After reading the Ministry of Thin book I reviewed last Monday, and also things I keep reading on the blogs, one question keeps coming back to me: Is the beauty pressure really that bad? It’s a genuine question, not a rhetorical one.
I don’t doubt that people in surveys say they want to lose weight and that they’re unhappy with their appearance. If someone asked me would I like to be 5 kilos lighter, or course I would say yes, in the same way that I’d like to have a higher salary, a more active social life and travel more. But it’s hardly a pressing preoccupation, and in the list of relative concerns, my weight ranks well below the other three things I’ve mentioned and loads of other stuff on top. I certainly am not bothered enough to actually go on a diet or anything, because I value the enjoyment and mental stability that eating until I’m full, and occasionally overeating and eating ‘bad’ food much more than I would value being thinner. ‘Nothing looks as good as being content and able to think straight feels’ is my motto.
Anyway, I just wonder if most people are not in a similar position: they’re not exactly happy with their looks, but their unhappiness is not something they think about that much.
In the book Woolf goes on about how her colleagues are always talking about diets and how many calories there are in stuff, but then she is a journalist in London, and a journalist who reviews new beauty treatments and exercise regimes at that. It’s hardly representative. I’ve had colleagues like that, and I know people who are acting a bit obsessed right now, but they’re unusual enough to be noticeable, not the norm.
And while I totally agree that there’s pressure on women to look ‘good’, I’m not sure I see that much pressure to have specific beauty treatments as is argued in the book. Some women I know get their nails done every fortnight, some have expensive highlights, some wear designer clothes, some are constantly getting new stuff from h&m. Some have botox (presumably), some are on punishing personal trainer exercise plans. People are definitely investing time and money into their appearance, sometimes more than they should/can afford, but I don’t think there’s any expectation to have everything, certainly not outwith the beauty journalist world. As long as you look acceptable, you get to pick and choose your beauty work, right?
And that thing about teenage boys/young men not knowing that women have pubic hair, that’s not actually true, is it? Surely? And the cosmetic surgery on vaginas? How would you even know what your own ladybits look like? It’s not like you can see them by accident, you’d have to go looking.
I don’t know though, maybe I’m just lucky to be old enough and to have escaped into monogamy before all the beauty stuff got out of hand. I’d be interested in hearing from younger readers!