Participating in Beauty Culture


I…liked how we were neither dogmatic in our judgments (i.e., no one played the role of feminist fashion police), nor laissez-faire in thinking that ‘anything goes’—after all, feminists were the ones who had popularized the slogan the ‘personal is political.'”

At the most recent Society of Christian Ethics annual meeting, I got into an impromptu late night discussion with several women friends about why some of us participate in “beauty culture” and how we feel as feminist Christian ethicists and moral theologians about our decisions. Each of us shared why we have chosen to wear make-up (or not), keep up with fashion (or not), dye our hair grey to mask the signs of aging (or not), or put in the effort to maintain a certain physique (or not). We also addressed what role our own mothers and larger communities have played in our decision-making processes.

Since it is certainly not my place to reveal what others disclosed behind closed doors over wine, let me expand upon a few things I shared that night.

First, I told them that when I used to work at Virginia Tech (2003-2009), I had noticed and been a little self-conscious about the fact that I was the only faculty member in Women’s Studies who regularly wore make-up. My self-consciousness stemmed from multiple sources:

(1) I was a new member of the faculty who simply didn’t know what the conventions of dress were among my female colleagues (and thus I didn’t want to over- or under-do it),

(2) I had grown-up with a mother who, because of her own youthful indulgence in vanity before she “gave her life to Christ” (as she describes it), repeatedly cautioned me away from caring too much about my physical appearance,

(3) I received implicit (although occasionally explicit) judgment from older, second-wave white feminists who held very strong views about what attempting to beautify oneself meant—internalized misogyny and an acquiescence to patriarchal capitalism. In short, whether a woman put on lipstick, donned heels, or cared about clothes was used as a litmus test for how “feminist” she was.

Second,when the conversation turned to plastic surgery, I started talking about how popular blepharoplasty (a.k.a. “double eyelid surgery” or even “Asian eyelid surgery”) is among women of Asian descent both in the U.S. and in East Asian countries. (Truth be told, several Asian male celebrities have had it as well including martial artist Jackie Chan and Chow Yun-Fat of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fame.)

I told them that these surgeries nevertheless remain controversial in Asian American communities given concerns about increasing numbers of patients going under the knife to emulate Western standards of beauty and accordingly “erase” a distinctive marker of ethnicity. As many others have done, I compared these debates about Asian eyelid surgery to internal debates in Jewish communities about rhinoplasty (“nose jobs”) or to analogous ones in African American communities about chemically straightening hair.

For the record, as can be seen in any photo of me, I was not born with double eyelids. I’ve never had my eyelids surgically altered, nor do I do any of the common non-surgical things that some Asian women do (e.g., use special tape or glue) to transform my monolids into doubles. Admittedly, there was once a time in junior high when I envied those who were lucky enough to have been born with large (i.e., double-lidded) eyes. Fortunately, that time has long passed.

I do, however, continue to wear make-up on a regular basis and put effort into how I externally present myself to the world. But just as I resented those who automatically questioned my feminist credentials because I wore make-up, so too have I not reflexively assumed that persons of Asian descent who’ve undergone blepharoplasty  were necessarily suffering from some degree of racial self-hatred. There is, of course, much more that can be said about Asian eyelid surgery; perhaps I shall blog in greater detail about the topic in a future post.
What I liked about our conversation at the SCE was our honesty and emotional vulnerability to one another. I also liked how we were neither dogmatic in our judgments (i.e., no one played the role of feminist fashion police), nor laissez-faire in thinking that “anything goes”—after all, feminists were the ones who had popularized the slogan the “personal is political.”
I would love to continue that conversation, whether at the next SCE or elsewhere, with others. If you’d like to join me, ask yourself these questions: when was the last time you reflected on your participation or lack thereof in beauty culture? How compatible are your religious and/or feminist commitments to the decisions you’ve made with respect to your physical appearance?
Grace Yia-Hei Kao is Associate Professor of Ethics at Claremont School of Theology. Her hair is not (yet) greying, but she is grateful to be a part of a community of feminist scholars and friends to help her think through what she might do when it does. Read more about her work on her website.
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Categories: Aging, Asian American, Body, Christianity, Feminism, General, Race and Ethnicity, shopping, Women's Agency

