The Beauty Myth in the 21st Century

As a naive girl of 18 and under the care of my parents, when I was first given a copy of The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf I simply shrugged and said it didn’t apply to me. Our household didn’t subscribe to fashion magazines, my Mother was never a high maintenance woman, and “What Not To Wear” wasn’t airing yet. It wasn’t until I left the safety of their nest that I was suddenly aware of what I had been missing – a first impression anywhere can make you or break you and it’s even worse if you’re a woman.

I’m disgusted that society thinks it’s appropriate to tell women how they should dress, act, and behave. Recently, I came across an article on CNN telling women what they should own. Surprisingly, it was written by a woman. In hindsight, it’s probably not a big deal – it’s just an article about a few key pieces a woman should own but what if this stylist’s definition of 10 essential key pieces doesn’t align with what’s currently hanging in my closet? Do I suddenly need to go shopping so that I have what I need? What if I’m not comfortable wearing some of these items? That’s a lot of “what if’s” for a silly article and I’m left doubting myself and my own unique sense of style.

Waiting at a doctor’s office, I’m inundated with fashion magazines, the latest celebrity wear, and Vogue’s top models that I look nothing like. This is supposed to be a place where I can feel at peace and heal myself but I’m questioning my self esteem and self worth in the visiting room. What’s worse is that these models and celebrities face the same scrutiny as me. They can’t leave their house without the paparazzi watching their every move and heaven forbid they wear the wrong dress at the Oscars and go shopping in their PJ’s; everyday inconveniences that we take for granted but are now front page news. Do you see any men splashed on those covers for going out in shorts or sandals for a casual day out?

The news preys on a woman’s emotions. We have been considered the weaker sex since the beginning of time and we re-affirm our self esteem issues when we let the mirror play its tricks on us, question our body image, and ask “do these jeans make my butt look fat?” Why can’t we be comfortable in our own skin? Why do we apply makeup to distort our image and make ourselves look acceptable? Why do we tell ourselves that black is slimming and buy “control-top” panties?

I ask myself the same questions after a session at the American Laser Centers today. Due to Facebook’s brilliant targeted advertising, I won a laser session and I’ve been going to them to get some unwanted hair zapped off. I was initially thinking of canceling considering I got home late from a vacation but didn’t want to pay the $75 cancellation fee. Today, the nurse treating me was an Asian lady that I’ve never liked. I have nothing against Asians but I’ve always found her to be too abrupt with me and considering she’s treating some delicate areas she should be more sensitive to my needs. I could feel myself tense up as I followed her into the room and kept telling myself to breath but her rude behavior set me off and I found it hard to relax. She roughly applied the gel and began working on me. I was immediately in pain because she didn’t cool the area properly and I felt my skin starting to burn. Tears welled up but she handed me a tissue and continued working until I screamed out and told her to stop. She simply shrugged and said “beauty is pain and you won’t see results unless you let me continue.” My raw anger and emotions would have led me to assault and knock her out cold but instead I questioned the torture I was putting myself through. I signed up for this because I no longer wanted to spend hours in the bathroom shaving but she could have been a little more considerate and mindful of my decision to be there.

Why do we pluck, tweeze, wax, buy push-up bras, get lipo, and wear makeup? Does it really make us happy? Or are we trying to please society as a whole while we continue suffering behind the masks we put on? Eleanor Roosevelt put it best when she said, “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” So why do we let them?

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  • http://jeanettefisher.com Jeanette Joy

    I agree with you Suki! 

    The way you look gets worse with age. You get inundated with face lifts and other tortures that need to be done again in five years. I look at my mother and think OMGoodness, is that what I’m going to look like in 23 years? I should see beauty and appreciated her wisdom. I hope I’s still active like she is and I hope by then society won’t expect me to look like I do today.

    I’d rather buy food for the hungry than pay thousands of dollars to look like I never had a worry or laugh in my life.

  • http://twitter.com/BethMcShane bethmcshane

    My mother always told me that women started “fading” at 40….by that she meant literally becoming invisible…..she says that, at 60, she is invisible to men.

    Last night, my Turkish/German personal trainer asked me “Why are American women so concerned about youth? In Germany, we put older women on the covers of magazines, and it is no big deal……” I had to explain to him that Americans are very youth-centric, and that it is bolstered by our media and entertainment industries.

    As a former pageant girl, I have defended the right to conform to the beauty myth as a freedom of choice. So easy to do at 23! Now in my 40’s I feel myself “fading” LOL!

    I’ve been offered free botox in exchange for promotional considerations, but so far I am trying to age naturally and gracefully…

    That being said, I LOVE taking the time to put myself together and present myself as a sexy (if not older) woman from time to time. It’s not an every night deal. It’s a once every other week ceremony with myself….but be sure that I am doing it for ME, and not because I feel I have to. Sometimes it feels nice to put my best face forward and have a good hair day at the same time.

    I’m constantly walking that feminist line….one toe on each side 😛

  • http://twitter.com/Gabriella51 Gabriella

    Remember the old saying “A woman’s hair is her crowning glory”.  I prefer to think that what is in my head is my crowning glory… not what’s on it.