Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Distracted by Beauty

Ah, my senior year of high school. I was an avid feminist, focusing on liberal politics and my goal of changing the world. I was so excited to go to school, major in political science, go to law school, run for office, and really make a difference. My appearance was a statement: band t-shirts, jeans, studded belts, skull necklaces, gothic skirts and tops; I wore no foundation over my blemished skin, just dark eyeliner and lip stick. Yeah, fuck beauty standards, fuck conformity.

And then something changed. In college, I began to worry about my appearance, I wore makeup to make myself look pretty or sexy instead of intimidating; I worried about whether guys liked me, I obsessed over my weight; and it suddenly mattered whether certain groups accepted me. And with all these new preoccupations, my studies, and my politics, took a back seat.

In The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf argued that women's learned obsession with beauty is a distraction from holding power in society. If a woman spends all that time buying clothing and beauty products, styling her hair and putting on makeup, touching up her appearance, thinking and worrying about whether she looks okay, that's time and energy not spent on doing anything more productive or fulfilling.

And sure enough, when I was so busy trying to look good, and going to anime club hoping to win the affection of one guy, I was less concerned with spending time with students for choice; I went on dates instead of attending meetings of the feminist student organization.

When I think of all the money I've spent on makeup, accessories, and hair care products, I wonder what else I could have done with it. I could have spent it on more fulfilling experiences, trips, going to museums, buying books, going to feminist conferences. I could have saved it for after I graduate.

When women spend so much money on their appearance, they risk losing their financial independence. Magazines frame makeup as a financial priority, as if rent and food were to be bought on a man's salary - be it daddy's money or money from a boyfriend or husband.

Instead of thinking about my weight, or my skin, or my hair, or whether I'm accepted, worthy, loved, I could be thinking about the status of women, or political problems this country faces, and what I could do to help solve those problems. Energy is wasted on obsessing over appearance.

Well fuck that, I don't want to be known for being pretty, or thin, or sexy. I want to be known for my intelligence, for what I have to say, and for what I can do.

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