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40 replies

  1. I had the opposite experience recently when the subject of plastic surgery came up. The other women insisted that it is “a personal choice” and kept interrupting me every time I said that I felt it was a shame that so many women were giving so much more money than before to the plastic surgery industry 40 years after feminists talked about accepting our bodies. I find this troubling but they didn’t at all. However, I think I learned that I will probably just have to just hold my tongue in the future because it seems like everyone is doing it.

    I have always worn make-up and cared about my clothes and refused to not dress sexy just because I was in religion or women’s studies. I suppose I have felt this was my choice and didn’t make me any less feminist. Is that a contradiction? Maybe it is.

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    • This is the problem with the rhetoric of “choice” – while autonomy is obviously important, such language not only flattens moral discourse, but it is usually intended to be a conversation-ender. I say, keep talking! :)

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  2. What a very human conversation. Let’s face it, regardless of how “feminist” we are, we all want to preserve whatever beauty we have been given, and yes, sometimes we find ourselves wanting to enhance it. Where does this come from? After turning 40 a couple years ago, I admit that I feel this impulse coming from somewhere inside of myself. Dare I admit that I have started wearing a little more make-up than I used to and find myself sneaking peaks at beauty magazines in the grocery line? Is this internalized misogyny? Am I a product of our over-marketed, youth-obsessed culture? Maybe, probably to some degree, but if I am really honest somewhere inside of me is a very human, and (dare I say?) very feminine longing to be like God, to be God/dess-like. Looking out my window now at the winter wonderland around me, I am captivated by the beauty of our Creator which glimmers through all of creation in such particularity and variety. In all living things, there is a unique beauty that radiates from within and blesses the world. Only we as humans have the capacity to contribute to the natural beauty we have been given. From the beginning of time, all cultures it seems have expressed this God-like desire for beauty by adorning and beautifying our bodies and the physical world around us. When I watch my daughter (10) and her friends play, they love to create beauty and they do seem to love to participate in and play with their own beauty. As a mother, I first and foremost want my daughter to know and love the unique beauty that shines from within her little soul, I want her to know that she is smart and strong and capable, and to learn to chart her own course and follow her own internal compass. But as my beauty gradually fades and hers continues to unfold and blossom through all the stages of her girlhood, I do sense between us a common Goddess-like nature that wants to see, create, and be beauty. I see the face of God/dess in my daughter and she in turn helps me to see the face of God/dess in myself. My religious upbringing in conservative evangelicalism taught me that it was bad to focus on external beauty. Somewhere along the way, I lost touch with my feminine, sensual, embodied nature. Like you, I embrace and honor the very human tension you so beautifully captured in your posting and hope for all my female friends, sisters, mother, my daughter, and my nieces, that we listen to each other and help each other to listen within and find that elusive balance that avoids the unhealthy extremes of shunning or over-emphasizing external beauty. May we know deep within ourselves that we are–body, mind & spirit– a beautiful incarnation of the Divine Feminine in whose image we are perfectly made to co-create and bless our world.

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    • Emily: Thanks so much for writing! I, too, look at my two beautiful boys and marvel at their perfect (i.e., non-wrinkled, non-blemished, non-sun damaged) skin. I love so much your last line–a reminder that we are all body, mind, and spirit–as well as the spirit of your entire post, which is to conceptualize the search for beauty as signifying something much deeper than I had originally described it as.

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      • Thanks for prompting such a stimulating dialogue. I love the picture of a bunch of academics sitting around talking so humanly! It seems that none of us can really transcend our embodied human condition which is filled with so many tensions that invite such deep ?’s and search for balance. You seem like you are in a great position to be real as a human being within the academic/religious world. Keep doing what you’re doing!

