Quick Hit: Beauty standards as backlash

Michelle Goldberg has an interesting theory:

Thinking about what the last year and the last decade has meant for American women, I kept coming back to the increasingly cruel physical scrutiny that they’re subject to. Impossible beauty standards seem like a subconscious cultural reaction against women’s growing power. It’s fine for women to do everything men do — as long as they stay skinny, sexy, young, and soignée at the same time. The surveillance culture of the Internet and the tabloids sends a message to all women that to let oneself go for even a moment is to open oneself up to a psychotic Greek chorus of abuse. Even as our politics get a little bit better for women, the broader public climate grows more unforgiving by the day.

Read the rest here.

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  • aka spike the cat

    But I thought American women were overweight, slovenly and complacent!
    I’m not sure these hyper beauty standards are a backlash though. Time is only one comparison to make. You’ve also got to compare places–places like Italy, France, Japan, Brazil, UK, etc. Some countries still allow the practice of referencing to “nice appearance” in job postings (especially in traditionally female jobs), which is code for, “plain women need not apply”; or even worse it refers to ethnic preferences.
    Also more and more men are succumbing to the pressure to be super polished, and it’s been documented that tall men earn more money than their shorter counterparts.

  • Comrade Kevin

    I honestly think it’s merely consumerism run amok. Once there were sacred cows and though historically women have been expected to force their bodies to conform to some impossible ideal, whether it be corseted or impossibly slender by way of obsessive diet, with the power of advertising and a focus at making profit by any means necessary, women are finding themselves tugged and pulled in more directions than ever before regarding body image.
    I think it’s past time for us to say enough is enough. Rather than denying our partners sex, I think refusing to give our money to the offenders is a much better strategy.

  • ninjanurse

    Cool post. Solange Magnano paid someone to inject her with some kind of junk that killed her, all in the quest to be beautiful enough. Beauty is all around us, but if we all try to achieve the impossible we will always feel ugly. We will be humble and malleable and good consumers.

  • lauredhel

    I haven’t clicked through to read the rest yet – is it packed with more ableism (the use of “psychotic” as a general slur), or is it reasonably safe for PWD?

  • daytrippinariel

    I was listening to NPR the other day at work and they were interviewing a fashion designer…sorry I can’t remember the name of the man and high fashion isn’t really my forte.
    However, he made an interesting point about how the mood of the time and culture is reflected in women’s fashion. Models and the most “beautiful” women have become increasingly unrealistic with fake breasts, hairless everything, and pumped up lips. They look hard and unapproachable and while they are sexy it seems un-human and impersonal. Our culture is moving through a recession and technology has changed social relations from face to face to over the computer. Perhaps, as we move out of the recession and into more personable interactions as many of us cannot afford the latest gadgets of communication anymore it will be mirrored in fashion as we get more natural looking women.
    I mean, obviously, there are many things at play when we observe beauty standards. But, I did think it was an interesting point that during hard times we’ve gotten increasingly unapproachable and fake looking women as a beauty standard.

  • daytrippinariel

    Shortly after the Times piece, a Forbes.com story reported what many women already know: “Women who advance most at work, studies agree, are more attractive, thinner, taller and have a more youthful appearance than their female colleagues who are promoted less often.”
    I thought I had read a study posted on this website that more attractive women were less likely to be taken seriously at the work place.
    Also, more attractive men and people who are thin also are more likely to do better in the work place and receive promotions as well…

  • kandela

    That is an interesting observation. Though you’d have to wonder if someone capable of that level of awareness of the social consequences of their profession is doing anything to help.

  • aleks

    On NPR there was a woman talking about her career as an early stewardess in the 40’s and 50’s and how they’d have weigh-ins and all sorts of measurements to be sure they were the airline’s idea of perfect looking. It’s pretty clear that Asian and Latin American airlines are still formally or informally using those standards in hiring flight attendants, but American airlines are definitely not. Just an example, but I don’t know if older women would agree that beauty standards are becoming more stringent or crucial with time either.

  • Mr M. Crockett

    I think that pop culture has a huge part to play in this….or, more to the point, the way that pop culture exists today. I focus on pop music for this, as that is what I know best.
    Certainly, there have always been airbrushed/manufactured pop stars that have presented both beauty and sexuality in a way that conformed to the standards of the time….and there always will be.
    The difference today is that the marketing is that much more slick…as a result the focus (both on a musical and an aesthetic level) is that much more narrow.
    In previous generations there have been alternatives that have rejected the norms of society at large. This is largely a dress code, simply another club to belong to, but, personal and political eothics have often accompanied this, as can be seen with the hippies in the 60’s, the punks in the 70’s and to a lesser extent acid house, indiepop and riotgrrl in the 80’s/90’s.
    Often, the politics – albeit in a watered down form – has then fed into the mainstream.
    Today, with much narrower scope, with selected ‘future hits’ being played on music television for weeks, or even months before release, it is MUCH harder for anything even a little bit different to enter the public conscience, the result is that what gets pushed is inevitably what will bring the biggest returns the most quickly. One aspect of this is that beauty standards are more entrenched and that artists that will go along with what they are told to do become the norm.
    This then filters down into wider society. While women bear the brunt of this, it is increasingly affecting men also.
    Sadly, while the internet has been invaluable for news, blogs and information, those that reject what is in the mainstream are finding their own things in their bedrooms – and while everyone is doing this, everything is finding something DIFFERENT, meaning that anything with even a slightly different sound, look or message becomes increasingly invisible to most people.