Friday, 9 May 2008

Pretty ain't enough

So many men are naturally highly sexed, you'd think women wouldn't need to go to such lengths to make themselves look sexy. Yet men still demand a perfect female body to make love to. They want to have their cake and eat it.

It's not enough for the woman to be female, or pretty, or likeable, or just willing. If she doesn't conform to his mental image of sultry sexiness, she's somehow spoiling his pleasure.

So she has to spend her time primping and preening, depilating and dieting, slapping on cosmetics and enduring plastic surgery, so her man can feel suitably chuffed while he's getting his rocks off. This extreme male selfishness is euphemistically passed off as "looking after your man".

A woman I once knew said her ex-husband insisted on the full female regalia - padded bra, girdle, tight skirt, high heels and thick make-up - or he would dismiss her as plain and unfeminine. She always felt like a deranged drag queen. Needless to say, the marriage didn't last very long.

If women expected men to behave the same way, to doll themselves up like some theatrical dandy, men would simply laugh and take themselves off. But they reserve the right to impose laborious and arbitrary beauty regimes on women.

Unfortunately the media happily collude in this oppressive behaviour and give women relentless advice on how to turn themselves into male fantasies, complete with doctored photos of impossibly perfect women for them to aspire to.

The utter madness of this sexual straitjacket only becomes clear when some unlucky woman who's opted for plastic surgery once too often dies on the operating table and goes to an early grave - all in the name of giving her man an extra bedtime thrill.

PS: There have been several stories recently about women who sought permanent hair removal by laser, only to have their skin irreversibly disfigured by over-powerful lasers.

PPS: Virtually all the comments have disagreed with me - the pressure for women to be physically perfect comes not from men but from their own self-criticism, from other women and from advertising that plays on women's insecurities. How wrong can one be!

37 comments:

John Self said...

I say it's a slightly greyer area than that. I believe many women "primp and preen" themselves as much for the approval of other women as they do for the approval of their man. To me Mrs Self is just as beautiful, if not more so, without make-up etc - and I am forever trying to get her to stop straightening her hair - but she persists nonetheless. People (and I include men like myself here as much as women) also like to take pride in their appearance through clothes etc as a matter of self-esteem and self-respect, rightly or wrongly; perhaps this also comes from societal pressures, but the conscious thought is that one is doing it for oneself.

Plastic surgery (other than to correct congenital defects) is something else. A colleague of mine had a client once who had a cosmetic surgery operation carried out which can best be described as a "designer vagina". She was unhappy with the results and wanted to sue the surgeon. The difficulty here is that the sort of person who would be mad enough to want that sort of cosmetic treatment in the first place is never going to be happy with the result anyway.

Nick said...

John, that's true enough that many women are seeking the approval of other women, but I still think the approval of men is the driving force. And I would distinguish here between being presentable, which is all men are required to be, and being attractive / sexy which is always the extra requirement for women.

A lot of women would say plastic surgery is a matter of individual choice, but I think it's immoral to be so casual about something so dangerous and of doubtful value that can end in nasty complications or even death.

Hullaballoo said...

I look after myself physically because I value myself and it makes me feel good.

I don't take it to extremes, straighten my hair, wax my legs or wear clothes and shoes that are uncomfortable and subdue my natural style and bounce.

There is a happy medium between looking after yourself and subjugating yourself for a man/men.

Wisewebwoman said...

I would disagree with the basic premise, Nick. I truly believe that all of this is driven by the relentless marketing of big corp, the cosmetic companies, the trillion dollar diet industry, the label-clothing behemoths, the vacuous and anorexic models. Ordinary women susceptible to this constant assault are never good enough. They look in their mirrors and are never thin enough, wrinkle free enough, etc. I know a woman whose had so many procedures she's lost count.
And it starts at such a young age. I really don't blame the men at all, apart from the porn-addicted ones. The majority accept their women the way they are. It is women's lack of self-esteem that drives this huge marketing machine.
XO
WWW

Nick said...

Hulla - Good for you, a very sensible approach. It sounds like Bobo is the sort of guy who appreciates you just the way you are. Hoorah for natural style and bounce!

www - Hmmm. I'm sure the big companies and their in-your-face marketing have a lot to do with it, but at the same time they rely on women feeling inadequate and aspiring to their models of perfection. And men seeing women as inadequate likewise. If men and women were quite happy with real female bodies, the marketing would fail miserably.

