e­lorette par­ties.

The sec­ond piece of good news is that Amer­i­can Ap­parel and Cameron Diaz say you can stop wax­ing all your pu­bic hair off. The bad news: you need to start de­odor­is­ing un­der your boobs.

I can al­ready hear your ob­jec­tions: “But the area un­der my boobs doesn’t stink!” or “What kind of mar­ket­ing ge­nius not only came up with the term “swoob”, but ac­tu­ally thought half the world’s pop­u­la­tion might be dumb enough to buy into it?” or sim­ply, “This is a dumb prod­uct aimed at in­vent­ing an in­se­cu­rity and then claim­ing to cure it.”

You would be cor­rect on all three points. In fact, in­vent­ing prob­lems with women’s bod­ies and then of­fer­ing a cure – if you pay up – is the pri­mary pur­pose of the multi­bil­lion dol­lar beauty in­dus­try.

More than 20 years ago, Naomi Wolf wrote The Beauty Myth chal­leng­ing that ex­act phe­nom­e­non. Since then, the in­dus­try has only got­ten big­ger, and the range of made-up prob­lems women need to “cure” only wider.

Women spend bil­lions ev­ery year on beauty prod­ucts, and that’s not in­clud­ing the the money they spend on plas­tic surgery.

Poke around and you’ll find a laun­dry list of painful-sound­ing or bizarre pro­ce­dures, from labia trim­ming to anal bleach­ing to freez­ing your fa­cial mus­cles with poi­son to pre­vent wrin­kles. But even rel­a­tively be­nign and ba­sic beauty up­keep would look aw­fully strange to an alien land­ing on our planet.

The women wear shoes that are pointy and un­sta­ble and make it im­pos­si­ble to walk, and they rip out hair from ev­ery­where but their heads but then they paint ex­tra hair on their eyes, and they turn their fin­ger­nails colours found nowhere in na­ture, and they paint their lips im­pos­si­ble shades of red and pink and orange, and they draw lines around their eye­lids and put colour on top, and they try to make their whole bod­ies skinny ex­cept their butts and their boobs, which they some­times fill with gelati­nous sacks. We are an in­cred­i­bly strange species.

Of course, hu­man be­ings through­out his­tory have al­tered their ap­pear­ance, to in­di­cate mem­ber­ship in a group, to de­note sta­tus or to ap­pear at­trac­tive.

What counts as “at­trac­tive” may vary wildly across cul­tures and tra­di­tions, but the pur­suit of beauty is im­por­tant to many hu­man be­ings in many dif­fer­ent so­ci­eties around the world.

An in­ter­est in the aes­thetic isn’t weak­ness or van­ity. It’s the foun­da­tion of art, of de­sign, of ar­chi­tec­ture, of many of any given cul­ture’s most trea­sured de­vel­op­ments.

It’s not shal­low or friv­o­lous for women and men to in­ter­est our­selves in our own per­sonal aes­thetic, de­vot­ing time and care to how we look. There can be an art in dress­ing and do­ing your hair and make up, not to men­tion a fe­male­cen­tric pass­ing down of tra­di­tions and prac­tices. Lip­stick alone is not prop­ping up the pa­tri­archy.

But so­cially oblig­ing women as a class to present in a cer­tain way that ne­ces­si­tates the ex­pen­di­ture of time, money and ef­fort is.

No one is legally re­quired to shave their legs, blow dry their hair, get a fa­cial or wear lip­stick. But if you don’t wear make up, you can be fired for it, and many em­ploy­ers have dress codes that re­quire a full done-up face. And don’t get to think­ing that striv­ing for at­trac­tive­ness will solve your prob­lems. Em­ploy­ers can fire you for that, too.

Beauty also pays you back. Beau­ti­ful women (and men) earn much more than their av­er­agelook­ing or unattrac­tive coun­ter­parts. But beauty, es­pe­cially for women, isn’t so much in­born as an achieve­ment. That truth is sim­pli­fied in the teen movie trope of the nerdy girl trans­form­ing into a babe by whip­ping off her glasses and shak­ing her hair out of its pony­tail, but the fact is that beauty is about a whole lot more than just genes – it’s not just that it can be bought, it’s that it usu­ally has to be.

Yes, there are the lucky few who were born look­ing like our par­tic­u­lar cul­tural ideal, but there are many more who are able to pay to come close. Think in­vest­ments like braces to fix crooked teeth, whiten­ing to fix a yel­lowed smile, der­ma­tol­ogy for flaw­less skin, gym mem­ber­ships and pricey healthy di­ets for a toned body, a skilled hair­dresser and colourist for lovely hair, man­i­cures and pedi­cures, well-made on-trend cloth­ing, good make up and some­one to teach you how to ap­ply it, not to men­tion the lux­ury of time for daily work­outs, care­ful shop­ping and the nec­es­sary beauty ap­point­ments.

You don’t have to be rich to look great. But it sure does help.

That’s be­cause many of the ways we look “great” are about pro­ject­ing a par­tic­u­lar class sta­tus. Some­times it’s about be­ing in the know about trends or ways of wear­ing par­tic­u­lar items; some­times it’s just about sig­nal­ing wealth; some­times it’s about in­di­cat­ing that you prob­a­bly also live in a par­tic­u­lar kind of neigh­bor­hood and en­joy a par­tic­u­lar kind of book and lis­ten to a par- tic­u­lar kind of mu­sic. But women stand on ever-shift­ing grounds of “ap­pro­pri­ate” phys­i­cal pre­sen­ta­tion, and we’re pulled by what we en­joy, what we want to sig­nify, and what we’re sup­posed to ex­hibit.

All of that costs us money and time. It’s never about fi­nally be­ing beau­ti­ful and get­ting to just ex­ist as a pretty per­son. It’s about achiev­ing beauty. It’s a se­ries of ef­forts and im­prove­ments and rit­u­als, and on­go­ing work of beau­ti­fy­ing your­self. There’s al­ways some­thing else that could be im­proved or fixed.

And when we live in a so­ci­ety where peo­ple make enor­mous sums of money sell­ing un­nec­es­sary things to other peo­ple, you can bet that the stakes of ac­cept­abil­ity con­tin­u­ally get higher. – Guardian News & Me­dia

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