Saturday, January 31, 2009

On Beauty

I've been thinking, a bit, about the pressure to conform.

We all have to subscribe to some ideal beauty to be happy; I guess we all live in a culture of fear, to encourage consumption. And of course, it's always harder on women than on men.
After all, men aren't told they have a sell-by date. Men don't have to wear make-up to pass, they can walk around with acne scars, dark circles, with no-one commenting on their tiredness/"petite mine" as they say in French. Men can have grey hair, it's stylish; women have to dye it. Women are expendable, dontcha know? So we have to stay pretty. Have to wear heels, make-up, uncomfortable stuff, sexy stuff, have to look good for others and not for ourselves, because we don't know what we want and are just there to provide eye-candy for men.

I wasn't pretty as a pre-teen. I was fat, badly dressed, mainly because it didn't interest me that much, and spent my time reading. But I still started wearing make-up in my third year of middle-school (there are four years of middle-school and three years of high school in France), mainly because it provided an armour, something distinctive other than the fact I was a foreigner. I liked colouring my eyes a lot. And then I developed acne, so that started me off on skin stuff, foundation and the like.
And I continue to this day.
I love make-up. I love how it makes me look, I love how it makes me feel. I'd say I wear it for myself, but that probably wouldn't be true, because I know make-up makes me prettier, whatever my boyfriend might say about loving me without it. It's also somewhat of a societal pressure, since a woman with make-up is seen as making more of an effort.
I'm definitely not going to stop, although i've been going easier on the skin stuff, having stopped wearing foundation, and I hate that some can call me antifeminist or stupid for this. I understand some of what's behind my make-up wearing, but I'd just rather go on telling myself it's my choice and I do it for myself. Ultimately, I believe it is, but I know there are pressures out there that have made me who I am.

My roommate wears make-up once in a blue moon, because she has insanely sensitive skin, and no-one gives her stick about it, except her boyfriend, who is very much attached to appearances. I worry about that, and try to gently point it out when it comes up, but I can't really take his behaviour head-on. But that's a whole different post. And she's fine like that.

Sometimes I wonder if it hasn't been a lot easier for me growing up here than it would have been in the Uk or the US, because I don't feel as many pressures as others seem to. I feel that women are more casual here, or maybe I'm imagining it.

Or maybe I'm just extremely privileged.

I mean, I'm conventionally attractive, I'm white but not 'pasty', I have dark, thick, straight hair that hairdressers coo over (I recently went to the hairdresser's for the first time in five years-I just find them annoying) but that I ultimately leave alone- I was amazed to meet Brit girls my age when i was fifteen: every single one of them I met had hair straighteners and they all used them once or twice a day, even the girls who already had straight hair. Us Frenchies were baffled, since the most I do to my hair is blow it dry-hey, it's winter^^although I do possess a pair of straighteners, present from my aunt, uncle, cousins when I was sixteen (on my mother's side, the Brit side of the family).
And my American cousin kept telling me her hair was usually a lot nicer because she hadn't brought all her hair products with her-no idea what she intended to do to it, it looked fine to me. People confuse me.

As for clothes : well I hear that French women are classy and often boring, wear too much black, etc etc.
I think simplicity is valued here, but I'll direct you to Garance Doré's blog on more about the cliché.(here's the English version)(it's a great post, really well written and funny :) )

Our stereotypes are that British girls let it all hang out, with clothes that are too tight, too short, too vulgar. This, of course, isn't always true, but many of the girls/women I've seen on the street do fall into this. And I find it extremely ugly, but that's only my opinion, after all, to each their own. I just find it strange, because I'm taking that they dress this way because they feel good like that, at least, I hope so, for them. There's nothing more unpleasant than dressing in a way that doesn't fit or suit you, that you don't feel comfortable in.

I like feeling attractive; I like feeling sexy. I love dresses-in summer. The rest of the time I run around in jeans and a top. I can't stand feeling constricted, so I shun anything too-tight, too short, scratchy or fidgety. My version of sexy doesn't always fit in with mainstream expectations; right now I'm wearing a soft green jumper and a pair or grey trousers-probably what would be called slacks-that float around my legs, and I feel extremely sexy. Add on my beloved combat boots, and I'm happy.

But this is just another version of what's acceptable.
In France, casual clothes are more common; the short, over-the-top sexy stuff is for parties, and frowned upon in everyday life.Not t say that you can't wear a mini-skirt, but the "only one" rule is very well assimilated; basically, show cleavage, or your legs, but not both at once.

And I just don't know how you get away with clothes that aren't practical; This migth stem from the fact that people in France walk a lot more than in America, because of the way cities have been constructed historically, I guess. But I walk everywhere; uni, friend's places, food-shopping, clothes-shopping, everything. So shoes that are going to hurt, a skirt that's going to ride up, a dress that's going to trail along? nope.
it's like high heels. Just not practical, and made, IMO, for men's enjoyment. But I love a pretty pair of heels. I just love shoes in general. But I'll never wear anything that will hurt. I don't really get the point, and the women i know seem to agree :)

But still, only women...

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