Beauty. It is oppressive or is it freeing? It is a personal creative outlet or an instilled social requirement more specific to women? When it comes to these sorts of questions, there are a few extremist opinions that stand on polar opposite sides. Most people fall in the middle ground of indulging in fashion and beauty but also being aware of some of the negative connotations that it holds. However, even in this middle ground there is usually a leaning more to one side than the other. I’ve had my opinions on the matter be redefined and I often bounce back and forth between the negatives and positives.
With the advent of social media and the age of excess that we’re living in, these questions have become more important. Although we are thankfully more progressive than our 60s era Stepford Wives days, beauty standards seem to be ever more unattainable. We’re also reminded more than ever about our physical inadequacies.
There is a lot of overlap with the intricacies of personal blogging and the use of more generally used forms of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Blogs are pretty much a more wordy and expressional embodiment of the above three. It also allows for more anonymity and so is therefore much less intimate. All these forms of social media are usually interlinked by the user. Blogging is a medium that requires more commitment, effort and more creative outlet. It’s also a lot more personal and requires little interaction with people you actually know. I’m always fascinated when someone I know has decided to launch a website.
With that being said, I’m surprised when people choose fashion, beauty and lifestyle content. From all the burst of creative energy that you have, how does this kind of content warrant enough to write about it? I have a pinterest board dedicated to clothes I like so I understand the interest but not so much the dedication. Is it superficial and if not, what personal flavour and depth is added? There are those who actively pursue the life of travel and fashion and those who indulge in it as a hobby. However, based on my browsing, the active ones tend to remain vague about their journey. In their blogs they gloss over the potentially compelling content such as their triumphs and failures and instead we are presented with pretty outfits, make-up tips and glossy tourist photos. It all appears very dream-like. All I see are visually stunning imagery of an unattainably perfect world. Stacks upon stacks of makeup positioned carefully upon stylish dressing tables. Labels and brands strewn in deliberate display. Perfectly sculpted features with constructed smiles. The name-dropping of exotic monuments and airy-fairy descriptions of adventures into the greener pastures of the unknown. The backdrop of foreign landmarks forming charming scenery to equally charming outfits.
What is our enduring fascination with all things lavish and attractive?
For the ones who engage in it as a hobby, is this another by-product of self-promotion? With the increasing popularity of instagram models and the pursuit of likes, it seems like an obvious, next-level expansion of one’s online persona. Of course, there is also payment and endorsements. If you attain a certain level of popularity, there come the monetary rewards. I can’t be judgemental on that. If you’re living an exemplary stylish life, why not get some cash and free products out of it? But to be honest, based on some of the brand names and great looking outfits, the monetary gain can’t be too significant compared with the cost of living in that kind of affluence. I’d also like to mention that some are able to study professional degrees and keep up this virtual persona. And I say: good for them. It’s quite impressive.
We also have the contrast between women’s magazines and fashion blogs. I find most of these magazines quite vapid. Content wise, it’s pretty much nothing beyond how to be the perfect housewife, weight-loss tips, guidance from so called ‘beauty gurus’ and most insulting of all: dating and relationship advice. I see the same things regurgitated monthly in even more offensive blatancy as each issue is released. Who is the market for these and can they be used to define the modern woman and present-day struggles? Most of them appear more regressive as there is hardly an issue that doesn’t claim to have some sort of ‘miracle weight loss advice’. As the number of women in high-paying jobs and acting as breadwinners in households are increasing, why are physical attributes still so relevant?
Bloggers are the far more interesting counterparts despite their easier availability and fewer resources. The main obstacle for these bloggers is getting the widespread fame that magazines have. It’s far easier to rattle off the names of your average tabloid trash than high-profile bloggers even though there are some very striking and impressive fashion blogs out there. I have definitely been wowed by outfits that I can visually consume for free while being envious of the opportunities it has landed the creator. However, when it comes to the fashion blogs I follow, I prefer the ones with stories behind the shiny photo shoots. For example, I follow Mama Cax who is a cancer survivor with a prosthetic leg. She refuses to give up her right to be a stylish and beautiful woman despite her medical ailments and she interchanges these experiences with posts on her style tips. I also follow Nadia Aboulhosn the plus size model. Plus size models are not too uncommon these days but we haven’t evolved far from the stick-thin archetype. These models are more famous for their controversy and are unable to rank up with the likes of the Gigi Hadids and Adriana Limas. Gigi and Adriana are definitely gorgeous and possess that certain-something that has granted them the wide-spread attention that they have. There is definitely some sort of vague distributions to the level of fame pretty people have. However, they still form part of the dangerous industry of promoting only one body type and subsequently only one type of beauty. A popular beauty blogger is also a personification of *privilege: beautiful, perfect-bodied, rich and successful to online fame and relevance. We all want to be known and acknowledged.
