I’ve been hearing repeatedly from girls that the foremost demand society makes on them is beauty. But i think this is a huge mistake. They are not expected to be beautiful, but to make themselves beautiful, which means that the actual beauty is unimportant, as long as they conform to the character.
Take high heels, for example. They certainly do change the girl’s posture, making the buttocks more evident, but there is no need to assume this change is towards “more beautiful”. Buttock size is a matter of taste, and there is no reason why heels should be aesthetically preferable to flats. On the other hand, the balance and agility of anyone wearing high heels will be impaired, so that the girl looks less physically threatening, since she can’t run or defend herself. This is not a matter of taste. High heels don’t make girls more beautiful, they make them easier to control.
Girls will sometimes assume the point of heels is that butts recall sex, so their beauty would be a way to sexually arouse the male. No doubt, this is part of the process, in a very twisted symbol system, but the model of the arousing female is never one of self-empowerment. The woman must seduce, but she can never demand. The gender differences never show up by themselves, they are always used in building a particular image of feminility.
Part of the reason girls feel they are being demanded beauty is that, as any token of achievement, this idea of female beauty ends up used to compete amongst themselves. In other words, inside the group of women beauty is the primary element used to put others down. Beauty ends up being the element that regulates their pecking order, the organizer of who feels superior to whom. But:
- this is again not simply appearances but a character, it is conformance to a role model; and
- superiority in this scale of beauty does not translate into capacity to act or any higher level of rights inside society
To expand on the second point, we must acknowledge that girls can exploit their looks for gain, on many levels, but the same kind of exploitation is available to ugly girls. Beauty only plays a part when two girls compete over it, for example hitting on the same man. Now this exploitation enhances the illusion of power, because the girl is getting what she asks for. But she gets it through an image, and part of this image is to never ask for anything truly important. She can get what she wants, as long as she doesn’t want any power. In fact, the girl must not only make herself beautiful, she must show that she does not care about much else. The beauty thing is not appearance, but a whole complex attitude, it is a way to advertise modes of behaviour, and at this point there is much more at stake.
Of course beauty is part of the process, and on a shallow level something very important for girls, but to ignore that the kinds of looks that get accepted as beautiful carry over much deeper (and cruel) judgments is simply naive.