Beauty; F*ck the standard
I’m back! A couple of months ago I posted ‘Beauty; a measure of worth‘ and promised a part two. Sorry for the delay! I have accompanied this post with Instagram screenshots of women we admire who challenge “the standard” and comfortably and unapologetically live big lives in their own beautiful skin.
Just to recap; As women, we are expected to thrive in a culture that rewards us when we look “good” and one that punishes us when we don’t. A culture that convinces women they should be beautiful and that we should never feel beautiful enough. A culture that makes women feel as though they are constantly performing for or retreating from the male gaze. A culture that demands women make certain wardrobe choices to avoid sexual assault while simultaneously telling us we should look fuckable. A culture where women gain social capital by living up to a rigid outdated beauty standard, AKA “the norm”.
Before I go on I would like to note that the standard can be equally damaging to the men that don’t offer up the required amount of perceived masculinity, however for the sake of this post I am writing from my own experience, a female perspective.
LIVING UP TO THE STANDARD
When I think back to the rom-coms that raised me in the 90’s and early 2000’s, all of which centred on a white “good looking” hetero cis-male and female falling in love, there is almost always a morning scene where the couple have sex. I remember those scenes so well because watching them in the company of my beautiful Christian parents brought on a feeling that I would later get to know as extreme anxiety.
The fact that the lead couple was always white, straight and classically “good-looking” is so incredibly damaging and a whole post in itself, but for the purpose of this one, let’s focus on the sex. A woman and a man that barely knows each other has just woken up and kicked off some hot steamy intimate fucking. Unfortunately for me and for most women, the reality plays out very differently.
While the guy who is lucky enough to wake up next to us will simply roll over and after a few failed attempts to find the right hole, slip his morning boner in and call it a day, many women will spend the first 20 minutes of their day pre-fuck prepping. For me it goes something like this; A quick shower to shave my legs and my puss if I haven’t felt like putting myself through the pain of waxing that month. A toothbrush and I can’t be the only woman in the world who is immediately turned off by a whiff of morning breath. Moisturiser and deodorant. A quick attempt to flatten and smooth out my bed hair boof. And finally, a little squeeze of bb cream to help conceal any “imperfections”.
The reality is that as women, we often wake up and start our day feeling as though we are already failing at something, and we usually always are! We are failing to live up to the standard. Our leg and pit hairs have grown overnight, sometimes even our belly and nipples have managed to push out a few unwelcome tufts. Our face looks “tired” because we haven’t painted it on yet. And our hair is dishevelled, but not in the hot rom-com sex-hair way. Meanwhile, our male counterpart lying next to us has the luxury of waking up in the morning without a sense of urgency to “fix” himself.
From the day we are born we unwittingly absorb unhealthy messaging via advertising, media, pop-culture and even the toys we play with, that a woman’s most important attribute, our currency, our cultural value, the part of us that people are the most interested in, is our looks. This is then reiterated by an endless stream of unsolicited comments, sexism, body shaming and derogatory behaviour experienced in real life. We are rewarded by society when we look “good” and satisfy its rigid ideas about what women should look like and we are punished when we don’t. Often the first words we chose to describe a woman has something to do with the way she looks. We ask what the bride is wearing and what the groom does for a living. We often ignore all of the other qualities of a woman because we have been taught that everything else is secondary to her beauty. While men gain credit through masculinity, wealth, achievements, talent & experience, women gain credit based on their appearance. Looking “good” gives us social capital. This means that if we don’t meet that basic standard, we don’t have as much capital to draw on in other parts of our lives. Beauty is only skin-deep, but the reality is the perceived lack of beauty in women or failure to live up to “the norm” often compromises how we are received in social and professional environments and furthermore, how successfully we can operate within them.
DRESSING FOR THE RAPE CULTURE
As if living up to a standard of beauty didn’t already put enough pressure on women to look a certain way, there is also the rape culture to consider every time we step outside of our house. Rape culture demands that women make infuriating sacrifices to avoid sexual assault on a daily basis and this includes but is certainly not limited to our wardrobe choices.
Dressing “appropriately” is something that was drummed into us as tweens when we tried to leave the house in shorts and a boob tube. The message we received from our parents, teachers and peers is that this is a female problem. God forbid we attract the wrong attention with our short hemlines. Now can we please put to rest the age-old question “why do women take so long to get ready?” We have a lot of pressure on us to get this shit “right” and it takes time. A balancing act of cute & sexy, but not “too sexy”, just to gain a basic level of respect & feel safe.
Rape culture is fuelled by cultural norms and institutions that protect rapists and shame the victims. It puts the burden of a woman’s safety on her own shoulders and forces her to sacrifice freedoms and opportunities in order to stay safe. When a woman’s safety is compromised, she is to blame. This message was delivered very publicly in 2011 when a Toronto Police officer told female students to “avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” This statement fired up the global “Slutwalk” protest movement, calling for an end to rape culture, including victim-blaming and slut-shaming or excusing rape by referring to any aspect of a woman’s appearance. Signs are marched through the streets with a message that makes far more sense. Let’s teach students and our children to respect boundaries and ask for consent instead and cultivate a new culture that doesn’t shift the blame.
TAKING BACK OWNERSHIP OF YOUR BODY & LIVING BY YOUR OWN STANDARD
Despite living in a world that continues to govern women based on patriarchal ideologies that were designed to oppress us, a world that tells us to shrink down in both size and sound, and one that constantly reinforces and imposes an impossible expectation of beauty on women, we can undo this lifelong brainwashing and fight back simply by finding the courage to take back complete ownership over our bodies.
You are the sole owner of your body. Your body is the vehicle that you have been given to move through the world in and sometimes you might feel like giving it a wash, a service, some customisation, new blinkers or a complete repaint. The point is, as owner of the vehicle this is completely your choice. You get to decide what you want it to look and feel like based on your own functional needs and aesthetic preferences. Claiming your physical identity is a huge step toward personal freedom, and free people are the most beautiful people in the room.
Free people know that they have a right to take up space. Free people exude mesmerising confidence & unapologetically own their sexuality, firmly standing in their right to exist as a sexual being, a gay being, a trans being, a human being. Let’s call it free people energy. It’s as simple as analysing the choices we make every day and deciding if those choices are serving us and our purpose or benefiting those who exploit us and profit off our insecurities.
Let’s take our power back by challenging rigid outdated beauty standards and celebrate diversity and authenticity. Let’s show the world who we really are and stop giving them the watered-down version that they expect from us. Let’s be more than seen, let’s be heard.