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Outer Beauty

I was reading a Newsweek article from March of last year about how young girls are spending more money at a younger age on beauty treatments (and feeling worse about their bodies, which sucks so bad I can't tell you), and it makes me sad, but I understand their motivations.  I, too, use a $100 facial "serum", use $40 soap, and $40 moisturizer.  I love cosmetics, and frequently buy more - especially mascara (which is the one make-up item I recommend for anyone who wants to look a little more made up without actually wearing lots of make-up). 

I have quite the mascara collection.

I remember wanting to be beautiful from a very young age - without even going into the racist aspects of the westernized beauty ideal, it's clear even to very young girls that people who fit that ideal get treated better - and feeling like a failure because I was sure that I wasn't pretty.  Cosmetics seemed to be the answer - even if I wasn't pretty, I could be well-groomed.  Consequently, I learned how to do my own nails, do my face (there was an interesting phase I went through where I smeared mascara deliberately under my eyes - I am obsessed with the stuff), and play with my hair.  I grew my hair long, because long hair is pretty.  I tried to wear pretty clothes (not easy when you're a size 18, but I rocked the vintage Stevie Nicks look in high school) - in short, I bought into the beauty ideal completely.

The young girls today know exactly what I knew when I was young - pretty is where it's at.  Pretty gets you friends, gets you better treatment from adults, gets you attention from boys.  As you get older, pretty gets you things, like presents, good grades, opportunities, fame, and better jobs.  Pretty is an important survival tool.

It's also an extremely oppressive standard used to diminish women's sense of worth; today more than ever.  We've moved into an era where 18 year olds get Botoxed, discuss implants and liposuction and laser hair removal as essential, and follow the lead of the adults around them who value looks and devalue the women/girls who don't fit stringent societal beauty standards.  When I was a teen, the only plastic surgery teens got was a nose job - and that was only for the rich girls.  I went to a very rich school, where girls got custom designer gowns for prom, and fancy sports cars for the 16th birthday, but no-one talked about breast augmentation or cheek implants.  The beauty standards for women are getting narrower and more unattainable, and we wonder why 8 year olds are buying thigh-slimming cream?  They're being fed an evil and destructive message that looks are all that matter, and if you can't fix your looks, it's your own fault.  Worse, if you're ugly, then you are less valuable, so you'd better do everything in your power to fix that, or you deserve the bad treatment you get.  Victim blaming at its finest. 

The idea of beauty equalling worth leads to the most ridiculous inflation of not terribly talented people to surprising levels of fame - Paris Hilton, Heidi Montag (actually, the entire cast of The Hills) - and the framing of women with great talent purely from the standpoint of their looks, as if back fat somehow negates every other accomplishment.  We devalue women when we rate their looks over everything, and even other women use the relative attractiveness of someone they dislike as a measure of their entire existence.

Heidi Montag can waffle about inner beauty all she wants, but her message is "I'm not perfect; neither are you".  If a woman who fits all the beauty ideals - blond, blue-eyed, thin, tall - isn't perfect just as she is, what hope does the average teen girl have?  We can talk about the importance of personality, but as long as our actions do not match our words, girls are going to take note, and go with the model that gets results - and pretty is where it's at.

I am as bound up into this as much as anyone - while I feel really good about myself these days, I came to that place by way of dieting, fretting about tummy tucks (and if I won the lottery today, I'd arrange for it tomorrow), and hating my looks - even though my family thinks of me as "the beauty".  I have allergies that give me all sorts of skin conditions that aren't noticeable, like a flaky scalp, and ones that are, like Rosacea, and I'm short, and I don't have a bikini body, and the media that we all soak in thinks I'm gross, as do all the men who buy into the idea that they deserve a woman with "looks".  The fact that I'm married to man who thinks I'm gorgeous, that I have a rich and amazing life, talent way beyond what I reasonably deserve, and enough money to indulge those talents may be great among my circle of friends, but society at large is indifferent to those things in a woman, and judges her entire worth on how attractive she is to straight men.

Are we fucked up, or what?

It's not irrational to want to be beautiful - as I said above, pretty gets you things, and pretty is massively privileged in society, so it's actually very rational to want all the advantages you can get.  But it's appallingly disingenuous to go all hand-wringy over young girls taking this message to heart when we privilege pretty people, even if at the personal level it's relatively unconscious.  We buy into it every time we rate a woman's body instead of her dress on the red carpet, and make sizeist and lookist remarks about famous people.  We're supporting lookism, even though it's not a sensible method for determining worth.  Looks have absolutely no correlation to personality or talent.  As Ogden Nash puts it:

It's always tempting to impute
Unlikely virtues to the cute

...there have been some very cute sociopaths.  I'm just sayin'.