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      • Hi again Grace! Guess who’s house I’m at? Heather Curtises! I was just asking her if she is familiar with the R &F blog and asked her if she knew you. What a small world!

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      • Wow – please give Heather my best! Six degrees of separation indeed!

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  3. Very interesting! I was in graduate school when women were becoming militant. I even facilitated a consciousness-raising group as one of my fellowships. I never saw anyone burn a bra, but the women I knew then shunned makeup. Plastic surgery was unthinkable. We were strong and natural women, by golly. Besides, who had time to date? When I finished my Ph.D. and moved to southern California, things were very different. We wore makeup and did everything we could to make ourselves more attractive. Today, the women I know in the Goddess community wear makeup or not, as they personally choose, for the reasons they choose. As we ourselves, each of us, choose. Not just to participate in a beauty culture, but to express ourselves.

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    • Barbara: thanks for reflecting on your various experiences in different contexts. I also love that you introduced the idea of wearing make-up as part of personal expression. I think you are totally right–I remember when brands like Urban Decay came out in the 80s: they provided (then unconventional) products like turquoise nail polish. The point wasn’t to look like Miss America, but for (mostly young) girls to experiment, have fun with make-up, and even project an image that was totally the opposite of what the “pearls and sweater set” women would be wearing!

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  4. What a rich topic. In the 70’s as a young east cost preppie-but-hippie-wannbe in Santa Cruz CA, I would not have dreamed of wearing make up, plucking my eyebrows, or shaving any hair. It wasn’t until I was 40-something and got divorced that I even tried lip-stick. I always admired well-pedicured feet, but never dared to have my toe-nails painted until I moved to LA and my yoga teacher had red toes. YES! [But honestly that is partly because it was too expensive where I lived in Northern California and in LA there are tons of cheap nail places staffed by underpaid immigrant women — that is probably a topic for another blog, but perhaps not considering who makes most of the clothes we wear, fashionable or not.] Nevertheless, at 57, I find one of my favorite things on the NY Times website is Bill Cunningham’s fashion commentaries on the streets of NYC. While I would not wear much of what he comments on, I love to imagine how much fun it might be. I’ve also wondered what it would be like to wear a big fluffy confection of a dress like you see in the store fronts on Broadway in downtown LA. To that end my church has THE MOST FUN EVER mardi gras celebration and I am going to buy a used Quinceañera dress for it. The guy who cuts my hair has a big-hair wig. I can’t wait to see what it will feel like. And yes, my eyebrows will be freshly waxed, my legs shaved, toes painted, and my lips the perfect shade of pink. [BTW If you feel like playing dress-up (or not) and dancing your feet off for kids who need money to go to college, be in touch.]

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    • Annie: photos, please (of the glammed up you in the big, puffy dress)! And perhaps I will join you in that extravaganza–I have a few bridesmaids dresses still tucked away in my closet that might want to see the light of day again…

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  5. Grace,

    This is a great topic and very important. Culturally (at least in America) women are supposed to wear make-up and dress a certain way. I have a constant battle with my teen-agers as to when they can where make-up, how much, and of course how to dress appropriately. Embracing one’s own beauty and being comfortable with who we are should be personal choice, not a societal choice. I admittedly cover the multiplying grays and wear make-up when at work or with friends but this is my choice because I enjoy playing with hair colors and styles (it is an artistic form of expression if you will). I also look for items of convenience (in hair-styles).

    Plastic surgery aside, falling prey to the cosmetic industry and the demands that fashion magazines put forth for us, does that make us any more or any less feminist? I would say maybe – it depends on our platform, what are we advocating for or against and what are our reasons. We are women, first and foremost, but by letting others dictate what we should do and look like goes against the basic precepts of being a feminist (in my opinion).

    I do, however, think that there should be one additional issue to consider and that is the issue of ethics and social justice. If we chose to wear make-up or dye or hair, the company we buy from – what do they stand for, what organizations do they support, and to they test their products on animals.

    A loaded post – but really very important. Thank you for exploring this.