*Just by the way I’d like to add that I’m being hypocritical here because I’m the rich, spoilt and privileged offspring of parents who worked hard.
I also have to admit that I find fashion blogs to be quite impersonal and partially reductive. At times, I don’t see it to be much different than a magazine I can leisurely browse through and then place back on the shelf when I’m done. Plus I have an idea of the kind of content different magazines have. I have to go more out of my way to find even the prominent fashion bloggers and get a feel for what they’re about. Also, the flashy ones remain distant from the every-girl perspective I thought would be more prominent. I find fashion and beauty blogs to be far too easy to digest. I’m often left insatiate and in need of meatier content.
The bigger question is what does the popularity of this kind of content say about women and our role in consumer culture? Adverts seem to be centred around the attainment of being the perfect-looking woman. Sex sells. The figure in the ‘sex sells strategy’ is the female body. The industry plays on insecurity and markets a long list of never-ending products as the solution. “Every girl needs that (insert unnecessary product here)”, “this season’s must-haves” and of course “products I can’t live without”. This is, of course, in between commercials that are designed at selling the perfect housewife. This kind of hyperbole is both fascinating and alarming. Are these overused phrases playful exaggeration or a manifestation of entrenched beauty norms which will inevitably work its way into a woman’s life at some point as they grow up?
Shopping malls also seem to be built for women. I always find it much harder shopping for presents for a guy friend than for a girl. Why is it that beauty is still such an integral part of being a woman? I also succumb into this materialism. I love shopping and am becoming increasingly more girly. This is a transition from my baggy pants and t-shirts days as I felt I had no place to participate in the world of being pretty. Fashion and style seemed to be a concept reserved only for those with good looks. I was too shy and introverted. With more confidence and as I grew older I became more interested in fashion. And why is that? Why does the transition into adulthood for females involve more consideration into our looks? Have we done enough to place the importance of our roles as thinkers and doers with total exclusion of our appearance? Do women fully realise that there is a lot more behind the mere vessel that is our bodies without having the menace of worrying about our physical attractiveness lurking underneath? Even with this knowledge, can we exert this in the face of societal pressures and the male gaze?
Fashion is a lot of fun. Despite most of what I’ve written in this post, I don’t find it to be oppressive. Fashion and make-up allow for individual expression and an outward display of who we are as people. I love dressing up and often find the dressing up part to be more enjoyable than actually going out.
But we can’t ignore the society that shapes our ideas about this form of self-expression. For a lot of women, it has come to the point of not being able to leave the house without “putting your face on”. Salons and beauty parlours remain unharmed by financial recessions and make-up and hair-grooming are more of an expected norm than an indulgence. “No make-up selfies” became somewhat ‘brave’. The well-dressed and well-groomed are perceived to ‘have it together’ and the sloppily dressed are seen to be representative of a messy life. On the other hand, those that are too invested are seen as “shallow”.
I’d also like to lightly touch on consumerism. We know it’s bad. We know that we are rapidly depleting our resources but we know that jobs also rely heavily on it. It’s a large burden that’s far easier to ignore especially when there are no immediate repercussions. You buy make-up and you’re supporting animal cruelty. You try to be more conscious and your wallet starts to suffer. Likewise, if you buy more affordable clothes then you’re supporting child labour practises. You try to be savvier and go for the overpriced but cruelty-free clothing and you’re flaunting your excess in a world plagued by inequality.
It’s easier to remain in ignorant bliss.
This post was aimed more at asking a lot of questions and not providing any solutions because I think it’s a more contemplative and subjective issue that requires discussion. Providing immediate solutions are more restrictive. The obvious solutions are: save your money, do less shopping and stop caring about what other people think. Leaving people to sit with the implications of the beauty and fashion industry is ultimately more productive without being too alienating.
Even after all this, there are still beauty blogs I like to follow to see the pretty outfits.