Beauty has always been an interesting topic for me, and I know I’m not alone. I was 13 when I received my first real makeup kit. I’d been having makeup applied since I was three, as I was a dancer and on stage from a young age.
But this was special. It was mine. I still remember every single aspect of it. An Estee Lauder cream tray case that had two full sides of makeup, its own pull up handle and a raised section in the middle.
There were about thirty eyeshadows along with blushes, three lipsticks, mascara, eye liner, and more. I got it for Christmas and spent the rest of the holidays playing with it, on myself and my friends, seeing how beautiful we could look when we were pimped and primed with colour and gloss. It was my constant companion for many years.
It was the eighties and we were all obsessed with blue eyeshadow and big hair. Just a few years later in 1990, Naomi Wolf would write The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women, a book that would revolutionise how women saw themselves and how the beauty industry operated.
The waves of feminism, including the third wave that Wolf was named to have started with her book, taught us that the patriarchy keeps women focused on their body and looks, and competing with each over such, and therefore distracted from claiming their power and being a force with their work in the world.
Who has time to be a powerful woman when there is constant agonising over weight, getting to the gym to perfect bodies, posting perfect pictures onto social media, getting botox before the first wrinkle even appears, and then plastic surgery to sign off any sights of ageing.
After all, a woman’s power, place and relevance in the world is largely correlated to her appearance and perceived beauty and youthfulness. The standards the media continue to project, and that social media only compounds, are impossible to meet, and leave most women stripped of self confidence, riddled with body, weight and appearance issues, and being distracted from their purposeful work in the world because they are fixated on meeting impossible beauty standards.
But we are waking up.
Waking up to the pressure of unrealistic social and beauty standards; of the media and corporations’ manipulation of women’s psyches; how the preoccupation with appearance takes away our power and compromises our ability to be fully effective and impactful in the world.
And we are seeing women stand up and say no more.
You will not define me, or tell me how beautiful you think I am.
I will define it for myself.
From Lena Dunham breaking every conceivable barrier of socially accepted beauty in the 2012 Emmy’s opening skit, sitting naked on the toilet while eating cake. Amy Schumer creating a movement for young girls by telling the world with every movie, television appearance, award ceremony and social media post how absurd it is to seek perfection, and reminding women that their main role is to love the skin they’re in. Serena Williams and her message and mantra that “I define myself.”
With gender becoming more fluid, and models of how women choose to show up in the world continuing to evolve, I love this from Jill Soloway, Writer and Director (Transparent, Six Feet Under).
“When Transparent [movie] happened, every couple of days somebody was coming over to put makeup on me, and then we would look in the mirror and decide if I was pretty. It’s assumed that if you’re a woman, you want to be the prettiest version of yourself. It always put me in a bad mood. It was like, “OK, I’m successful. I’m supposed to be happy. Well, why aren’t I happy?”
Part of the problem was that my looked-at-ness had become a priority over my art making. Over and over again it was like, “I don’t have time for this. I want to work.” I love writing. I don’t love somebody putting false eyelashes on me.”
May we all as women focus more on our work, never letting what Soloway describes as her ‘looked-at-ness’ become a priority over what we are here to make and create and do.
May we focus much less on others’ definition of our beauty and more on our own definition of what matters to us.
And may our acts of doing this help us reclaim our power in the world – never forgetting just how much work we have left to do.