And yes, I agree women's lack of self-esteem makes them strive after an illusory perfection, but plenty of men encourage them by demanding hairless bodies, make-up, bigger boobs or less flab.

Baino said...

Sorry Nick. Disagree with this one. Women 'pretty up' for themselves or to compete with other women. Men who insist on their dolled up ladies are shallow and should be avoided.
I also agree with WWW in relation to stereotypes, skinny models and the promotion of the waif as the norm and at my age, the plethora of creams and potions that promise to make me look 10 years younger in 7 days yet the models promoting them are in their 20s. The Dove campaign is finally putting real women in the spotlight.
Real men don't really care,I once lost a load of weight, I mean 30 kilos and my husband barely noticed. Didn't make a jot of difference but it certainly helped my self-esteem. Although I'm alarmed at the amount of cosmetic procedures that young women endure from boob jobs to designer vaginas which is in fact a growth industry here among . . wait for it .. . 20-25 year olds! (Although if I had the money, I would have a tummy tuck and a breast reduction for my own sanity and vanity.)

Nick said...

Baino - General disagreement on this one, I see! And Jenny totally disagrees as well! I'm surprised women insist so strongly they're doing it entirely for themselves and other women, but if that's what I'm hearing....

I'm staggered your husband barely noticed such a huge change in size! And it's shocking that so many young women are opting for cosmetic surgery. Your mention of vanity reminds me that used to be the common explanation for female prettifying - so perhaps that's enough.

Fate's Granddaughter said...

I have to say, I am with WWW on this one. If the men are demanding a certain image of women, it is the image they are being fed by films, ads, mags, etc. How else can you explain how much the image of an ideal woman has changed in the last few decades? There are, without doubt, a lot of shallow people out there. But it is the people ramming those images of beauty down their throats that I blame most.

Personally, I have had a much harder time keeping up with the image of beauty in my own head than those of the men around me.

Nick said...

FG - Sure, all the media images have an effect, but who is demanding these images? Since the media are still largely controlled by men, presumably men. Even the women's mags are still ultimately under male control. But if the female staff do have some say, why don't they use more images of normal women?

Nick said...

I've been looking up articles about why women use make-up, get plastic surgery, get Hollywoods etc. It seems most of them do it for their own personal reasons, but a sizeable minority (around a quarter) say they do it to please men. See for example http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2007/aug/30/health.gender

Mudflapgypsy said...

I agree with WWW.
Advertising creates wants and needs on behalf of the people that manufacture the products. Advertising is designed to create feelings of inadequacy.
Note the rise in male grooming.
This did not occur naturally, it was created in order to expand market share.

Thriftcriminal said...

What Baino said.

And, being a bloke I have seen far more women who would be considered "imperfect" according to the media standard but are so very very attractive because, everything works together and they have a spark about them. I once likened it to the spark of creativity, dolling up to match the models is not creative, it is an empty act of mimicry, give me a lass who carves her own way through life and finds her own beauty any day.

Nick said...

Muddy - I can't agree advertising creates feelings of inadequacy, I believe it can only exploit feelings that are already there because of a basic lack of self-confidence. Male grooming is a case in point - I'm always reading about it but I've never bought any male grooming products because I don't feel inadequate.

Thrifty - I do agree about women who find their own beauty and have a spark about them. And yes, they're much more appealing than the celeb clones.

K8 the Gr8 said...

The bleached blonde Greyhound skirt-wearing boob-tubed ladies are definately showing off for the boys, but for the most part it is other women's approval we're after!!!

Why? Because a put-down from a man on one's appearance isn't a patch on a derisory remark from another woman.

Oh how easy dressing would be if the purpose were to solely impress men!

Me, I just strive to avoid looking odd. That's difficult enough as it is...

Nick said...

K8 - Had to google 'greyhound' skirt - very funny! Good to know which is the definitive male-snagging outfit (not that I'm in the running!). And how wrong am I if it's actually women who're the body police and not men! Jenny agrees dressing solely for men would be a lot easier!

