Lately my social justice antennae have been spinning like mad.
Not only have I been steeping myself in education on our country’s racism problem, but the tide of my feminist rage has recently come back to shore.
If you’re curious about why, let me point you in the direction of the book I picked up a few weeks ago:
The author breaks down how our modern beauty standards are the result of a purposeful, systematic push for women’s oppression. It. Is. Fucking. Infuriating.
If you don’t feel like reading the whole book, just think about this:
The more freedoms women have earned over the last few centuries, the more important it suddenly became for them to spend their time, attention, effort, and money on ever-escalating standards of “beauty.”
Oh, and let me mention here that this book is 27 years old, and nothing has changed.
In fact, if anything, things have just gotten worse for women since 1990. UGH.
I guess it makes sense though, right?
Given the linear relationship between women’s liberation and the pressure to fit into narrower and narrower beauty standards, is it any surprise that today’s women are both the free-est we’ve ever seen, and also the most overwhelmed with pressure to look perfect?
Why does this correlation exist, you ask?
Well– and I apologize for the massive over-simplification (please just go read the book)– it exists because women who are always distracted, busy, and exhausted don’t have any time or energy left over to rock the boat.
In short, women who are constantly distracted and stressed out about how we look don’t have the time, energy, or confidence to fuck stuff up for the huge greedy companies who prey on our insecurities, and we don’t threaten the people (read: white men) currently enjoying power.
“A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.” ― Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth
The worst part of this all is that we have fully internalized our own oppression. We women have become convinced that there is something about our bodies and ourselves which is naturally shameful, wrong, and in need of fixing.
Think about how many women truly feel empowered by the very tools of their own oppression.
How many women gush about how amazing they feel since they started eating paleo/gluten-free/vegan/whatever and lost some weight, or discovered some kind of fitness class that gave them “results” and is just so fun?
How many women insist that they wear makeup because it’s empowering and creative?
Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of these activities or choices– they absolutely can be empowering and fun.
But we can’t really discuss these activities without also discussing the fact that we live in a culture which rewards beauty and thinness/fitness, while rejecting and punishing the rest.
So, yes, it can be empowering to lose weight. It can be empowering to put on a full face of fabulous makeup. But why?
Would it still be empowering for you if society rejected you for doing it?
If fatness was rewarded and praised and accepted, would you still eat paleo and do crossfit? If anything other than a bare face was considered disgusting, would you still spend hours upon hours watching makeup tutorials and creatively painting your face?
I’m not saying you would or wouldn’t.
I’m just saying that “playing the game” according to the rules means we get to win, and winning is empowering and fun! But that doesn’t mean the rules aren’t still fucked up and dark.
Which brings me to why I’m so mad today.
As women, we must spend a TON of time, money, energy, and attention on how we look in order to win at the game of life– aka to be rewarded with a good job, good partner, interesting opportunities, people being nice to us, and a general sense that we are valued.
And it works, to a certain extent. Looking more like the current beauty ideals does expand your opportunities, and people do treat you better. It’s been proven. By following the rules, we actually do fare better at the game.
But then, having spent all that time, money, energy, and attention on how we look, we find that we are constantly too distracted, too busy, and too exhausted to address the fact that this game fucking sucks.
We don’t want to risk completely bucking the system, because that system seems to be the only possibility we have of achieving success, approval, acceptance, love, and belonging.
Yet by not completely bucking the system, we have no time or energy left over to work on the real problem, which is that this system is fundamentally broken.
I write this all as a young-ish, pretty, able-bodied, straight-sized white woman.
I cannot even imagine how frustrating and painful this must be for people of color, (especially non-white women) or people who are fat, or people who are differently abled or otherwise marginalized for how they look.
The layers upon layers of oppression just pile up the more sins against our modern “beauty standards” a person commits just by being them.
Sometimes I think the standard we are all held against is an attractive rich white man. The further any of us veers from this standard (by being female, a person of color, etc.) the less visible and valued we are, in this society. The further from that standard we fall, the more and more time and energy we must put into following the horrible rules of this horrible game in order to gain any measure of safety, success, acceptance, or belonging.
As such, the most oppressed people are also the most tired, the most distracted, and the least likely to lead a rebellion.
Which is exactly why the onus is on each of us to use our individual privilege and social capital (aka our visibility and time/energy) to create change for the people who are more oppressed and less visible than ourselves.
But sometimes, I think it’s also ok to just sit down and wail about it.
To recognize the unfairness of it all. To acknowledge the pain and anger and despair it stirs up. To feel unprepared for the challenges ahead, and wonder how we will ever manage.
And then to get back to work.
Please follow and like us: