Botox Feminism: Can beauty be feminist?
There are women who endorse beauty, and then there are women who shame it. So, the question isn’t easy to answer.
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Some of the most successful and sought-after aestheticians in our country are women. In fact, the gender ratio in the field of aesthetic dermatology is heavily skewed in favour of women. The most popular hairdresser in our country, with a clientele of Bollywood A-listers, is also a woman. The person who must be duly credited for styling Bollywood’s — and the country’s — fashionista, that is, Sonam Kapoor, is also a woman. Most beauty writers are women, too.
How does one reconcile this with the notion that beauty in its feminine form — with taut skin, high cheekbones, lush hair and just the right amount of curves and toned muscles — is for the male gaze?
Beauty, as they say, is in the eyes of the beholder, and it seems that for centuries, women have been taught beauty ideals that satiate the visual appetite of men. At any rate, that is what we are told and made to believe.
Yet, here we are, with more women than men, as crusaders of beauty.
Lipstick can be uplifting and empowering at the same time. (Source: YouTube screengrab)
Feminists are divided on the matter. While some believe that cosmetics, both products and procedures, must be banished because they ultimately pander to the patriarchal fantasy of visually 'perfect' faces and bodies, there are others who believe that beauty and feminism do, indeed, go together.
Certainly, the many women I mentioned in the introductory paragraph uphold and value their independence and gender equality — and also enjoy and appreciate beautifying their faces and bodies. My brother, who is an aesthetic dermatologist, tells me of several patients he sees who are successful in their fields of work, and regularly visit him to get Botox. They shell out thousands of their hard-earned money to tighten their sagging skin.
Wearing a flattering outfit and putting on make-up often makes us feel more confident. (Source: YouTube screengrab)
I am reminded of a former colleague — a beauty writer — who always wore impeccable make-up to work. Winged eyeliner, highlighted cheekbones, and eyeshadow that always matched her nail polish, which, in turn, always matched her outfit. Now, it may be easy to conclude that because she was a beauty writer, she felt obliged to wear make-up. However, on the contrary, she became a beauty writer because make-up and other beauty products made her feel better about herself.
You see, she had a history of depression. During the darkest phases, she would ‘give up’ on herself, and not bathe or groom herself for days. When she discovered beauty rituals, she realised it was a tool which helped her feel better, and be able to function even on the most difficult days.
I vouch for this.
On my most emotionally challenging days, the sheer act of applying eye-liner and lipstick can be an uplifting and empowering act.
Indeed, those who are close to me know that days when I wear eyeshadow to work or to a casual outing, I am probably not feeling so great emotionally, and need the layer of colour on my eyes to motivate me to get things done. I know many women who feel more confident and brave when they wear make-up, or colour their hair, or adorn a pair of high heels on their feet. I also know plenty of men who don’t care much about these embellishments.
So, who is beauty really for?
Women or men?
My brother tells me that some of the women who come to him in search of Botoxed-youthfulness, are disillusioned by a troubled marriage, and hope that getting a procedure will make things better. Often, he turns these women away, or at the very least, warns them that Botox is not the solution to a rocky relationship. In the same breath, he sees plenty of women who seek him out simply for self-improvement. And therein lies at least a part of the answer to the conundrum: Can beauty be feminist?
Does our idea of feminism rob us of the freedom to enjoy beautifying ourselves? (Source: YouTube screengrab)
Social phenomena are multi-layered. This question isn’t easy to answer where, on the one hand, we have women who sell and endorse beauty, and on the other, we have women who shame it. That said, we must consider that beauty is partly a social construct, as is evident by the fact that what was considered beautiful a 100 years ago is not anymore.
And yes, a man enjoys looking at a beautiful woman — but a woman, too, enjoys looking beautiful. Wearing a flattering outfit, getting one’s hair done, and putting on make-up that enhances our best features makes us feel more confident. We may not enjoy the tediousness of prettying ourselves up. We may resent the fact that sometimes, it feels like a mandate to look ‘presentable’. We may even want to be able to go to a dinner party wearing our pyjamas every now and then.
But one can’t deny that on the days when we dress up, of our own volition, we enjoy looking beautiful.
The problem then is not in figuring out whether or not beauty and feminism go together. The issue here is — does our idea of feminism rob us of the freedom to enjoy beautifying ourselves, as and when we wish to?