Beauty is the path

I had a distressing conversation the other day. It went something like this:

“Man. I am bummed. I was involved in an exciting project, and now it’s over. And there are, like, hurt feelings on both sides. Bummer. Man.”

“Well, considering the fact that you use your looks to get involved in most exciting projects…”

“Er, what?”

“Oh, you heard me.”

“WHAT?”

“You heard me say ‘you heard me.’ I know it, because you flinched.”

“OMG! WTF? STFU! GTFO! DIAF!”

Etc.

I’m not Angelina Jolie and never will be, but, sure enough, I perform beauty while I’m still young. I checked out the spring collection at Naf Naf the other day, for example. I made it out of there with a pink strapless minidress adorned with large, purple, blue and white flowers that are vaguely reminiscent of a blown-up Japanese print. It’s layered, and make me look like a very complicated dessert and makes me feel like I live in a painting. I love it.

As much as I love it, I know that even this little dress can come with some big consequences attached. Why, I find out new and exciting things about me and people like me every day:

As has been pointed out, women — even feminist women — yearn to perform beauty because they are tired of fighting the powah, and beauty is the path of least resistance, but they don’t wanna feel that damn feminist guilt for wearing carcinogenic mascara. - Jill at I Blame the Patriarchy

Least resistance, O RLY? But, perhaps more importantly, why assume that I am tired? I can’t speak for anyone else, but I am not bloody tired. And I fight the power every day. With a crowbar. I live in Eastern Europe, it’s the only way I can make it through the day. It’s the only way any woman can make it through the day here, is what I feel like, whether she calls herself a feminist or not. Bah. Fellow Americans can act so privileged sometimes. (Shocking, I know)

Feminist revolution in the western world cannot happen until there is a critical mass of disenfranchised and oppressed women who genuinely want change. We are not close to having this happen – especially when the feminist discourse is still stuck arguing whether it can be empowering to put lipstick on. Or, I should say, a very specific sort of feminism from women who are generally well off and can trade on their femininity. – Jennifer Ruth at IBTP [emphasis mine]

Uh. You have it backwards, darling. It’s women who are not well off who tend to kind of have to trade on their femininity, whether they want to do it or not. Now, I happen to enjoy my own performance of femininity – but that just means I’m lucky, i.e. privileged. Though speaking of privilege, how about you buy me a new washing machine?

… I work at home. When I talk to make-up-smudged, sensible-heels-wearing women about this, I’ve noticed that the first thing they say is something akin to, “Wow! You don’t even have to get dressed in the morning!”

This reaction has always been perplexing to me. I get dressed in the morning the same damn way I always have. More specifically, I don’t make much of an effort at “pretty.” So, when “pretty” women say things like that to me, what they really mean is: “Wow! You don’t have to put on your patriarchy-acceptable costume to go to work!”

This makes me terribly sad for them. – Samantha at IBTP

Pumpkin, I suspect that most of these women you stoop to conversing with don’t want or need your goddamn pity. Just a thought.

“Prettying up” has a pretty limited shelflife. There comes a point in the life of any female who lives long enough at which it is no longer possible to simulate being young and pretty. Any woman who hasn’t sorted out a more substantial basis for their life by the time that stage comes along is in for an unhappy time, whatever their economic status. – shopstewardess at IBTP

Yes, dumbass, because “prettying up” is the “basis” for my life, apparently. Let me let you in on a little secret – even for a fashion model, “prettying up” is not the “basis” of an existence. Yes, losing your looks is extremely hard in a culture that somehow manages to both reward and punish you for having them. But performing beauty doesn’t make it into a “basis” for anything.

You know what beauty really is? Any kind of beauty? Let me give you a hint: it goes hand-in-hand with terror. It’s a little too great to be contained or explained in the comments to a feminist blog.

Also, might I add that the time I don’t waste primping myself in front of a mirror is time I get to spend reading blogs, reading books, playing piano and seeing people I care about. – kate at IBTP

I particularly hate this sentiment, because it assumes that women like me don’t have enough time to read books or blogs, to play musical instruments (well, I don’t play an instrument. But I enjoy other things. Such as writing. And, uh, more writing) or hang out with people they care about. They’re all just so soulless and vain!

It’s kind of like: “Well, the time I don’t waste playing a musical instrument is time I get to spend writing plays! So there! I win this pointless argument!”

