“I need to get waxed, there’s a veritable jungle growing on my arms.”
“I can’t fit into my size 26 jeans anymore, I must start going to the gym.”
“I’m off desserts. My boyfriend doesn’t like my muffin top tummy.”
“Look at Taylor Swift’s perfect skin. I want to look that gorgeous too!”
There are two common threads running through the statements above- (a) you will never hear a man say any of this. These are words spoken typically by females and (b) they all highlight the unrealistic standards of beauty that society demands of women.
When have we ever seen a man sweat about a belly that hangs over his pants or aspire towards a body like Ryan Gosling’s? Very rarely, I’m sure. Who has ever seen a man pass on a dessert for the fear of a few extra calories or worry about whether the green shirt makes him look fat? Again, very rarely, if ever. Women, on the other hand, are expected to be well turned out at all times. Properly primed, preened, plucked, waxed, threaded, not an extra hair on their body or out of place on their head. With shining shoes and a skirt that is exactly the right length between slutty and prude, a woman is expected to run a household, take care of the children and excel at her job, looking impeccable all through it.
The flourishing industry of beauty products sustains itself by telling women that the way they look is wrong. Whether it is their complexion which is just a shade too dark or hair that is somehow never glossy enough, the message conveyed is always that a woman is never good enough. To score a man, a job, a future, the approval of her bosses, the blessings of her parents, the respect of her kids, a woman must aspire to be thinner, younger looking, better looking with fairer skin and diamonds on her lips and mascara on her eyes. The number of advertisements on the television today that tell women that her fair skin is the key to her successful career or that the long lasting 9 to 5 lipstick will help her score a coveted business deal is mind boggling. While these may appear to be progressive on the out-front (after all, they emphasize the importance of a career for women!) the inherent concept in these advertisements itself is wrong. They tell women that to climb the ladder of success in the professional world, they must first look good. Their brains and intellect come second. The few television ads which talk of fairer skin for men (and that, if I may point out, is equally wrong) never associate his fairer skin with success in his career.
What, I wonder, is the obsession with making women look good? Why the rigid standards which dictate what is beautiful and what is not? Why is body hair on man a symbol of his masculinity and the same on women a cue to say ‘ew!’? To take pride in one’s appearance is one thing, to be told that one is unworthy of promotion or marriage because of one’s skin colour is quite another. The need of the hour is to make women aware of the fact that their self worth is not tied to their hair or their eyelashes or their size. There are traits above and beyond the purely physical which should matter more than unblemished skin or long hair.
The issue runs deeper than the merely superficial issue of standards of beauty. The real issue is the different lenses through which society views males and females, not just in this regard but in other matters too. The idea being promoted is that the primary task of a woman is to look good and snag a husband. Her life should revolve around taking care of herself and making sure she is pleasing to look at, before and after marriage for the viewing pleasure of her husaband, and her career and aspirations take second place to that. The task of a man, on the other hand, is to make money and have a successful career so as to attract women who look good and ensure the continuance of the male line of the family.
Please let me end by saying that I do not wish to state that a woman should not take pride in her personal appearance. Personal grooming and taking care of one’s look is a very important part of increasing one’s self esteem, I believe. My problem is with the patriarchal standards of beauty set by society and propagated by the beauty industry which seem to suggest that a woman is nothing beyond her looks. A woman should look good because she wants to, and not because it is her duty to do so for her husband.