Everyone on top of your assigned reading? That would be the Newsweek “Beauty Advantage” special report I told you about yesterday. It’s all about how the beauty standards have gotten stricter than ever, and new research shows that your appearance still translates to how much money you make and how beloved you are by peers and supervisors of both genders.
It’s pretty much a big downer.
Because we haven’t made much progress on this (the numbers are almost identical to the stuff Naomi Wolf talked about in the Beauty Myth oh, almost twenty years ago) and in some ways —Heidi Montag, Heidi Montag! — things are getting worse. (If you’ll recall, a lot of us feminist bloggers cottoned on to that back at the end of last year.)
There are two solutions, says Newsweek:
1) Join the club, concludes Jessica Bennett:
When it comes down to it, people get jobs because they “know somebody” all the time–is embracing our beauty premium really any worse? It might be shallow and it might not be fair, but the reality is that whether or not we decide to buy into it, whether or not we spend a lifetime keeping up with an ever-changing, ever-more-disturbing, plasticized ideal, we’re being judged already. So why not use what we’ve got while we still can? Cause we won’t be beautiful or young forever—even with a round of feminist-approved Botox.
2) Tell everyone to go shove it and life your (not so beautiful) life, says Raina Kelly, who counters that we’re getting ahead just fine thankyouverymuch, whether we measure up to cultural beauty ideals or not:
Beauty bias notwithstanding, there are still opportunities for people who aren’t hotties—lots of them. Virtually all the women I know have come to terms with the fact that their self-esteem cannot be tied to Photoshopped 15-year-olds on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar. Never in the history of the world have women had so many amazing opportunities, and it makes not a whit of sense to squander them obsessing over our looks. We do not yet reap rewards equal to those of men. But we can either succeed in the breathtaking arenas that are now open to us—and work to enter more of them—or we can spend our days competing with fashion models and movie stars. In other words, you can be Hillary Clinton or Heidi Montag. It’s your choice.
Obviously, I started off liking Raina’s idea best. Don’t let that sh*t define you! We’re so much stronger than that!
Only problem is, having read the rest of the package (plus this excellent XXFactor post by Amanda Marcotte on how all the stories about women dominating the workforce now are ignoring how we’re still earning less than our male counterparts and making up the majority of the working poor) I don’t buy this for a hot second.
I’m really happy that Raina (who graduated from Yale, has a job she doesn’t hate, plus a husband and a kid) is doing so super, but it doesn’t change facts for the rest of us. Newsweek has it right there in the lead story, where over 50 percent of hiring managers say prospective employees should spend as much time and money on their hair and makeup as they do perfecting their resume — yet 47 percent also say that women are penalized for being “too good-looking.”
So more from the department of nothing’s changed: Women are damned if we Botox and damned if we don’t.
What’s worse is that we spend so much time damning each other for making these different choices. If you don’t Botox [or insert your favorite/least favorite beauty treatment here], you think the woman who does is at best shallow and at worst, a traitor to the sisterhood. If you do, you think women who don’t have given up, let themselves go, or become a hairy-legged feminist who will never get a man.
Those are extreme positions, I know. So, story time:
There’s a girl at Beauty U who has long, bleached blond hair, tattooed eyebrows, and potentially-fake boobs. Plus she’s visible ribcage skinny and orange-y tan. She is Our Heidi Montag.
And we hate her.
And I say “we,” because I’ve been just as guilty of this as the rest of the class. When she’s not around, we comment on what she’s wearing that day, how crazy her blue eye shadow looks, how low-cut her shirt is, how tight her pants are… you get the idea. You know exactly what I’m talking about because you’ve gossiped about other women’s bodies in the same way with your own girlfriends. (If you haven’t ever, once, in your whole life said, “I can’t believe she’s wearing that!” then please, feel free to start judging me now.)
We defend our position because Our Heidi Montag is not all that nice. Or at least, she came in for a leg wax once and complained the whole time. But that’s not what this is about.
Our Heidi Montag is so overworked that up close, she is not beautiful to me — it’s kind of hard to look directly at her. But when I catch her at a safe distance, I think, yes, I see why she wants her waist to be that tiny — I wish MY waist was that tiny! — and her skin to be that tan. Everything about her is, on paper, meeting a culturally-prescribed beauty standard. It’s like she’s been doing Jamie’s Seventeen Magazine Project for her whole life, following every rule in the Beauty Handbook to a carb-free T.
And yet, she’s failing. Because when all the beauty standards come together, they add up to a hot mess. A mess that other women just can’t deal with because Our Heidi Montag’s insecurities are so out there (and yet she seems so unnervingly proud of them) that she becomes this weird walking reminder of our own insecurities, our own failure to meet the standards.
And so we say, “Why would she want her eyebrows to look like that?” When what we mean is, “I’m better than her, because even if I’ve failed, at least I wasn’t trying that hard in the first place.”
Newsweek does speak to this issue in the main piece and in Tony Dokoupil’s essay, Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Beautiful. But to my mind, it’s The Missing Link in each of the two solutions they offer. Not everybody wants to embrace Botox, and that should be more okay, so we’re not fighting the beauty bias so hard at every damn turn. And not everybody wants to reject the notion of beauty standards altogether either.
But right now (like always) we’re determined to stay stuck at this crossroads — instead of exploring the millions of other options that fill up the space between us.