I guess I’m not old or adult enough to decide what to do with the five minutes I spend applying make-up in the morning. I need people like kate to sort me out!

Because this is what it’s really all about – deciding who among us is really an adult. Men will freak out on you for being “too emotional,” radical feminists will freak out on you for that goddamn mascara! I fail to see a whole lot of difference.

Some women will adamantly state they only do it because they like it. Now, given I’m no mind reader and it’s certainly not my place to tell then what they really like or not, I’m not going to state ” It’s because you were taught to like it”. Women have brains. Functioning brains. So with that in mind, I will ask them to press deeper into their psyches and ask themselves if they really really like it, or could it be P training. They don’t have to tell me the answer. That they think about it is enough. – pheenobarbidoll at IBTP

Hm. Well, I would never state that I only perform beauty because I like it. I live on planet Earth, after all. Encased in a corporeal object – a body. We are all physical beings (besides the ghosts over our shoulders) and we respond to each other’s physical appearance. Our responses tend to be complicated, overlapping, both conscious and unconscious.

My mother, one of the most beautiful women I have ever known, had this to say on the subject:

“Beauty makes people want to be next to you. And it makes them despise you. Beauty is like the moon. It has a dark side.”

It is admittedly hard for me to stamp down my disgust at women and girls who actively promote patriarchy approved beauty compliance. – Amananta at IBTP

See, this is at least honest. But perplexing. Because I feel no such disgust at people who, I believe, flout patriarchy approved beauty compliance – yet somehow think that what they are doing makes them free (you’re not Robin Hood, OK? You’re still engaging the system).

I would never say that I don’t give a crap as to what people look like. People interest me, after all, both out as well as in. I’m interested in women who wear niqab – and the style they go with. I’m interested in someone else’s chipped purple nail polish. I’m interested in polka-dot ties. I’m interested in the entire culture of dress and appearance, and that culture does include everyone – not just people who perform beauty.

The disgust expressed here strikes me as yet another way to attempt to “mortify the flesh.”

Nobody actually looks better when they put on blue eyeshadow, for instance, it’s just that by going to the trouble of putting on blue eyeshadow, you’re signaling your submission.- wiggles at IBTP

Mmm. Baby. You wish.

Sandals are not intrinsically more expensive or more sexy than sneakers… – Mel at IBTP

You know, at this point in the discussion, I am reminded more and more of church. In Orthodox Churches, there are many ladies, most of them older, who eagerly sit around and discuss such important topics as whether or not a good Orthodox woman can wear flip-flops under her skirt. The rest of us just tend to get on with our lives. Well, not me, though.

Since I am on the path of “least resistance,” however, I expect those dividends to start rolling in soon. Where is that goddamn new washing machine I need?

And what happened to all the hordes of people who, apparently, invite me to participate in exciting projects simply because of the way I look? Anyone? Bueller?

There is a picture of a beautiful woman hanging in my bedroom. This particular beautiful woman was honoured for her participation in WWII before she died. Rumours still swirl about her, years after her death. She had many dangerous jobs. She was so awesome, that speaking about her on this little blog feels almost like a violation of some kind. And she did more for the people in her life – women in particular – than half the commenters at IBTP could ever dream of doing.

She’d never check in to see if the way she looked was in any way “OK.” I suppose, in this, as in all things, she was a greater woman than I.

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19 thoughts on “Beauty is the path

  1. Do any of the peeps who argue for examination ever stop to examine their own prejudice against pretty women? It isn’t even something confined to certain radical feminist blogs. My neighbor is a stunning woman from Sweden, and a scientist. Does she EVER have stories to tell on the subject.

  2. Where do they get this idea that women ‘yearn to perform beauty’? I know I certainly don’t! They are actually projecting a stereotype onto women which is just the most perfect irony to me :P

    At the end of the day it boils down to each women doing what makes HER comfortable and the rest of us can either be respectful and supportive of her choice or just keep our opinions about her choices to ourselves!

  3. Okay, I’ll bite. Who was this WWII hero? Questing minds want to know more!

    As far as beauty is concerned – sure, people should have fun with it. I get antsy when I hear students say they need 2 hours to prepare to go out, and not the 5 minutes you mention for your makeup routine.Two hours several times a week really is a lot of lost living!

