From what I’ve observed and experienced, women go through a lot of hell to be called beautiful, much less feel beautiful, and it sucks. It sucks the breath out of our stomachs when we try to squeeze into a pair of size __ jeans and sucks the taste out of food that is too delicious to be carb-free. This is why, often by default, feminists love to protest beauty standards. We’re all familiar with the Maybelline-hating, legs-not-shaving, body-loving caricatures that are angry with society for feeding women unhealthy aspirations that lead them to unhealthy lifestyles. How dare the cosmetic/clothing/dieting industries use skinny, pointy-nosed, really white models to make us feel ugly and dissatisfied. Real women have curves, have bellies, and have dimply butts.
But wait, hold on: I didn’t realize all along we were in the midst of fake women.
Sure, I can see Keira Knightley’s ribs all over Google Images with the click of a button. I can open an H&M advertisement and trace my finger over every model’s knife-sharp cheekbones. Yes, it’s unfair and unfortunate that popular media is disproportionately populated with homogenously skinny women, but no, this doesn’t give excuse to point fingers at these humans and imply that they’re fake, shallow, superficial. My sister and my best friends are pulsing with flesh, blood and thoughts. So is everyone else. We’re all human; we’re all women; we all have the right to self-esteem and dignity and happiness, and creating new, exclusive definitions for “real beauty” makes us little better than the cosmetic industries.
The bigger problem here is that in the midst of defending groups against gender-specific injustices, we’ve developed new definitions that, in efforts to empower those previously oppressed, actually marginalize new groups of people. I’ve learned from teachers and friends who were trying to empower me, that “real” meant effortlessness and comfort in one’s own skin. To me as a snotty, brace-faced middle schooler, those girls who loaded their faces with foundation and mascara every morning were superficial and insecure. This thinking justified my sense of superiority over them—I didn’t wear makeup because I was stronger, more self-assured. Yeah. Bullshit.
Empowerment isn’t about superiority and disapproval. Girls who feel safer with a couple shades of concealer aren’t weak. Size-0 women aren’t unhealthy freaks. Moms who stay at home and care for their kids aren’t old-fashioned.
We have to be careful to remember that empowerment is a fight for equality and acceptance and that really, we’re all real human beings here.
By: Michelle Lu
(Photo courtesy of Life Magazine, 1950)