Monday, September 22, 2008
The Unfortunate yet Penetrable Paradox of Feminine Beauty
After receiving awesome discussion from the mental-detox ladies (and Warren, kia ora!) in relation to my last blog on the over-sexualization of coloured women, I decided that I'd have a crack at articulating my position on the issue of Beauty as raised by Hayley J. This one's for you, girl!
The FEMININE IDEAL is an intangible concept that has been constructed by the media of western culture. This construction can be traced back to the earliest artistic depictions or representations of Aphrodite, the greek goddess of Love, Beauty and Fertility. These depictions of Aphrodite, usually with no clothes, wind-swept hair, and atop some sort of animal or sea shell, changed the understanding of Beauty from something that is experienced or felt, to something that is SEEN, thus giving rise to the notion that Beauty must LOOK a certain way.
Nowadays, as we all know, the bombardment of ideal feminine images is staggering, and such presentation of 'iconic' woman over the years has resulted in the development of eating disorders, skin-lightening ( re. Beyonce white-washing ), self-harm and suicide.
The survival of the FEMININE IDEAL as it has been constructed in western culture relies heavily on a dirty and powerful underlying paradox - that beauty is necessary for women to be validated, but that it will never be ultimately achieved. Artist Martha Rosler describes this paradox that all women face as being a 'simultaneous sinking and swimming' : The BEAUTY swims because she looks so good, and she sinks because she must work hard to maintain the status that her appearance has achieved for her seemingly effortless conformity to pretty picturehood. The NON-BEAUTY sinks because she fails at supreme femininity, yet she swims because in her appearance she has resisted the impractical model.
And so the media perpetually traps women in this notion of the FEMININE IDEAL, a concept that, although is a complete hallucination on our consciousnesses, conveniently controls the unpredictable, mystical and sacred reproductive body of the woman. The media projects 'looking beautiful' as a standard of success, as the ultimate validation by society. Thanks to the media, it is possible to recognize somebody as being beautiful by looking at a picture of them. You don't even have to meet them, get to know them, experience their energy. This is actually really really fucked, huh?! Oh, and the other fucked thing is this: You can never have joy in your own beauty, and when you most have it, is when you most have to try to counteract it, or you are accused of egotism, self-absorption and vanity.
Current feminist scholar Joanna Frueh discusses in her book Monster/Beauty the possibilities of destabilizing both the image and ideology of female beauty in order for beauty to be redefined. She suggests that this can be achieved by making conscious departures from the idea that beauty is dependent on looks alone by creating ourselves as AESTHETIC/EROTIC FIELDS of simultaneously concentrated and resonant sensuousness. Now you know when you meet someone who's aesthetic/erotic field is off the hook right? You know those ones that get labelled as being unconventional beauties, as having something about them that you just can't put your finger on. Well this just goes to show that the media trap of the FEMININE IDEAL is in fact entirely penetrable, and it is penetrable because it's not real.
I try to liberate myself from the FEMININE IDEAL by exercising what I like to call a Ghetto-Wave Feminism (lol!). Woman such as Trina and Lil-Kim inspire me in the strong way that they use the female stereotype that has been given to them by the media (over-sexed black woman), to oppose the oppression that is created by that very stereotype. Trina: "We livin' ghetto fab, we spendin' hella cash, this girl is hella bad, your choice is trailer trash."