Monday, October 15, 2012

Beauty, Feminism, and the Power of Words

I am not certain the blogger for whom I wrote this response will approve my comment, but I feel I made some important points about beauty and feminism.

The essence of his post was that one of his favorite female authors, an ex-model turned writer and feminist, recently did an adult photo shoot and began representing a fashion line.  His conclusion was that, since the fashion industry degrades women and "actively fights against equality for women", she should EITHER be a model OR quit representing herself as a feminist.  This was my reply:


I feel for you, thinking you understand her well through her literature and then, whether “all of a sudden” or “eventually”, she appears to represent aspects of personality paradoxical to her stated beliefs. 
May I offer you some perspectives that she (and I do not know who she is) might have that you’ve never had to consider? I’m 50 and detest make-up. Yet I recently went to a promotional event after having purchased and applied more make-up than I had in the past ten years, also wearing a dress that cost more than I had spent on all my other clothing the previous year. Why? 
A: I wanted to look my best; don’t we all? Do you DELIBERATELY go out the door of a day looking slovenly, knowing it will leave an impression on people who will judge you as if it represents character traits? 
B: People get upset when an individual appears to change from what they perceived her to be before. If she was a model before, they expect her to maintain those standards. Look at you — YOU are upset because she appears to have “changed her standards”, not representing feminist power anymore or whatnot. 
C: Adult photo shoot. Fashion representative. Would you be so kind as to estimate the amount of money she raked in with those, compared to the amount of money she has earned writing? I daresay it will be several hundreds to several thousands of a percent more — YOU’RE a writer, YOU know. 
In addition, I would not even necessarily say she “sold herself out” for greed — I’ve had to spend six months off work to care for an elderly relative because no one in the family could afford other home health care. Thank God for the Family Medical Leave Act. Her need for money could have absolutely no bearing on her vaunted feminist principles. How many people commit acts of desperation for that very reason? I knew a grocery store owner in my youth who would turn his face when he saw local poor people shoplifting from his store. 
D: Why do you equate “feminism” with being anti-beauty? If anything, I say she is showing her power as a woman by taking advantage of her opportunities. If she has a beautiful body and others pay her to look at it, I say let her rake in the cash! That is HER power! Do you really want her to DENY herself such an opportunity? The true crime would be if she had a husband or significant other who physically abused her so she would NOT have that power. 
Sorry, I swear to you that I do not mean this as a rant! I totally resonate to your entire post, really I do! I am simply hoping to explain, as I try to do in my writing, that if a woman glories in her power, whether it be of her mind or of her body, is that not feminism at its finest?

I do not understand why anyone thinks "feminists" should act a certain way in the first place.  One of his points was that men are more confident and 'already winning' because they don't have to worry about their appearances like women do.  That attitude might take an entire other post to address, right there!  How many men WOULD wear make-up, if it wasn't considered 'unmanly', if it dramatically improved their looks?  Shall I mention Michael Jackson, Marilyn Manson, Boy George, and scores of other entertainers who did so anyway?  Not to mention the fact that the man who wrote this post seems to have some kind of 'men vs women' gladitorial attitude, despite loving feminist women.  Truly, I do not understand!

Away from men and back to feminists.  I agree that the cultural perception of feminists does not entail beauty.  We tend to think feminists are angry, bitter, in-your-face lesbian activists who act like they should be superior to men.  I don't think it's a true cultural perception, just like Islamic extremists seem to 'define' the face of terrorism nowadays when Islam is essentially a peaceful religion.  The truth is that most feminists (both female and male) are peaceful, thoughtful heterosexuals who simply treat everyone around them as PEOPLE, not as 'male' or 'female'.

I do agree with part of his point, that the beauty and fashion industry TEND to make girls/women feel like they aren't 'good enough', that they cannot rely on their inner beauty.  I can even agree that some fashion-type magazines phrase things in such a way as to belittle or shame women into trying their products.  Regardless of whether those words are advertisements, articles, interviews, and regardless of whether those projections are blatant or subliminal, the true issue to me is, WHY are they successful?

"Beauty is only skin-deep" has never been a truism to me.  Yet, who actively hates beauty?  Do you go out of your way, actively intend, to purchase the ugliest outfit in a shop, the ugliest car, the ugliest furnishings for your house?  Probably not.  So, why object to someone who wants to look his or her best?  Consider the French concept of "jolie-laide", a woman (usually) with a so-called ugly attribute, such as a scar or alarmingly large nose, who nevertheless bears herself with pride and knowledge that her other attributes make her a true beauty.  Do you think Princess Diana was comfortable with her nose?  If she was not, you could not tell -- after her "Shy Di" phase, she was, and will always remain, radiantly beautiful.  Yet she would have surely never contemplated going to any event looking less than her best.

That is the true value of the cosmetics and fashions industry.  I have physical flaws that I prefer to hide with well-made clothes and make-up.  Would you really come up to me and listen to me promote my next novel if I went out of my way to promote those flaws, knowing they would disgust most people?  This goes well beyond "Sex Sells"; I say, "Strut Your Stuff".   That's right, feminists!  Do whatever makes you feel good!  If men give you power (money, attention, what have you) because of your beauty, take that power and SOAR! 


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