Beauty, Femininity and Feminism

Is your lipstick a tool of the patriarchy?  Is the pursuit of beauty anti-feminist?   Before you answer these questions, consider this:

It is the masculine values that prevail. Speaking crudely, football and sports are “important”; the worship of fashion, the buying of clothes “trivial.”  This is an important book, the critic assumes, because it deals with war. This is an insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a hair salon.

I didn’t write the words above (except for the bit about the hair salon).  They’re paraphrased from Virginia Woolf’s watershed feminist essay, A Room of One’s Own.  I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately beacause I believe the question “Is beauty anti-feminist?” repeats the privileging of the masculine that Woolf critiques.

Sublime Femmeness embraces the power of femme beauty and rethinks its politics:

  • We need to separate the beauty industry and anti-feminist beauty standards (e.g. whiteness as beauty) from the pursuit of beauty and femininity, which feminism should elevate.
  • When a feminist or anyone else denigrates makeup, fashion etc, what this person is really saying is that the things that matter to (many) women are trivial and superficial.
  • “The beautiful” is much more complex and varied than we have been led to believe.
  • It’s our imperfections that make us beautiful.

What else should be added to this list?  Does beauty and its pleasures shape your experience of femme?

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6 Responses

  1. beauty is not purchased, accents are!

  2. There’s nothing wrong from a feminist perspective with looking beautiful or wanting to look beautiful.

    There is something wrong, however, with overemphasizing the importance of beauty for one gender and not doing the same for another gender.

    There is also something wrong with the media constantly bombarding women with beauty “standards” or ideals that are impossible for almost all women to achieve.

    And finally there is something wrong with the cosmetics industry constantly telling women that they are not already beautiful… unless they buy this product and that product and the other product.

    It’s not antifeminist to wear make-up. But it’s extremely naive to think that the media and corporate advertising have no influence on how most women define “beauty” and what’s needed to achieve it.

    Who would ever say that these things have “no influence” on how we define beauty? Certainly not me! As in art, the aesthetic is never disinterested. Which is all the more reason for feminists not to abandon it! -SF

  3. SF this really got me thinking.

    I’ve never looked in the mirror made up or otherwise and thought: “beautiful” in terms of what the make up companies think. Not because I think I am ugly, but I kind of view all of the stuff differently.

    I love cosmetics because I can change things about my appearance and I find that fun and very pleasurable. I’ve always played with makeup. I used to use those lipstick looking concealers on my lips just because I thought it looked so strange and so much fun.

    So, when I wear makeup it is because I am having a good time. Just like when I wear my clothes. It’s fun. I like it. A lot. I think hot pink tights went out of style in the 80s but I wear them. To work. To my very serious job. Me, a grown woman! I do it because I love wearing this bright color; it is fun. It makes me smile.

    I go through phases where I will wear one thing or another depending on something I saw or was inspired by. I recently did a bunch of heavy eye makeup because I really enjoyed a recently viewing of Edie Sedgwick in a Warhol film. I thought to myself: “That eye makeup is out of control! That looks like so much fun. I’m gonna try it.”

    And, it was.

    It is a creative outlet of sorts.

    And, you know fun and creativity are pretty important topics to me.

    I don’t know that I really responded to your question, but I had to reflect on what you had to say. loved it!

  4. Interesting topic. I think maybe we should head toward women defining what is beautiful for themselves instead of beauty continuing as defined by the ruling class (the patriarchy). However, we are already conditioned in the present standards. We cannot start anew, no matter how much we might like.

    I would like to see us (women) begin to see beauty as more closely aligned with healthy. Emaciated: no. Strong and healthy: yes.

    Agreed! Thanks for your thoughts. -SF

  5. i think asking if beauty is anti-feminist is a bit like asking if macaroni is anti-feminist. it simply isn’t a moral or theoretical concept. the questions to be asking are ones around how we think about it, why we are interested, what we are doing with it. those answers can have moral implications, but the idea that a noun has inherent feminist or anti-feminist (or any other theoretical) qualities is just silly.

  6. SF and Ms Hinterland:

    Nothing much more to say that DAMN FUCKING RIGHT!

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