Where we fall down is not in liking to look at pretty people, it's attributing every ounce of worth to looks alone.  I have had in mind the tragic suicide of an Irish girl in Boston this week, who was bullied, apparently beyond endurace, and the way that anyone who is different is bullied, and how looks often play a huge part in that perception of worth.  Bullies target those they think are lesser and weaker than them, and the bullying often falls along very gendered lines - girls are targeted mainly for appearance and sexuality, and boys for not appearing "manly" enough - and looks play a huge part in gendered insults, because we, as a society, judge women's worth by how pretty they are.  As a society , we bully women who do not fit the straight white male-determined beauty ideal.  We mock them, insult them, abuse them, deny them agency (look at all the "headless fatty" images we use to illustrate the "obesity epidemic"), and generally imply that if they want to be treated better, they should make themselves fit the "ideal" by any means neccessary, even if it means risking their lives.

I can't repeat this often enough - when we talk about "inner beauty" and "it's what's inside that counts", our actions don't match the words coming out of our mouths.  We privilege the attractive constantly.  I have inside knowledge of this, being considered unattractive when I weighed 200lbs, and attractive now, and the difference in treatment is astounding.  It's not limited to men wanting to date me - it happens at work, when I meet strangers, how I'm treated on the street and in shops, everywhere.  I am no different (except I'm happier - but I was happier before I lost weight, because I had left a bad marriage, and started a great relationship with a champion bloke) than before.  I have all the same talents, and flaws, but I'm treated very differently by a lookist society.

Yes, it's great to be advantaged, but that advantage comes at the expense of other women, and I don't want that.  No-one with a conscience wants to succeed because other people are kept down.  Of all the arbitrary and completely uncontrollable factors to privilege, beauty is one that deeply affects women, and the intersectionality of race and beauty ideals makes it even worse.

This was supposed to be a goofy post about the stuff I use on my face that keeps my Rosacea under control.  So much for that, eh?  I keep it under control with a combination of Lavere Lifting Serum, Arsoa Queen soap, Burt's Bees Rosewater Toner, and Brigit True Magic Balm in a stick.  Sometimes I supplement it with Pomega Moisturizing Lotion.  It's taken my face from this:

With the red cheeks and nose that can't even be covered with make-up, to this:

...wearing no make-up at all.

I am under no illusions about the power of beauty; I use it when I can to my advantage (though never unethically - as far as I can determine), especially to get stuff for other people.  So I'm not surprised that young girls are soaking up the lookist messages - we all soak in it - but I work on my own unconscious bias, and I work on sending out the message that actually, what you do matters a lot more than what you look like.  I see it as cleaning up my own act, and not perpetuating the lookist tropes when I refuse to judge other women by their looks.  It's taken me time to reach this place, since I'm as steeped in the lookist culture as much as anyone.  I think it's a much better place to be, since I know that I'd take Eleanor Roosevelt over Heidi Montag any day - though I don't wish anything bad on Heidi (her sexist asshat doucherabbit of a husband is another matter). 

Actions should speak louder than looks.


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Jan. 26th, 2010 03:17 pm (UTC)
I have been having a refresher course in all of this lately. I stopped feeling the "need" to wear makeup every day several years ago. In the past year, as I've spent most of my time working on commission projects, etc, I've gotten quite lazy about my day-to-day appearance: t-shirts are normal, and so are the jeans covered in primer. Hrm.
That means that now, when I *do* bother turning it on-- getting dressed nicely, styling hair and doing makeup-- it's a bit mind-blowing at the difference in the way the rest of the world perceives me. I do get better treatment at most places (not necessarily the hardware store, but that's another issue!).
It's been interesting, and it's certainly done a lot for my confidence. I know that my current boyfriend finds *me* attractive, and I no longer am afraid of letting potential SOs see me without makeup or otherwise not "done up". I now choose friends and relationships based on people's reactions to the day-to-day me. If I'm not good enough for them in my primer-splattered jeans, that's not going to magically change in a cute dress. It does mean, too, that when I *do* choose to bust out the cute, these friends get wowed by it, rather than taking it for granted. And that's kind of fun sometimes, too.
The idea that I "should" spend 45 minutes on my appearance every morning just boggles my mind. I've got stuff to do, and already never enough time!
Jan. 26th, 2010 03:22 pm (UTC)
When I was a kid in school, I was constantly told how ugly I was. "Vibbert you ugly!" was a common taunt.

