In Beauty and Misogyny, Shelia Jeffery’s argues that Western beauty practices should be seen as harmful traditions “which are understood to be damaging to the health of women to be performed for the benefit of men, to create stereotyped roles for the sexes, and to be justified as being a tradition.” (Jeffery’s 31) In our culture all of a woman’s body is objectified to the point where we as women altar them so much that our bodies in their natural state are disgusting, embarrassing, or considered unclean. Beauty practices affect every aspect of a woman’s life. No matter how intelligent, how moral, or wealthy a woman is, she is expected to maintain a certain standard of beauty. As well as, the more successful she becomes she must work harder to display her subordination to men by upping her use of beauty materials such as makeup, high heels, or plastic surgery.
These beauty practices serve as psychological oppression of women. The constant policing on women’s bodies clearly has an impact on the way women feel about themselves. Simpler beauty practices such as makeup consume women’s time, money and emotional space. When a woman wakes up in the morning, she isn’t considered ready to enter the real world, a mans world. There are specific processes she is expected by society to engage in before leaving her home in order to be “professional” or “well-kept.” This ranges from the shaving of all hair from the body except for the head, (where ironically men’s ideal of beauty is long, flowing hair) facial cover up, blush, lipstick, eyeliner, mascara, eye-shadow, eye lash curlers, hair dyeing, hair straightening, skin tanning or lightening and so on. All signifying the ways in which woman are less than men. Jeffery describes how beauty practices to an extreme are a form of mental illness; clues to the disorder being “frequent mirror checking, excessive grooming, face picking, and reassurance seeking.” However, these are actually the ordinary everyday practices of feminity.
Personally, I spend at least forty-five minutes a day applying make-up, doing my hair or fixing it. That doesn’t include shower time or other time I spend critiquing my own body. Spending time wishing that I were prettier, skinnier, or generally more attractive physically. It is a hypocritical, unnecessary way to spend my time, fully knowing that with the continuation of these everyday actions I dig a deeper hole into the legitimization of the Western beauty practices and internalization of the male gaze in women.
Another harmful practice that has a day-to-day affect on women’s lives is the fashion industry. Women’s clothing is not made for comfort or we arability. Instead, it is made to make a woman look fuckable. Women’s clothing is revealing, tight, small, and flimsy. The small “doll-like clothing” does not fit well and perpetuates the unattainable idea body image. Therefore creating self-harm and eating disorders, or body mutilation like liposuction. This is in stark contrast to what men find in stores. Men are offered clothing, which fully covers their skin, is comfortable and durable.
Although, while it may appear that women have the choice to partake in there practices or not, one must realize there is truly no such thing as choice or agency for a woman in a patriarchal society. In the work place for example, makeup isn’t a choice but an expectation that is the result of a system of power relations that require women to engage in this cultural practice. Jeffery’s states “The idea that makeup is a “choice” is undermined by an examination of the tactics that cosmetic corporations employ to get children using make-up and wedded to their brands.” Women also say that they need to apply make-up when they leave their houses because if they didn’t people will ask them if they are sick or tired. Comments like this make women feel less than and can change the course of their day entirely.
The concept that the personal is political is crucial when analyzing Western beauty practices. Personal problems are political problems because many of the personal issues women experience in their individual lives reflect the collective, systematic oppression women face in a patriarchal society. In the case of Western beauty practices, starting discussion among women about how they individually partake in these practices is a big step to finding out what women’s collective reality truly looks like. Women need to take control of their bodies back from men. Women’s bodies are not naturally repulsive, and the best way for women to leave the position of subordination is to educate each other and analyze our cultural practices that we assume to be natural and start with anything that women have to do that men do not.