Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Myth of Effortless Beauty

This happened on my facebook today:

I posted this status as a sort of tongue-in-cheek remark 1) about how I'm too lazy/cold to bother shaving my legs and 2) in sarcasm about the stereotype that men and women "let themselves go" upon marriage. However, I was particularly interested in the three men who declared my status as "TMI." As any good philosopher would do, I thought of other similar hypotheticals and how one might react. I ended up with the postulate that if a man bragged about Movemeber, he would not receive a response of "TMI." If he posted about shaving his legs, he would probably just be called gay (which is another topic on misandry and inherent homophobia in social constructs of masculinity entirely). I guess I missed the memo that women shouldn't publicly talk about shaving their legs. So this got me doing some research.

What I discovered what a social phenomenon called effortless beauty. This essentially says that women should always be socially attractive and presentable and hide the effort behind it. It comes from the idea that women's bodies are inherently obscene, and much more so than men's (E.G. why it's okay for men to go topless in public and not women). And because her body is obscene and is yet required to meet the beauty standards of her society, she must not discuss how she manipulates her body to meet those standards.

I also think the TMI could come from the fact that I haven't shaved my legs in almost a month and therefore don't currently meet standards of attractiveness. We live in a culture where it is expected that women be objectified by society, even if there are men who consciously don't objectify them (which, by the way, there are). We dehumanize women by compartmentalizing them into body parts. We live in a culture where society somehow has a right to the objectification of women (see: victim blaming and catcalling), even if a large population of men necessarily don't. When a woman chooses not to shave her legs (or smile when a man asks her, or conform to weight standards, or says "no" when a man asks for sex), she is infringing on society's right to objectify her. It's being taken for granted that it's totally okay for society to put women on a pedestal when the women do conform to their standards of physicality. And only when that is taken for granted is it wrong for women to infringe of society's rights of objectification.

My husband also pointed out that because I am married, I am no longer sexually available to any other men, which is another way I (and other monogomously married women) infringe on men's rights to objectify.

I had a friend who waxed her upper lip and chin and was mortified to let anyone know she did that. She (and so many other women) fall into this idea that the people around us have a right to our attractiveness and a right not to know how it got there. Thus, the myth of effortless beauty.

Which is why (some) men don't want to hear about a woman not shaving her legs.

I can see why this post could be construed as anti-man, but I'd like to here offer that my brand of feminism (and that of many, many other feminists) doesn't see men as the enemy. Rather, the enemy is the false and harmful social constructs of masculinity and femininity to which we are bound. However, I do think it's interesting that those who called my status "TMI" are men.


Erin Mumford said...

indeed. I like the thoughtfulness of this post.

In an interesting reversal, in my marriage, I've ended up shaving my legs WAY more often than I did as a single woman, because my husband likes smooth legs and I'm happy to oblige. I love him after all. If he didn't care at all, I'd probably carry on being lazy about it, though. :)

Nathan said...

If "TMI" does mean "you have infringed my perceived right to find you attractive," um ...

First, is announcing a monogamous commitment TMI?

Second, and I'm failing to find a way to phrase this that doesn't sound too awfully "territorial man-ogre," but, if you do support monogamy, why should you care whether my wife is attractive to anybody but me?