Trying to Be “Beautiful” - Who Gets to Choose What is Too Much? // Alyssa Benedict

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I recently saw an article on my Yahoo news feed. It was one of the countless ones we see every day that, in one way or another, is dissecting women and how they look. The author was describing Kim Kardashian’s “beauty” routine and how much time and effort she puts into looking “beautiful.” Entitled, I Would Not Wish Kim Kardashian West’s Beauty Secrets on My Worst Enemy, the article described how the star triple lines her eyes, quintuple colors her lips, contours with gaffer’s tape, does facial peels a few times weekly, etc. Now consider this. Kim Kardashian was identified in 2015 by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Whether we agree she deserves that distinction or not, she got it. Kim is touted by some as a symbol of feminine power and self-determination, and, at the same time, chastised by others as contributing to the sexualization and objectification of women and setting the women’s movement back by years, if not decades.
It’s easy for me to judge Kim Kardashian and others who seem to stop at nothing to achieve the beauty ideal. I think to myself, “How is it that products like Spanx exist in 2016? Any modern day body-shaper is a euphemism for the centuries-old corset – a powerful symbol of female oppression and literal constriction.” I cannot help but acknowledge the internalized oppression that so many women carry…

But is my daily routine that different? I don’t wear Spanx, have never had plastic surgery, do not spray tan, and do not get facial peels. I do wear makeup on some days, wear fancy clothing on special occasions, and buy products that I hope will protect my skin and prevent premature wrinkles (whatever that means). People could judge me for any one of these activities just as I judge Kim for hers. Some would say it is all a “matter of degree”, but who gets to choose what is too much? Me? Stars? Beauty companies? And, are the choices that are “mine” really my own? I fear that women – myself included – are thinking that their decisions about what to put on their faces and bodies are their own. In fact, our decisions have and continue to be significantly shaped by the dominant culture in general, and pop culture in particular. When are the things we put on our faces and bodies as women acts of self-expression, and when are they examples us of buying into, however unconsciously, standards of beauty that we did not create for ourselves? There is authentic choice, and then there is apparent choice.

I’m not sure the culture of female oppression that exists in this country, including its persistent sexualization and objectification of women, is ever going to change unless women start having real conversations with each other about the culture within which they live and how to really change it. Until that happens, the proverbial glass ceiling will harden into concrete. People like Kim Kardashian, in a troubling twist of irony, will continue to make millions by buying into and promoting beauty ideals. Little girls will become indoctrinated into all kinds of beauty rituals, and the merry-go-round will go round and round. Self-expression, female power, and true freedom will continue to be superficial and perpetually tied to social standards created by the dominant white, male, heterosexual culture – standards that women buy into in all kinds of big and small ways, myself included.

Whether we are putting on lipstick, a dress, pants, heels, sneakers, or anything else, we have to ask ourselves - and I mean REALLY ask ourselves - what is really fueling this decision? Is it mine or someone else’s disguised as mine? We many not like the answer we come up with, but our discomfort just might motivate us to do something different.

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