Friday, September 10, 2010

feminism, beauty standards, and compromise

Hey, people. I originally posted this to my tumblr (where I often blog or reblog about issues related to feminism--it's great for collecting links or relevant posts) but felt it was relevant to repost here, especially given Kenyon's particular fashion scene and the effort that often goes into even getting ready for class.


Today in my Intro to Women’s and Gender Studies class we had the beginnings of a really interesting conversation about the performance of femininity and cultural beauty standards and rituals (before we were cut short by time constraints). It’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately as I’ve become more involved with both feminism and fatshion online.

I tend to justify the amount of energy I put into beauty/fashion by arguing that as a fat woman, it’s subversive of me to do so. It’s transgressive for me to be well-dressed and happy in public, because the vast majority of society believes that fat women don’t deserve to dress well or aren’t worthy of being held to the same beauty standards as other women.

But I’m well aware that it would be equally or more transgressive to stop performing femininity and continue to be happy. I continue to perform femininity in large part because it is the easier choice for me. It is easier for me to be considered conventionally attractive and conventionally well-dressed than to wear whatever I feel like wearing regardless of the consequences.

I can push the envelope in small ways: I can wear leggings with tunics, and clothing that is similarly both trendy and revealing of my fat body; I can stop shaving my legs, and go bare-legged in short skirts with my legs all hairy; I can wear my curly hair down around my shoulders even though it takes up a lot more space than advertising and current fashion suggests it should.

But I’m not going to shave my head or get a buzz-cut, even though I want to, because in six or so months I’ll be interviewing for my first real, grown-up jobs, and I need to look like society’s image of someone mature, and responsible, and conventional, and that means having an actual hairstyle, not just a few months of stubble. And when I go to those interviews, I’m going to put on tinted moisturizer and pressed powder and blush and eyeshadow and mascara and eyeliner.

Hell, tomorrow, I will put on mascara and eyeliner, and put goop in my frizzy, thick, curly hair to “tame” it and feel like a horrible feminist while simultaneously feeling horribly self-conscious of my hairy legs. As women, as feminists, we are constantly presented with impossible choices. I don’t think there are any right answers here.

1 comment:

  1. I love this post because it articulates so perfectly what I (and I don't think I'm wrong in asserting that many other bright, conscious women) struggle with every day - making efforts to confront and question society's ridiculous beauty standards, while fighting to stay afloat as women in an incredibly unforgiving culture. Our discussion in gender studies made me uncomfortable and defensive because I kept trying to picture myself deciding to shave my head and stop wearing makeup, and I literally could not picture doing this and living happily and comfortably. This speaks about our collective culture's wildly high expectations, but it also speaks about my own fragile identity (and the way in which my identity is completely intertwined with our culture's beauty standards). Again, no easy answers, just a lot to think about. But I do think it is important to be able to find a way to be a feminist, and to be happy and comfortable in today's world at the same time (while, of course, staying aware that the reason wearing makeup or certain clothing makes some of us happy/comfortable is societal).