Being a woman is hard. We are constantly bombarded with mixed messages about how we should look and behave, on what we should value and ultimately who we should be. “Be a Lady They Said”, narrated by Cynthia Nixon broke the Internet when it came out in February of this year. Viewed over 8.7 million times on Vimeo, and likely shared and re-posted an equal amount on other mediums, the almost 3 minute video highlights some of the common contradictory beliefs and ideals that women face on a daily basis. We are strongly advised against letting ourselves go, but if we spend too much time on our looks, we are considered too high maintenance. If we are too fat, we are lazy and if we are too thin, we must be sick. We are supposed to embrace the aging process but around every corner, on and in our social media feeds we are being targeted by brands and businesses that can help us physically achieve better versions of ourselves. It is a constant battle with no clear winner. How are we supposed to care enough without caring too much? More importantly, why are we even trying to find a balance between something that should ultimately be each woman’s own choice?
The concept of beauty has been theorized, discussed, and sought after for the last 2500 years. Ancient Greece put an emphasis on symmetry, strong features and an oblique eye. In the Renaissance Period, beauty was strongly tied to virtue and motherhood. High foreheads, long curls and a fuller waist were highly desirable attributes. In 18th Century France a slight dimpled and double chin, paired with rosy cheeks was the ideal beauty standard. Women and men alike powdered their faces white and used pieces of small black cloth to disguise scars left from smallpox. The 1890’s introduced the hour-glass figure. This was replaced with the slim silhouette of the 1920’s but then returned with a vengeance in the 1950’s thanks to bombshell sex symbol’s like Marilyn Monroe. The widespread use of electric lights and magnified mirrors increased women’s anxieties and desires to have flawless skin. Brands began targeting beauty campaigns to teenagers and the cone-shaped bra found itself into every woman’s dressing table. The 80’s brought with it big hair and sculpted faces. Contouring was make-up magic and cheekbones had never looked so chiselled. The 90’s saw a stark increase in plastic surgeries and the early 00’s introduced the world, and our forehead’s to Botox. Since then there have been an endless supply of minimally invasive procedures, tools, surgeries and other kinds of injectables available for women to address any and every area of concern that she may have.
Ideals of feminine beauty are not going anywhere. They are ingrained and embedded into our society. We can actively work towards dismantling definitions of a narrow or singular standard of beauty. We can support the inclusivity of diversity, individuality and body positivity into it, but the beauty industry is a $600 billion dollar industry and it's growing because all of us are buying into it, because disclaimer: WE CARE ABOUT BEAUTY. We always have and likely always will. Our value should not ever be equated with it, but it’s normal, it's expected, and inherent human nature to care about our appearance. The problems that are associated with the beauty industry do not reside in its existence. The problem with the beauty industry is the people who operate silently within it. The ones who benefit from medical aesthetics, cosmetic injectables and surgeries but then abhorrently deny it. The ones who enjoy their nose augmentations, thread lifts, chin implants, fat transfers and cheek fillers but then swear that their faces have been untouched. The real problem with the industry is the people who are being dishonest about it, creating unrealistic standards of beauty and continuing to perpetuate the stigma that a woman’s desire to alter her appearance is inauthentic or shameful.
For those of us who enjoy a good laser or syringe of dermal filler, this next part can be a challenging narrative to navigate through because it requires us to acknowledge that to whatever umpth degree, we value vanity. It’s an obvious truth, but it can sometimes be hard to swallow because the word is riddled with negative connotations. By definition, “vanity is having inflated pride in oneself”. Inflated is another less desirable word, but pride is certainly a good thing, so let's examine that. Pride signifies a feeling of satisfaction or happiness in oneself. Having a certain amount of pride is admirable and noble. It’s intertwined with self-respect and self-love. Taking care of yourself is not only ‘not a bad thing’, but it’s something we read books on, listen to podcasts about and encourage every woman to seek out and participate in. The key difference between vanity and pride is that the latter puts precedence on our opinions of ourselves, whereas vanity focuses on what others think of us.
We are taught from an early age not to put a heavy stake in the opinions of others but as we all know, that’s much easier said than done. No one should lead a life that consistently seeks outside approval, but I am sure you can attest to the fact that it’s nice to receive a compliment on your outfit from a stranger in the women’s washroom or from a friend when they tell you that your skin is glowing. We are certainly affected by the opinions of others but by no means should they be the motivating factor for us to physically change ourselves. Have you ever asked yourself why it is that you choose to wear make-up, plump your lips, curl your hair or microneedle your skin? Just because you can is more than a sufficient answer, but it can also go deeper. It could be that you do it because it addresses a minor insecurity that prevents you from feeling beautiful. It might provide a boost of confidence or help restore some that was once lost. Maybe you gained weight or dropped a few pounds and you no longer feel comfortable in your own skin. Maybe it’s because when you look your best, you feel your best. Whatever your reason, there is no single or right one. The choices we make for our bodies are our own and if we are being truly authentic in those choices then we should never feel any amount of shame in regards to enhancing or improving our appearance. We shouldn’t feel bad about wanting to look good. So when we choose to hide it and lie about it, we need to go back and ask ourselves if the reasons we did it in the first place were our own or imposed by others?
Call out culture has given names to some of these faces who have denied going under the knife or needle. Aesthetic and celebrity gossip accounts on Instagram post before and afters, speculate on the variety of ‘secret treatments’ that these women have received and for those of us who think they look great (regardless) well we just wish they’d own up to it so we can follow their doctors and injectors and tell them “great freaking job”. While it may be slighting damaging to their credibility for the people who are aware of it, my concern grows for the young girls and women who remain uninformed. The ones who follow these models, actresses and influencers and think their faces and bodies are completely natural or even worse that it's taboo or shameful to admit otherwise.
When we do things in secret we contribute to the tumultuous, unhealthy and weird competition that women have with one another. But looking the same isn’t even the goal. Looking like someone else is not the goal. Looking and feeling like the best version of yourself is all that most women want. Being natural and being authentic are by no means synonymous. Some people may be both, but they are not better for it and vice versa. It’s time to broaden our definition of wellness and remove any denotation of guilt to doing things that make us feel good. Expand the sentences ladies. We do yoga, plant gardens, take baths, set boundaries, inject some neurotoxins into our glabella, and dermal fillers into our lips, and all of that is under the umbrella of taking care of ourselves. So instead of casting judgment, what if we came together and collectively shared the products and treatments that we have tried, loved and made us feel beautiful? What if we respected the fact that regardless of our own personal beliefs and preferences, that as women we can make our own autonomous decisions? Untamed, by Glennon Doyle is one of my new favourite books and her words really say it best, so I will leave you with this final thought. "What if the only reason you need is “because I’m a grown ass woman and I do whatever the f*ck I want”.