One of the issues I find hardest to get my head around these days, is the explosion in the variety of ways women can alter their appearance to fit cultural ideas of beauty and youth. The one that troubles me the most is the range of cosmetic procedures now commonly known as injectables. Now, just because I have a vague idea of what these are, doesn’t mean I really understand them. All I know is that women, some of them still in their twenties, are seeking out surgical modification of their faces using botox, collagen and ‘fillers’. I don’t even know what fillers are, please don’t tell me.
And this suite of new ways to spend money on our appearance is at the skinny end of a massive and growing industry including; cosmetic surgery, underwear and clothing that squeeze your fat away, padding that makes your butt look bigger, diet and supplement programs, fitness regimes, hair pieces and extensions, wigs, eyelash extensions, cosmetic tattoos, eyebrow sculpting and tinting, and god knows what else.
How does this sit with your idea of feminism? Do young women even talk about feminism these days? My fifteen year-old daughter knows what it is but then she’s my daughter and I talk about this stuff, so perhaps she’s not an accurate representative of the average teen girl?
I don’t know the answers to any of the above but what I know is this: I stopped dyeing my hair to cover my greys more than three months ago, so I’m feeling a certain smug brand of evangelism about natural ageing. Now this wasn’t a big leap for me, so I’m not saying it’s a big deal. I’m what you might describe as approaching the ‘feral’ end on the concern for grooming and beauty spectrum. I’m kind of ashamed but also happy to say I haven’t been to a beautician in 24 years, I don’t wear much make-up and my morning routine is comprised of; cold water on the face, a brush through my hair and maybe some moisturiser. Thank god my husband said ‘I do’ when we were still in our twenties. He’s stuck with me now.
Has Feminism Lost all Relevance?
So, back to feminism. Feminism is essentially about men and women being equal, right? We’ve still got a long way to go though, wouldn’t you say? Here’s an example: a lot of us would say, we’re in favour of growing old gracefully, but this means very different things to different people and in my mind, it’s different to growing old naturally. A beautifully coiffed woman in her eighties may have spent an hour at the hair salon and another with her beautician each week and still be said to have a graceful elderly beauty. A genuinely naturally aged woman of the same age, would look like an entirely different human. We may even recoil from her thinning hair, sun spots, broken capillaries, sagging skin and deep wrinkles. Does it feel different if we replace the aging woman with an aging man? How is it that we can accept an old man in all his wrinkled, make-up free glory with more ease than a woman of the same age?
I know you know why. It’s because right from early childhood, we view female beauty differently to male beauty. A little girl absorbs what the cultural beauty ideals are and how she does or doesn’t fit them. And there for some girls, begins a lifelong process of trying to alter their natural appearance to approximate those ideals, which often change along the way. For me it began at 12 with eyebrow and upper lip waxing (for which I’m grateful). Leg and bikini-line waxing soon followed. Getting a good tan was a priority and easy for me as an olive-skinned person, but what about my red-headed friend who’s now dealing with sun damaged skin and the threat of skin cancer?
The risk of creating long term health problems from what we do to ourselves in the name of beauty, or to merely have an acceptable appearance, is real. Dieting can cause harm to the body, the toxins in make-up, fragrances, deodorants, hair dyes and skin care products are scary and no one really knows what the long term effects of injectables might be. And I haven’t even mentioned the amount of money we spend on these things. It’s completely mind boggling.
I want to know where this is all leading and if we’re creating a generation of women who are going to be dealing with chronic illnesses in the future, as a result of the substances being injected into their bodies today. I certainly have concerns about the long term psychological effects of routinely playing around with the structure of a person’s face. And how does this trend affect our supposed ideal of bringing greater equality to workplaces, relationships and society at large? It feels like we’re moving away from women feeling empowered no matter how they look, to a society as prejudiced and restrictive as the Victorian era. I don’t know. It just doesn’t feel healthy to me. What do you feel? I’d love to know your views.