It was shocking later to realize I was never ugly. I am naturally quite pretty, and was a slender teen with a well-formed physique and nigh-perfect skin. ("I bet you've never had a blemish in your life", a college friend said to me my freshman year. And I stared in shock at her because, of course, I was ugly and zit-filled, right?)

Even when the real reason they are teasing you is that you're a geek and poor, they express it in the terms of beauty. It's really messed up!!
Jan. 27th, 2010 06:24 pm (UTC)
This isn't new: I was a geek and poor in 1966 high school, and I was treated much as you describe.

I think it's terrible that it's going even more over the top than ever before - an example of technology NOT working for us.

Hooray for not spending an hour in front of the mirror every morning just to justify one's existence!
Jan. 26th, 2010 03:34 pm (UTC)
It's interesting how people react to being told that they're ugly, especially as a teen. My ugliness became a badge of pride. I'm proud to say that I've never worn make up, that I don't shave, that I wash my hair as little as I can get away with and leave it as natural as it gets. That I refused to cover up my raging acne was a huge point of contention in school, but as a teen I did everything short of cultivate it.

Fact is, I'm petite and naturally thin and blonde and all those other things that tick the 'beautiful' boxes, so most of my 'ugliness' seems to be down to the fact that I swear and wear Doc Martens and like engines and computers and 'man' things too much, instead of focusing on my weight and my nails and my pores and my split ends. Nothing uglier than a 'masculine' woman, apparently, but I'd rather be ugly than obedient and insecure.
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 26th, 2010 03:45 pm (UTC)
"...as do all the men who buy into the idea that they deserve a woman with "looks"."
I used to know one of those. He assured me in the most saccharinely patronizing tones that he cared enough to see to it I got all the necessary plastic surgery to make me "the best" because "the best" was what he deserved.
And a lot of these guys are super-slobs who---never mind natural looks---don't bother with *grooming.* Okay, make that *hygiene.*
They learn from the media, and **they learn at home.**

A different man of my acquaintance swore, vowed and declared years ago that his daughters were going to be locked into chastity belts and kept at home until they were at least thirty-five, while he personally would supervise the educating of his son as to "the best and most effective [speediest] ways to get into a girl's pants," said with a smug, self-satisfied smirk, "'cause that's what a guy's s'posed to do."

Jan. 26th, 2010 04:34 pm (UTC)
Oops---apologies. Forgot about not shouting. My bad.
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Jan. 26th, 2010 04:05 pm (UTC)
This really struck a chord with me...not quite to the "crying at work," point, but close. For the past few months I've been struggling a lot with my own self-image.

I have a lot to say and I can't even articulate it...and chances are I'd end up a mess at the office if I tried. But thank you for posting this anyway.
Jan. 26th, 2010 04:40 pm (UTC)
First, stop punishing yourself. :) You deserve to love yourself, and it's horrific that society denies this confidence to women. *hug*
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Jan. 26th, 2010 04:09 pm (UTC)
how much of pretty is attitude, though?

I mean, look at the women held up as beautiful. Paris Hilton? *ugh*. Julia Roberts (who I think rocks :). striking. lovely. but pretty?).
angelie jolie?
jennifer aniston?
I mean, LOOK at them?

is it that they're well put together with expensive clothing and hair? is it that they're graceful? (bollywood stars...not neccessarily pretty (or not neccessarily thin! yay!) but lovely and lithe and so graceful)

look at the real women in your life that you see as pretty. stop and LOOK. are they really? their eyes, too close together? noses too long? not perfect bodies?

or is it that they are comfortable in their own skins? does pretty start with yourself and how you see yourself?

cuz that last one? that is something we all can do if we work at it....

neat :).
Jan. 26th, 2010 04:44 pm (UTC)
For celebrities, it's that they fit within the societal beauty "ideals", not whether they're attractive to someone. We're all attractive to someone, for many different reasons. It's the purely superficial nature of deciding someone's worth by their outward appearance (in photos, too, where how someone acts or behaves makes no impact) that reeks. :)

It's the value disconnect. And it takes a lot of inner strength and experience to block out the roar of the "beauty" message, which pre-teens and teens usually don't have. It's these first messages about looks=value that become deeply internalized, and to change that, we need, as a gender, to refute the party line.
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Jan. 26th, 2010 04:09 pm (UTC)
Mmmm, headless fatties. Goes great with my other morning reading: http://jezebel.com/5456561/weigh-less-pay-less-whole-foods-offers-discount-based-on-bmi

Jan. 26th, 2010 04:30 pm (UTC)
Wow, that's almost funny. If I worked there I'd get three of the four points to get the Platinum discount. No nicotine, low blood pressure, and low cholesterol, but my BMI throws me out of the park.

