This post is part of a series on Femininity. Please read Spring into Femininity for more information on the series and links to the other articles.
Beauty standards change over time and across different cultures. There are some similarities such as symmetry, youthful eyes, clear skin and health but other than that there seems to be a great deal of variance in female beauty. As such it’s easy to determine that beauty standards are a combination of a biological selection process and a societal construct.
If you ever wanted an easy, visual clue to see that the feminine is being rejected in modern society, look no further than the cartoonish and robotic women who are held up as the new beauty standard. Purple hair, false eye lashes, painted on faces, eyebrows like markers, feature countouring all topped off with emotionless fixed expressions captured in zillions of selfies from the same, slightly elevated angle.
Beauty is no longer natural or spontaneous. It is no longer personal or unique. To achieve this fashionable new beauty standard you must erase any individual feature so that you look like an assembly line beauty robot. This new beauty standard is rated not on humanness but on a woman’s ability to erase signs of her humanness so she can more closely resemble a cartoon.
Beauty is no longer a reflection of the girl, but a performance of the anti-girl. Beauty is burlesque, exaggerated. Women are caricatures of an ideal with flawless skin, silky hair, long lashes and full lips. If you weren’t born with it, you should buy it, cake it on, fake it, and slap a filter on it. But be sure you hashtag your selfie with a quote about self acceptance.
Women love to get dressed up, to adjust our appearance for different events. We love glamour and make-up and jewelry and playing out different roles in our lives. This is part of fashion, choosing an outfit to fit your style and activities and the social atmosphere. But choosing an outfit is more like choosing a costume. Dressing up is more like hiding behind layers. When everyday beauty is burlesque and extreme, where do we go from there? A total rejection of natural beauty? A rejection of the feminine? A rejection of real.
Painting layers of makeup on your face to achieve a perfectly even skin-tone, to look flawless is valued over a genuine smile. Don’t believe me? Study the selfies. How many selfies does it take to capture the perfect angle with the perfect lighting to display the painted face with the cartoonish hair? Whatever happened to candid? Candid pictures are going extinct. They are rarely taken and when taken there is much protest that we don’t look good or don’t look right. Don’t post it! Don’t show it to anyone. God forbid we show our faces at a 98 degree angle instead of 95. Please do not share my imperfections with the world!
Do you see what is happening? We are rejecting the feminine. When we seek perfection as the highest standard we reject our very humanity. Humans aren’t perfect. Not a single one of us. We are associating our beauty standard with an impossible inhuman goal that none of us will ever meet. We are setting the bar so that no one can meet it. We have no option but to fail. Despite hour-long make up application, expensive hair extensions, hawk-like fingernails, and thousands of dollars spent on beauty products and services we can never meet the unrealistic new beauty standard until we lobotomize ourselves and dip ourselves in plastic like mannequins.
When we associate beauty with perfection and performance anything that does not meet this new standard is flawed. A freckle is not a freckle it is a flaw. A laugh line is a wrinkle. Individuality is erased. The personal is discarded. Is this what body acceptance looks like to you? A race to the robotic? But what about the individual? The unique? There is nothing special about rainbow hair when everyone has it. There is nothing special about a face without expressions.
Make up used to accentuate our individual beauty. Now it eliminates it.
It is not just beauty that we perform. We are performing our lives, edited and cropped with filters and hashtags on social media and also in person. We repeat the same complaints, word for word, fed to us by the media. Your outrage of the day is the same as mine. The pressure to fit in and be accepted makes us want suppress our individuality both in our appearance and in our experiences. We all want to go through the same things and be measured against the same standard. That standard has become inhuman.
If imitation is flattery, the cartoons must be so proud. We are flawless beauty robots lacking individuality so we can imitate an extreme caricature of the female while we perform our lives instead of living them.
For as much backlash as the Dove beauty campaign got, I still admire it. For all the flak Alycia Keys got at refusing to wear make-up, I can recognize this as a bold move in an industry and society that expects a particular, flawless look over natural beauty. At least both are making a genuine attempt to reclaim beauty as personal, as a reflection of the self instead of erasing the self. And no matter what feminine or pretty means to you, you can find it reflected if there is more variety in our expectations. Otherwise you’ve just got to stand in line at the beauty store and wonder what mask you can afford to buy to wear as you perform your fake life.