You try to avoid looking odd? Are you referring to the ambiguous cabbie-wear episode? Or did you have something else in mind?

Medbh said...

Femninity is compulsory for women under patriarchy. If you comply, life is made much easier for you. Women may police other women for not living up to the fuckibility standards but that's about it.

In "Hoochie Mama" Erika Lopez says that if you want to become invisible, simply put on a big brown muumuu. You disappear.

Nick said...

But that's not the message I'm getting from other comments, Medbh. They're suggesting femininity isn't as important to men as might be thought. Or have they been successfully fooled by male-inspired brainwashing?

red said...

I'm with WWW and Hulla on this I'm afraid Nick.

Nick said...

Red, there's an overwhelming consensus that women are their own worst enemies and men don't have much to do with it. Perhaps we men will have to save women from themselves and confiscate all their beauty aids and fancy clothes? Oh, and close all the beauty salons....

Mudflapgypsy said...

Nick: Just because you don't have feelings of inadequacy after viewing advertisements doesn't mean others don't. Negative feelings are a very powerful tool.
I don't succumb to it either. I set trends, I don't follow them.;-)

We humans like to feel part of a group and conforming to the norms of that group. We, as group members tend to frown upon any group member who strays outside the group norms. I think this idea goes along with the idea of women dressing for other women. I've always thought that women were more competitive than men, though not in an arm wrestling way. Keeping women competing with each other is yet another form of societal control.

Nick said...

Muddy - Maybe you're right, maybe I'm just too bolshy to succumb to the ads. You're certainly right about conformity and peer pressure, which is very powerful. Not many of us feel comfortable too far outside the social norm. And yes, encouraging competition between women is the old tactic of divide and rule - very convenient to men trying to get the upper hand.

John Self said...

Nick: "Male grooming is a case in point - I'm always reading about it but I've never bought any male grooming products because I don't feel inadequate."

Now just a cotton-pickin' minute here! I use male grooming products but I don't have feelings of inadequacy. I use moisturiser because my skin can be dry and flaky without it. I use wax on my hair because I prefer the style I can create with that to its natural limp state. I don't feel inadequate without them but I do take some pride in my appearance which I think is probably more a sign of high self-esteem than low.

Nick said...

Jeez, I'm doing a lot of back-tracking on this post! Sorry, John, didn't mean to imply you were inadequate! Of course there are good reasons for using things like moisturiser (I use it myself sometimes when I get very dry skin on my face and hands). But the huge rise in male grooming sales must mean some deliberate exploiting of male self-doubt.

Thriftcriminal said...

If you need moisturiser go the the pharmacy and buy a big tub of aqueous base for half nothing. It's as good if not better that the expensive shit and you stay out of the marketing net. If you want to do it do it for that reason, not because some ad campaign convinced you that it will make you feel good about yourself, it's just shallow manipulation and exploitation of your subconcious urges.

Nick said...

Thrifty - Thanks for the tip. I'll pass it on to Jenny as well!

Los Angelista said...

When I first moved to LA 10 years ago, I kept seeing ads for "vaginal rejuvenation" and I had no idea what the heck it was. Who knew such a ridiculous sounding thing would become so popular, in some cases because women and/or their partners want to act like they've never had children, and in others because certain cultures require a woman have a physical virginity at marriage.

Anyway, I think many of us women have internalized the messages about what makes us beautiful. Taking care of yourself is a good thing, but our culture has gone way over the edge. Even I sometimes ask myself, would I wear lipstick or shave my legs if someone hadn't taught me that that's what women do to look beautiful? Nope, I wouldn't. And men are taught to expect certain things in regards to beauty/women. We all participate and perpetuate the attitudes about beauty. Sigh!

Nick said...

Liz - Yes, who on earth needs vaginal rejuvenation? I can't believe anyone's sexual pleasure (or self-esteem) is really dependent on that.

It's the group reinforcement of messages that's the killer, isn't it? Even if a particular woman finds all these beauty procedures pointless, everyone around her keeps telling her, directly or indirectly, that she's weird if she doesn't conform. Mind you, your lipstick is very striking, Liz!!

jusk said...

Wow, I feel so tarred and brushed, etc.

