Ask any woman, and she can testify to being constantly bombarded with unsolicited input about her appearance. Strangers feel free to tell her to smile when she walks down the street, for example, showing how her physical appearance is fair game for anyone in public to discuss.
The obsession with beauty is disturbing–”specifically, the standards required of femininity,” which goes beyond random bystanders demanding a smile. The entire advertising industry relies on female insecurity to flourish. Companies come up with anything, find any Achilles’ heel to sell something that’s supposed to make a woman feel better about herself.
Although a positive backlash seems to be building–one that is often seen in Twitter’s trending topics–it seems oddly similar to the approach of advertisers, even if no one’s profiting. The trend is a reminder of “No Make-Up May,” the movement proclaiming girls should go without cosmetics for a month (followed up by “No Shave November,” in which girls are encouraged to go au natural). Clearly, everyone should have the confidence to do as they wish with their bodies, but these sorts of responses can be just as irritating and patronizing in their own way as what advertisers market.
Few of us have won the genetic lottery, looking great without any sort of physical enhancement. Most women have to do something in order to feel comfortable with themselves. Yes, it’s regrettable that people feel so insecure that they take drastic steps to alter appearances, but the truth is, there have always been standards of beauty, differing according to time and place. Such standards create a hierarchy organized around looks. Everyone is judged in comparison to others, and sometimes in comparison to pictures (photographs or paintings or sculptures in the past) that are altered beyond human normalcy.
I doubt I’m the only woman tired of being instructed about how I should look. I’ve accepted that advertisers are constantly inventing new crap to try to shill me, but as individuals, we can learn to be less judgmental. If someone wants to paint herself head to toe in make-up, that’s her prerogative. If she wants to wear none at all, same. If she wants to grow hair in places you wouldn’t or wax herself bare, that’s no one else’s business. Why do we create “trends” that focus on women and appearance? It’s reinforcing the idea that we are merely something to be beheld, not sentient, thinking beings.
Now if someone is altering herself so drastically it harms her physically more than helps psychologically, intervention might be called for. There needs to be a balance between physical safety and comfort in our own skins.
Of course, these ideas can–and are!–applied towards males, too. Advertisers target male insecurities, as well. However, being a woman is all I’ve known and experienced.
What I’ve learned is this: Confidence is the best style, anyway, and it never goes out of fashion.