I am reading the Beauty Myth.
It is hard going. This is the second time I have tried to read it. I keep getting stuck in the 2nd chapter - it's so dense and full of facts that are very depressing. I find it fairly overwhelming, but really need to read it.
The first chapter has some significant figures and Naomi Wolf's turn of phrase is so clear in explaining how the goalposts keep moving for women.
"The closer women come to power, the more physical self-consciousness and sacrifice are asked of them. "Beauty" becomes the condition for a woman to take the next step."
"Beauty" is a characteristic that despite being very subjective, women are measured against. In the workplace, the law says that some jobs require a person employed to be attractive- this used only to apply to jobs like glamour model, but now Wolf demonstrates by quoting actual employment law cases, is applied to all jobs.
"Since 1971, the law has recognized that a standard of perfection against which a woman's body is to be judged may exist in the workplace, and if she falls short of it she can be fired. A "standard of perfection" for the male body has never been legally determined. While defined as materially existing, the female standard itself has never been defined. A woman can be fired for not looking right, but looking right remains open to interpretatation." Moreover - "working women do not have access to legal advice when they get dressed in the morning...confronting constantly the dualistic experience of being "feminine" and "businesslike" at the same time, while they do not perceive men experiencing the same contradiction."
So - do we dress to look smart and plain, or attractive and feminine?
"dressing for business success and dressing to be sexually appealing are practically mutually exclusive because a woman's perceived sexuality can "blot out" all other characteristics...Since women's working clothes - high heels, stocking, make-up, jewellery, not to mention hair, breasts, leg and hips - have already been appropriated as pornographic accessories, a judge can look at any younger woman and believe he is seeing a harrassable trollop, just as he can look at any older woman and believe he is seeing a dismissable hag." It doesn't matter which we do - it will be wrong.
Would wearing a uniform sort the problem out? Wolf thinks not - "Women dare not yet relinquish the "advantage" this inequality in dress bestows. People put on uniforms voluntarily only when they have faith in the fair ewards of the system. They will understandably be unwilling to give up the protection of their "beauty" until they can be sure the reward system is in good working order."
I heard today on Radio 4 "Woman's Hour" that the average make-up wearing woman consumes four and half kilos of lipstick in her lifetime, and exposes herself to 200 synthetic chemicals before breakfast. It asked the question - why do women continue to do this and other things (like wearing high heels) which may harm their health? Do women control, or are we controlled by, our beauty practices?
We carry on making ourselves conform to the beauty norms, the demands of which cost us a larger and larger percentage of our income, and hope that we are rewarded accordingly.
Can you imagine what we would achieve if we did not spend hours each week buying clothes and cosmetics, applying cosmetics, removing body hair, styling our head hair, and more to the point thinking about all of this? We would be high-flyers indeed! Society has to put all these hurdles in our way, as despite them, we still achieve great things.... If we were paid according to our actual worth rather than according to what we are led to believe we are worth, the economic system would collapse. The status quo has to be upheld for this reason alone.