Want to Fight Sexism? Don’t Eschew Beauty — Embrace It!

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Nigerian feminist and author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi, hits the nail on the head, again!  This isn’t the first time I’ve brought her up.  You may recall that I wrote about this in a recent post,  Stand Beautiful on Feminism — For More Reasons Than You Think.

And this past week I brought her up again.  I had the privilege of speaking a lovely and brilliant group of people: the Professional Beauty Association.  While the topic of the conversation was tapping our innate creativity, there was NO WAY I wasn’t going to reference points of view of, examples of and my own stories around beauty.  One such example was Boots No.7’s recent partnership with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi.  I chose this story to point out how all brands, especially beauty brands, can have a bigger purpose than the just selling products. For Boots No7, make-up is a way for women to “speak louder.”  Who better to represent that thought than the brilliant, make-up wearing author?!

But the real reason this gorgeous and brilliant spokesperson is top of mind for me has to do with a recent interview of her I read in the New York Times.  In it she explains how she felt very comfortable in her native Nigerian expressing her beauty. But when she started moving in Western Circles she was worried she wouldn’t be taken seriously if she wore make-up and embraced her femininity with high heels or womanly clothing.  At first she succumbed to those fears and stopped wearing make-up.   But then she got her mojo back and went back to embracing her love for beauty.

More interestingly is her take on WHY we deem such behaviors — donning cosmetics, feminine clothing and high heels, as frivolous in the first place.  She attributes this disdain not on feminism but sexism! Here’s how she puts it:

“It’s about a culture that diminishes women. The things we traditionally think of as masculine are not things our culture dismissed as frivolous. Sports, for example, we think of as masculine. It’s something that our culture takes quite seriously. … I think it’s part of a larger picture of a world that simply doesn’t give women the same status that it gives men.”

Aha!  This reminds me of a post I wrote a number of years ago, When Goddesses Ruled. I tried to explain our culture’s discomfort with beauty.  Here’s what I wrote:

What explains this discomfort with beauty in our culture? I’ve spoken about the strong influence of Calvinistic doctrine that emphasizes productivity over sensual pursuits and the Puritanical aversion to Catholicism’s appreciation for the aesthetic (see Beauty is Beautiful).  And as women have fought to gain equality over the past few decades, they have sometimes felt the need to purposefully push “traditional” behaviors (like beautification) aside for more male ones, e.g. playing sports or working on Wall Street.

Here’s yet another explanation.  In “Look at My Ugly Face!”, Sara Halprin, psychologist, author, and documentary film-maker explains that in ancient societies, “women’s procreative power was understood to be linked to all sorts of creative abilities.”  Goddesses ruled!  But as men took on the claim of being the “creative ones,” and the more powerful of the two genders (and also more violent and competitive), around 4,000 years ago ,the biological act of childbearing, along with female sexuality and appearance, was downplayed.  Women’s sexuality had to be “visibly harnessed to the service” of men. “To justify the subjugation of women,” she continues, “her beauty was viewed with profound ambivalence, as a threat, a danger, as evidence of impurity, and at the same time, as the sole justification of a woman’s existence.”

Finally, Halprin points out how, up until recently, women were expected to be obedient to men and their beauty served as decorative support to their husbands.  Ironically though, women also ‘suffer from being perceived as dangerous to men…a woman’s beauty is associated with her sexual appeal and sex is viewed with suspicion by patriarchal society.”

As I examine my thoughts from the past and Ngozi Adichi’s words, I can’t help but think that NOT embracing our beauty is our giving in to social pressures and the ideals of masculinity over femininity.  Of course I believe we all should decide for ourselves what femininity looks like but all I can say is we shouldn’t shun it but rather relish in it.

Beauty, Judgements & Hypocrites: Enough is Enough

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That’s a picture of me when I was about 6 months old.  As you can tell I’m wearing a special shoe on my left foot.  That shoe, along with a cast, straightened (well, for the most part) the crooked leg I was born with.  I’m sure my parents were thinking that having a slightly crooked leg would hamper my movement as I grew up.  But I bet the biggest reason for the correction was that I would just look plain funny with a twisted leg.

So many of us have reconstructed some part of our bodies that we don’t even think twice about it.   Think about how many people have straightened their crooked teeth or in the case of Debora L. Spar, who recently authored “Aging and My Beauty Dilemma” in last week’s New York Times, reduced her breasts via breast reduction surgery.  Such procedures rarely faze us or compel us to judge people harshly because of them.  When a 13 year-old boy walks around with upper and lower braces in his mouth,  we don’t say: “oh, he’s so vain” or “he’s succumbing to social pressures, he should be above that.”  Of course not.

So why do so many of us strong, empowered women feel so damn insecure getting fillers or a boob lift?  Why must we think we are somehow being hypocrites or turning our back on feminism?

I have to hand it to Spar for putting herself out there and sharing her insecurities.  And bravo for the New York Times to take her words seriously enough to print them.  As president of an excellent women’s college, Barnard, Spar is certainly a model of feminism.  And yet, she, like so many of us, are fearful of looking old, and, at the same time, ashamed for feeling that way or doing anything about it.  It wasn’t so much that she was insecure with her changing looks (though she clearly is) but that she feels she is going against her feminist principles that really bothered her.

I get it.  The media or western culture in general can often makes us feel ugly and prey on our insecurities around aging.  And then, to make matters worse, it pressures us not to address those feelings lest we be called frivolous or worse, a hypocrite.