Just wow.
(no subject) - lanome - Jan. 26th, 2010 06:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 26th, 2010 04:21 pm (UTC)
you *are* beautiful. :)

i'm 46, and just starting to feel beautiful. my husband tells me he likes how i look in clothes (and without them, hee!), mama reminds me all the time how beautiful i am, my daughter i KNOW is beautiful...and is my spitting image. how about that for a self induced spiral?

i think the difference for me was realizing the tapes of "ugly, lazy, stupid, fat" were wrong. (tapes=the words in your brain that you beat yourself up with.)

yes i'm fat. the meds for the diabetes and the effects of neuropathy have caused me to gain roughly 40 pounds. which is a lot on a 5'1" frame. and i wasnt small to begin with. but i'm not ugly, and i'm a good person despite my fat. ;)

you are absolutely lovely, in both photographs. your good mischevious character shines brightly from both of them.
Jan. 26th, 2010 05:03 pm (UTC)
Being female, yeah, I been there in spades. But the one thing that's been a given trend so far in my life is that as I age, I give less of a shit what society thinks of me. Sure, I still feel a little twinge of inadequacy when comparing myself to the beauty standards of our age, but I'm also really digging this weird little body of mine these days. It's oddly refreshing.

Although, it was a strange experience to have to go through my last relationship with the guy who tried to badger me, then guilt me, then passive-aggressively shame me for not waxing my pubes off like apparently all the other girls he had dated did. I shamed him right back, though, by telling him it was THEIR choice to look like immature female children between their legs, and mine to embrace everything about my body that proclaimed my adult womanhood. And if that meant a hairy crotch was distasteful to him, then he had to learn to live with it, because I sure as hell was not waxing my pubes off. Or, as I probably said it at the time "Deal with it, or fuck off."

I like me. Anyone who doesn't can go to hell. :)
Jan. 26th, 2010 05:06 pm (UTC)
Hee. I like you too. :)
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Jan. 26th, 2010 05:06 pm (UTC)
I am substantially overweight and have been for most of adulthood. I want to lose weight for health reasons and to have a better choice of clothes that are more flattering, but I've also accepted that I will likely never be a "normal" weight. And I'm very comfortable in my skin, and have been most of my life, which is why I can relate the following story and honestly say it amused me at the time, and still does, in a cynical sort of way.

Several years ago I worked with a girl who was tall, slender, and dressed to accentuate every womanly feature she had. She was HAWT. (She was also a single mother and had a raft of relationship, financial, & other problems, and I wouldn't have traded my circumstances for hers to save my life ...)

One day, her car wasn't turning over. I was outside in the parking lot when she tried to turn it on, and I wandered over to help her when she popped the hood. I'm not mechanically inclined, but we all have that momentary thought that if we stare at the engine it will fix itself.

The parking lot looked over a residential area, accessed by about 50 steep stairs. In passing I noticed a guy down there working on his car. He looked up, met my eyes, went back to working on his car.

Then Deneise got out of the car, came around and stared at the engine too. I glanced over for no particular reason and saw Mr. Car Guy bounding up those stairs as fast as his legs could carry him. At the top, he spoke exclusively to Deneise, went out of his way to see if he could help her, ran back down for tools and came back ...

Later, when she saw me rolling my eyes behind his back as he left, she said, "What? He was just being nice."

My response, "Babe, he was being nice to your pink leather dress. He knew I was up here with a broken car; he didn't bother coming up here until he saw you."

She said, "That's silly. He was just being nice."

Really. Sometimes she was that oblivious. One of the reasons I liked her.

Sometimes I wonder if his assistance to D was actually cold bloodedly thought out (fat chick, waste of time; sexy chick, can I score?), or if it was mostly unconscious (fat chick, part of the scenery; sexy chick, visible on landscape and since I'm a nice guy I help people who need it).

Interesting thoughts.
Jan. 26th, 2010 05:12 pm (UTC)
I will likely never be a "normal" weight.