  4. WWII hero was a relative of mine. :)

    I think if you’re going out for a big night, it can take longer, sure. When I was living in a dorm, we’d swap outfits, do each other’s make-up very dramatically, etc. It was fun.

    I think that for some people, adorning themselves can become an addiction and is a sign of something that is seriously wrong, but most people don’t fall into that category, methinks. Who has the time?

  5. A few thoughts:

    In re your conversation partner: Haterz gonna hate.

    In re the feminists: The solution isn’t to get people (men and women) to stop objectifying women — it’s to start objectifying everyone equally.

    In re you and exciting projects: You kick ass. Always have, always will.

  6. God, Natalia. You and your CARCINOGENIC mascara. It’s catching, you know. Like cigarette smoke. Like blowjobs.

    Don’t you know that each of your lashes do more to uphold the Patriarchy than all of Twisty’s father’s business doings combined? Why can’t you be a nice sensible revolutionary and go buy a horse or something? and review restaurants, and sneer at the waitstaff.

    God, you’re so reactionary.

  7. A friend of mine told me the other day that she does not use hair colour due to her feminist principles. I dont get that. Why cant you get rid of grey roots and have feminist principles? What’s next, unshaven armpits? a big bush? :)

  8. Oookay scary azeri, So are you saying it is inappropriate to pick on women for heels/makeup/whatever, but appropriate to comment on their gray roots/unshaven pits/etc? Why is that?

  9. From a guy’s perspective, I have always been puzzled by the pre-occupation with “beauty” which seems to be outward only. I have always held the belief that the uglest woman is a woman who is attractive outwardly but has a rotten attitude. To me, it has always been that inward beauty of personality that I have found attractive. It has nothing to do with feminism/objectivism. It is simply who the person is and how they act/react to life. Had I lived in the same time/place, I am certain that I would have been in love with Valya Borts who is portrayed in A. Fadeyev’s book “The Young Guard.”

    For a different perspective on beauty, you may wish to read my most recent blog post: a re-telling of an Ojibway story which can be found at:

    http://samnangp.wordpress.com/

  10. Nice fisking.

    Re shopstewardess: her point that pretty has a shelf life is in response to the oft-repeated “I perform beauty because it gets me ahead in life.” And it is disingenuous in the extreme to pretend that there are not women for whom pretty is the basis of their life. We can all agree on the tragedy of this, no?

    Re samantha: Women who make great efforts towards their looks often treat it and talk about it as a loathsome obligation. Again, disingenuous to pretend otherwise.

  11. I don’t think there is anyone whose looks are the actual *basis* for their existence. Beauty gets plenty of people ahead – gets them jobs, or SO’s who only really care about their looks – but that’s a qualifier already. I think plenty of people coast on their looks to one degree or another in general, and then there comes a point where you can no longer do that. I don’t think it’s tragic, I think it’s one of the consequences of occupying a human body. I think what’s tragic is how lopsided world society still is, in that regard. Women feel the consequences of losing their looks much more keenly.

    But it’s still normal to enjoy your looks while you have them, and sure enough, even in the best of circumstances, you’re going to miss that when it’s gone.

    And everyone owns their experience. It’s not up to someone like Samantha to extend her pity. I’m at this point in my life where I have a new primary job, and can’t just roll out of bed in the morning and work myself, but if anyone told me they felt sorry for me, I’d probably laugh.

  12. I love to brush on a bit of tinted powder so those rosy red cheeks don’t make people think I’m drunk. Takes like…2 minutes. Time I could spend writing religious tracts or evangelizing to heathens, but then they’d avoid me if I didn’t because they’d think I was a drunk. o, the quandary.

  13. ” It’s not up to someone like Samantha to extend her pity.”

    The point is that many women often ask for pity or at least commiseration over their beauty rituals. And if a person asks for pity or commiseration, then it is a decent thing to do to extend them a little.

    I think for many women this stuff is quite torturous and to ignore that with a blithe “we inhabit bodies” is rather ignoring the point.

    I do actually agree with you that shaming women about how much time/money they spend on their looks is a load of crap. I think it probably is a part of our second class status, but too bound up with other stuff to bother singling out.

  14. Well, if anyone had asked her for her sympathy, that’s one thing. But I didn’t read her comment like that at all.

    And I’m not being blithe. This is a philosophy of mine. That includes the fact that no, women are not on an equal playing field. Far from it.

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