Don't know what sort of men you know - but I've never heard of anyone I know even suggesting that his lady should look a certain way. Sounds like some sort of reverse-paranoia to me.

Most men I know would prefer their partners to spend a smaller percentage of their lives dabbing at their face like it was some unfinished masterpiece, and to smile a bit more.

I think you're way off. Not a regular commenter on such matters, but I (as a man) feel wrongly accused.

Oh, and hello! How did I end up on here.... nice blog!

Nick said...

Jusk - Sorry you feel wrongly accused! Of course it was just a wild generalisation that might or might not reflect reality - according to the other comments seemingly not. Yes, maybe it's reverse paranoia - I've been reading too many feminist tracts! And agreed, what is it with all the make-up and cosmetics - what's already there is usually just fine.

Glad you like my eccentric scribblings. They seem to amuse a few people!

heartinsanfrancisco said...

While there are idiots like Hugh Hefner out there, much of the pressure on women to look perfect comes from their own insecurities which were often given to them by their mothers.

There is far too much pressure placed on women in our society to conform to unrealistic beauty ideals rather than being true to themselves, or beautiful in their own way.

Until women are considered fully equal to men and not more-or-less chattel, this attitude and its painful demands will continue.

Nick said...

Heart - That's right, women should be true to themselves and beautiful in their own way. A tarted-up woman with an ugly personality fools nobody, but an unadorned woman with natural warmth is always attractive.

elizabeth said...

I've got to say - my first marriage was to a man like the first you described. He was brutal and insulting.

My current love (of one year) is the most positive encouraging man in the universe - and he loves me best in the morning with my hair standing on end. There are good ones out there. ;o)

Nick said...

Elizabeth - I'm sorry to hear you were landed with such a dreadful husband. I presume you're referring to the drag queen scenario? I'm glad you've put him behind you and found someone much more appreciative. Especially of unruly hair!

Mallory said...

Most of these people who do plastic surgery look fine before the surgery,
however, they are not stratified with their look,
so they go under the knife even it is dangerous procedures;
Anesthesia , infection, bleeding, and shock etc...
Plastic surgeries should only be performed on those who need facial reconstruction after traumatic events

Nick said...

Mallory - I do agree, to my eyes many women look better before the surgery, but they're convinced what's already there isn't good enough. Largely because of all the artifically perfect media images we're all deluged with. And yes, plastic surgery is very dangerous, however skilled the surgeon.

goodbyetoallfat said...

Hi Nick,

I just came across your blog while cyber surfing and found it to be a very interesting read as you write about so many subjects. (I only write about one -- my own personal journey with fat, weight and body issues but that is why this particular post of yours interested me.)

I actually agree with you and found it really interesting for a man to be admitting that the quest for females to prettify themselves stems from men. I think all the advertising, media and female peer pressure just then latches onto that.

I remember many years ago my Mum told me that when she married my Dad he told her in no uncertain terms: "If you become as fat as your mother I will divorce you".

My Dad was slim and fit and my mother prone to a more dumpy physique (her mother, my gran was obese like me). My mother duly kept her dumpiness at bay by chain smoking 40 - 60 a day and suppressing her appetite, so she didn't end up with diabetes or heart failure, but lung cancer.

That little anecdote is one that I have not yet documented yet in my own blog but plan to include at some stage, because I am not entirely sure whether my mother telling me about that -- Dad's pre-marriage contract -- actually in some way encouraged me to put on weight as I didn't particularly like my Dad or want to conform to his pre-conceived ideas of female beauty ...? (It's a tough one trying to psycho-analyse subconscious behaviour.)

Very interesting blog and I will be adding you to my blogroll very soon.

Best wishes from a new reader,
Sharon

Nick said...

Hi Sharon, and thanks for the compliments. Actually although I assumed it was basically men who impose female 'perfection', most of my commenters thought it stemmed from the media/advertising and from other women. They thought men generally accepted women as they were.

But it's sad that in your case your mum drove herself to serious illness to satisfy your dad's demands. And yes, I expect you were rebelling against that by not being skinny yourself.

I don't have any weight/body issues myself as I have always been thin without too much effort, but I'll keep an eye on your blog and follow your progress!