This post is part two of a currently three part series on Redefining Femininity for Ourselves and our Girls.
To read Part One click here: Keeping up Appearances: What Makes Clothing “Feminine?”
Part Two: It’s Not Only the Pressure from the Guys that Causes Women to be Appearance-Focused
As a little girl, I remember the most feedback about my appearance coming from other peer-aged girls. My hair color and style, my wardrobe, my skin were all critiqued, not by the boys, but by other girls. The messages from boys were more subtle and simple: interest vs. lack of interest. I found the feedback from the girls to be the most painful of the two. As we all grew up a bit, I found that many men (usually the nice guys) weren’t after the uber-babes. They just wanted someone interested in them in return. Women, however, are consistently much more concerned with maintaining a traditionally feminine appearance than the men prefer or require. The justification for this is that “this is what the men want.” However, I find that most decent men are happy to find someone who shares interests and fun, listens, treats them with value, and has similar expectations in the bedroom. Women often play to men’s extreme fantasies when they select attention grabbing attire, or spend hours in the bathroom creating a image of themselves. Beyond the question of why men’s preferential attention is so important to women’s self-worth, I wonder if women aren’t taking ownership of our own role in contributing to the cultural crush as we help create, adhere to, and pressure others to conform to a culture of artificial beauty?
My husband M would rather I hurried it up getting ready rather than spend time on my hair and makeup. He’s the one that points out the sensible shoes over the pretty ones when I force him into a shoe shopping excursion. He’s the one that buys me comfy, fleecy brown sweatshirts. He likes my natural (grey and all) hair color. It’s part of why I love him. He helps me to drown out the other voices that tell me who I should be to be valued and to recognize my own power to love myself.
I’m the one who feels the need to cover my blemishes before leaving the house. I’m the one who internalizes the judgment radiating off of other women when my attention to my appearance does not match their own. I’m the one who eyes the glamorous, shiny, high maintenance girls with envy, wishing I could be like them. For years, I have alternated between my husband and my mother’s very sensible low maintenance viewpoint and wanting the attention that comes from being a sort of well-groomed beauty. I could look “better” if I put the effort in. But with motherhood, my values have snapped clearly into focus. I do not require the external validation of others based on my appearance. I do need sleep. I need healthy food. I need exercise. I need to balance a full schedule. I need to complete basic grooming (brush hair, brush teeth, shower). I need to wear comfortable and durable clothing that makes me feel at ease. So it’s time to part with the nonsense.
This does not mean I devolve into a mommy slump where I emerge as a dishwater version of my former self. It does mean that I stop spending so much time gazing at myself in a mirror, bemoaning my lingering ring of baby weight around my waist, and give myself a break when I don’t have time to put on my face or shave my legs before venturing in public. It does mean that I stop viewing myself as a failure to femininity when I choose comfort over style. It does mean redefining what it means to have a feminine appearance for myself and for my daughter.
My daughter is watching all of these behaviors. She’s watching when I choose to pluck my eyebrows. She’s watching me apply my foundation (pretty much all I wear these days). She’s asking to wear “chappie:” her word for Chapstick. I am glad that she’s not asking for lipstick yet, but that’s because she doesn’t often see me wearing it. Even at the young age of 23 months, she’s observing what makes Mommy, Mommy and she wants to do everything I do. So I owe it to her to think hard about what I teach her about being beautiful, being feminine. And the more I think about it, I can heal myself along the way by sending myself the same messages I would teach her: “You are beautiful.” “You are loved.”
Women do not have to play the role of passive victims when it comes to accepting societal messages about what makes us beautiful. We do not have to spend hundreds of dollars on cosmetics. We do not have to follow fashion trends. We do not have to hold ourselves up against the glossy airbrushed photos of stars who barely recognize themselves in print. We do not have to pinch our feet into shoes that torture us or bare more and more of our flesh to the world to get attention. We can choose to be comfortable in our skin, to wear clothes that make us feel like ourselves. We can steal back the time we spend training, coloring, teasing, suctioning, cutting, and painting our bodies and spend it on something that helps us feel a more lasting and internal sense of value, like trying a new endeavor, taking up a hobby, spending time with friends and family. We do not have to size up, compare, or find ourselves or others wanting. We can accept ourselves and our fellow women as we are.
I would love to see a day where we women could take a stand and show the world we don’t need all the trappings to be beautiful. We could wear a simple hairstyle, dress in comfy clothes and shoes, and eschew makeup. I’m not saying we all need to get crunchy, but maybe we could show the world our real faces for a day and confront our own inner critics as well as the outer ones. After all, each of us has the power to make different choices about how we see ourselves and to barricade negative messages from our self-talk. Many of us have just forgotten or had our confidence smothered in expectations. If you feel the same, maybe we can start a “Real Women are Hot” Day. Leave a comment, share this post, pick a day to be your most natural selves and share the message: “You are beautiful. You are loved.” with the women in your life!
Linking up with Shell’s Things I Can’t Say for Pour Your Heart Out!