There is no such thing as normal; there's average, which in the US is a size 12-14. But normal? No such thing, just like there's no "normal" height for men or women. This is one of the big lies we're fed. Plus, you get better health benefits from being heavier than what's been touted as the "ideal" weight. :)

As for the dude and the car and your friend, no doubt about it, he was hoping to score. Kindness had nothing to do with it, and it wasn't unconscious, it was part of the constant mental "I might get lucky with hot chick" loop in his head.

I know this, because I've been both the fat chick and the thin chick. People who genuinely want to help because they're nice will help anyone who seems to need it. Men who think they can score some sex only help women, and only the women they deem "hot" enough. >:(
Jan. 26th, 2010 05:10 pm (UTC)
Speaking of the expctations we place on little girls, you can imagine how horrified I was by this:

Jan. 26th, 2010 05:15 pm (UTC)

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Jan. 26th, 2010 05:12 pm (UTC)
I'm currently living with my sister's family. She has three lovely young daughters. They are not only conventionally adorable, they are clever and talented.

I am making a concerted effort to praise their less tangible qualities: "You are so smart for figuring that out! You sing very well! You drew a great octopus!" (The four-year-old somehow learned the word 'tentacles' on her own! Squeeee!!)

What's sad is that it's hard to remember to do that. It's so easy to say, "Oh, you look so cute! You look so pretty!" because they are, and that's what a stranger usually sees first and comments on. The girls watch a lot of the Barbie movies, which actually show some positive character-building, but even when Barbie saves the Prince, she is still unrealistically thin and pretty and the happy ending is her being matched to the handsome guy, as if all the asskicking she did earlier was just a means to that end. And the bad guy is, more often than not, a stepmother or witch or whatever who is still lovely, just not nice. Disney has turned the Princess ideal into a huge marketing force that inundates the very young with the pretty standard. We're fighting such an uphill battle.
Jan. 26th, 2010 05:18 pm (UTC)
Another thing I am making a concerted effort on: not comparing myself favorably to other women, consciously or unconsciously. Every time I think with satisfaction, "I am prettier than she is," I remind myself that it's just an opinion and that person is beautiful, too. Then I make myself look for that other person's beauty. But damn, it's hard, because deep down that sense of self-worth still has some of its basis on comparison. Frustrating, but the struggle is worth it. Just imagine being free of all that nonsense...
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Jan. 26th, 2010 05:16 pm (UTC)
Wow. This is something I mostly try not to think about, like I try not to look in mirrors. I wore a little make up till the feminist revolution ('70's, I guess?) and then quit in solidarity. I was never very good with it, and by the time I was willing to try again I had forgotten what little I had known. Plus, by then I was working and my co-workers were used to seeing me sans make up, and teased me when I wore it. "Ah! Got on your war paint today, I see! Got plans for somebody?"

My mother, I guess like many mothers of her generation, constantly makes comments about every woman's looks, no matter what the woman's job actually is. Judge, first lady, news anchor, no matter. Sooner or later Mother's going to comment on whether or not she's "pretty." And when I was in high school or college, my dad looked at a picture of me when I was a baby and made a joking comment about "when you used to be cute." I know he was teasing me, but still, it just added to my perception that I was plain at best. And somehow, instead of believing that makeup and creams will make me more beautiful, I have come to feel that they will only make me look like a plain woman with war paint on. Still, it saves a lot of time and money. Now about those self-esteem issues.....
Jan. 26th, 2010 05:56 pm (UTC)

Damn, some people's parents make me mad. It comes from a mindset of woman as commodity, and how if we can't get a man, we don't count, so matching the beauty ideal is the only thing that matters.

Part of me thinks that the reason it's getting so bad is that women are more able to live independently than ever before, and the Patriarchy is getting nervous. They're trying to distract us into thinking that how we look to a man is all that's important. Women buy into this idea, too, which is why women can be so harsh about the way other women look.
(no subject) - luciab - Jan. 26th, 2010 06:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 26th, 2010 05:47 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for voicing this.

When I escaped my last unhealthy/ emotionally abusive relationship I had been so emotionally beaten down about my appearance that I actually started putting together an application packet for extreme makeovers! It still blows my mind that I let my sense of self be stripped away to the point where I would even contemplate letting myself be chopped up in a series of quickie elective surgeries, because it was made clear to me that packaging was infinately more important than contents.

I've finally found myself again, and found someone who loves me for all of my parts inside and out. :)
Jan. 26th, 2010 05:57 pm (UTC)
Yay! :)
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