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09 March 2011 @ 02:52 am
On feminism and beauty products  
Today in my "History of Women in Europe" class our professor focused on bringing us up to the present day (from the 60's/70's) while trying to acknowledge the pluralities in women's existence that makes generalizations inherently problematic. One of the things she brought up is that feminists in Western Europe were upset that women in Eastern Europe were suddenly going back into the home, consuming beauty products, etc. with the collapse of Communism. They didn't understand that while mothering and beauty products were a symbol of oppression for them, women in Eastern Europe were sick of the forced androgyny they'd experienced under Communism, where "equality" meant a denial of everything feminine. It made me start thinking about the ways we view beauty products now, and how nothing is simple.

I know women who self identify as feminists who wear either loose fitting or explicitly masculine clothing, who cut their hair short and don't shave, who don't understand makeup at all and rarely if ever use it. I also know women who self identify as feminists who wear pretty dresses and colored tights and high heels almost every day. I know that personally I like wearing limited makeup* as part of my daily routine - I feel better about myself when I feel like I'm taking care of my appearance. Even so, I usually wear jeans and only very rarely wear heels.

To me, make up and traditionally feminine clothing (skirts/dresses/form fitting clothing, etc.) aren't inherently anti-feminist. Nor are they inherently feminist.

They become problematic when girls feel like they are being forced into conforming into them. I have heard multiple accounts of my friends saying their mothers tell them they look disgusting, take this new skin care product to get rid of those awful blemishes, pluck your eyebrows they look like a forest, trim your nails, on and on. To say that there is no pressure for women to conform to traditional and heightened ideas of beauty and femininity is a false statement. But to say that any expression of self that falls within traditional gender roles is inherently oppressive and anti-feminist is also a false statement. The denial of those expressions is its own form of oppression, though maybe one we don't see as often.

I don't know if I had a point to this. I just think the complexities are interesting.

*"Limited" in this case meaning eyeliner, mascara, and an eyebrow pencil. Occasionally lipstick. In case anyone was wondering.

Edit: And I managed to make this entire entry while forgetting that it was International Women's Day (technically over for the past three hours, but I don't believe the day ends until I've gone to bed). So I suppose this is my offering, such as it is.

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