But, c’mon.  Getting a haircut, shaving our legs, and wearing Invisalign are such common behaviors now we don’t think anything of them.  And yet they are all part of our daily regimen to transform how we look.  Should we feel ashamed that we do them, no way!  And men do them too.  They don’t make us less powerful, brilliant or leader-like.

And the same should be true for fillers, botox, breast augmentation, you name it.  They will become so common one day that we will put them in the same bucket as teeth whitening.

So let’s stop wasting our precious energies on judging others for their beauty boosting behaviors.  And even better, lets stop wasting our time and effort feeling ashamed for partaking in them.

I applaud Spar for her article.  Good for her for having the courage to be so vulnerable and talk about something WE ALL feel in some shape or form.  But wouldn’t it be even better if all those “judges” just left her alone so she can feel confident about how she looks and what she does to keep herself feeling beautiful.  And that way she can spend more of her time writing about and sharing her valuable insights on women’s education and leadership instead.

Disney Hairstyles Are Finally Changing to Keep Up with Feminism

Tinker Bell Circa 1953

The Wall Street Journal published a cute piece on the stylish hairstyles of young female Disney characters: “Dishing on Disney Hairdos.”  The article drops names like hair-stylist-to-the-stars, Ken Paves, as being the inspiration behind many of these styles.

But the significance of these changing hairstyles goes deeper than just how well the characters’ styles mirror those of real-life starlets.  They indicate a positive change in how girls can and should perceive themselves.

What do I mean?  Look at the pics of Cinderella, Snow White and Tinker Bell from the last century.  Their hair is prefectly coiffed, even while they’re busy cleaning for their ugly step sisters, flying around Never Never Land or running away from an evil step mother.  God forbid that they should appear messy and dirty!

But fast forward a few decades and you see characters like Rapunzel and Merida with long, messy, frizzy hair.  They don’t look any less beautiful but rather real, energetic and truly animated.  In fact, one of the reasons I wanted to see Merida was her hair!  She looked so much like my daughter Laila whose own long, curly, full-of life hair can’t possibly remain coiffed thanks to the fun, high paced, even crazy life she leads.

Let’s hope Tinkerbell in the upcoming “Secret of the Wings” can loosen her chignon a tad 😉

Week in Review: 8/12-8/18

Was on the road again a lot this week but got to experience the beauty of Chicago and Atlanta.  Here’s what we shared:

A story that woke me up to the fact that the little extras can make a huge difference Weekend Observations: A Story That Scared Me Stiff

It’s amazing the beauty that you literally stumble upon on the streets of NYC Pic of the Week: Cool Feminist Street Art

When people who don’t understand math think they can tell a story about beauty and unhappiness. Ugh! Oh Come On … This Study is Ridiculous!

More fun beauty-in-culture reading.  More to Love: Additions to the Reading List

On my way to the Cape! I’ll be sure to capture all the beauty that I encounter 🙂

Week in Review: 6/10-6/16

Finally, summer has truly arrived!  But we still had to speak our minds on Beautyskew this week.  Here ya go…

You may not always need to wear uniforms, but they can send a powerful signal when you do Weekend Observations: The Emotional Power of Uniforms

How one artist can turn even the grungiest street into a thing of wonder  Pic of the Week: Making Busy Street Beautiful

A vehement response to to one woman’s plea for women to break the cycle of bitchiness towards beauty When Will We Finally Stop the Bitchiness?

More amazing beauty-in-culture reading we’ve curated for you!  More to Love: Additions to the Reading List

Off to Cannes this weekend!

When Will We Finally Stop the Bitchiness?

I am so sick of bitchiness towards pretty people.  Sure, there are times when I gaze with envy at hotter gals; but I try my hardest not to be disdainful of them.  Why should they be the object of my jealousy?  They haven’t done anything to me.  If I feel insecure, I should either change my appearance or get over it!

So when I saw this great article, “The Beauty Trap,” by Catharine Lumby, I realized I wasn’t alone.

Lumby’s article is a response to all the bitchy blogosphere hoopla that was directed at Samanatha Brick.   Brick became a source of such wrath when she published an autobiographical article on how hard it is to be a good-looking blonde.  She specifically points to the bitchiness of women who are jealous of her.  Weellll…instead of getting sisterly support, she received tons of mean responses from women.

Lumby challenges all of this nasty commentary.  She asks: “where’s the feminist language that lets us speak about these things (beauty) in a kind and honest manner?  Why is it so hard to talk about female beauty without defaulting to patriarchical stereotypes that simultaneously praise feminine allure and denounce its bearer as shallow, vain and vapid?”  She goes on to write:”…we do not need to jettison our appreciation of beauty to accept that women can be attractive, but also smart, determined, funny and generous…why do the two domains, mind and body, cancel each other?… (F)eminism has taught us that the mind and the body should not be seen as separate.  Men claimed the life of the mind for so long — and the privileges of public life that went with it.  Abortion, rape, domestic violence, shame for having sex outside of wedlock — they were written on the female body and left for women to shoulder in the domestic sphere…when we separate the mind and the body and see the former as more valuable, we forget where we came from.  Bodies matter, pleasure matters, beauty matters.”

Amen sister!  Not only does she knock down the ridiculous equation: beautiful people = vain and stupid people, she embraces our bodies and the pleasure they give us.

Here’s a thought: maybe if we all were MORE vain and inward focused, then we would stop looking at others and hating them so much!