    Michele

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    • Michelle – thanks for adding the larger point about the ethics of consumption; I certainly want to blog later about conscientiousness in all items that we consume (not just clothing). I also think that being a feminist mother to girls/teenagers must present unique challenges of its own. Let’s keep talking about this stuff!

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  6. Fascinating topic, Grace! Carol please don’t hold your tongue! Your views (given the careful consideration you have given these subjects) are priceless. A definition of beauty as implying newness or youth seems incomplete (as one who finds beauty on an archaeological dig, in composting, in the winter sculpture of trees, etc.) God/dess expresses beauty through line, pattern, patina, age, humor, wisdom, dignity and words as well as through shape, color, sparkle, fecundity, silliness, curiosity, lust and action, none of which are limited by the number of years one has resided in this particular body. It might help to view costume, makeup and demeanor as aspects/tools of performance (inspired by Jezebel, the subject of my research/writing) and seek the message being conveyed (purposefully or unwittingly) by the character/mask/story rather than leaping to approve or condemn. By our choices about costume, body/skin, hair, and makeup, we can ask ourselves what messages do we send our daughters and students about what things are worth putting one’s life at risk for? Is it desirable and/or possible to resist the relentless messages of the so-called beauty-industry, and if so how? Where do we send them to experience alternative messages with which to fortify themselves for their own aging?

    I submit that it is worth resisting, and seeking alternatives, but that that no matter what one “chooses” doubts will remain. God/dess spirituality, nature, and literature offer many resources upon which to draw as we consider these questions.

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    • Martha – thanks for writing! I thought immediately of Judith Butler’s notion of performance as I read your post. The age thing is particularly interesting to me. I’ve always been told that I “look young for my age,” but I’ve always interpreted that in terms of my being Asian (the saying goes that Asians age in decades, not years). I think I want to validate two points that may exist in some tension with one another: (1) your idea that the equation of beauty with youth is indeed impoverished, (2) the idea that beauty can indeed gradually fade over time, but the point is to remember that self-worth should not be equated with external appearance.

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  7. Thank you so much for the transparency and authenticity. I ask my female peers and friends question like this and love to hear them talk about and think about deep matters that truly impact people (certainly not surface level stuff here). I will be pointing people to this for future conversations. -Bo

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  8. Sorry to burst the bubble of plastic surgery dreams… hair dye and make up for fun. I was born with thin lips when it was sexy, loved my grandmother’s moon highlights wondered how long I’d have to wait to catch the silvery moon in my limp, straight hair. Now that I have earned the silver lines and accumulated some of hard earned “internal beauty” I am not going to defile the time and effort that it has taken me to reach this mature presence. And hope that other women spread the joy to younger generations, that you do not have to grow scared of getting older, that our true beauty is Inside… but if we keep sending the mixed messages that as we age we do not want to look our part… the young will keep growing afraid of aging, and I cannot blame them.

    This aging woman now feels beautiful inside, have been walking around with naked inside-out for about a decade now. This inside, or character, spirit, personality, whatever you may call it is no longer young pretty, young pretty for me was inside pretty ugly, feel my naked inside quite at peace with a place of raging courage and beauty now.

    No external put-ons can give us beauty that we don´t already have. You are either extremely beautiful and do not see it, or you know you have inside work to do and are running away from it, which can be scary.

    From what I have read, you are all beautiful already.

    (I would not give my money to perpetuate a concept of external beauty which oppressed women with inner beauty cannot buy).

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    • There is something about being proud, or perhaps bearing witness, to the reality of one’s life. My stomach, for instance, is of a woman who has given birth to two children in the last 4 years. Why should I expect it to look any different? Thanks for writing!

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  9. One of the things I appreciated so much about attending a heavily woman populated undergrad (Sarah Lawrence College) was the freedom it afforded myself and others on the one hand to not shave, show up to class in pajamas that weren’t designed to be “cute,” and on the other hand to attend various school functions (Sleaze Ball comes to mind) in nothing but make up, a skirt and pasties. There is a lot to be said about the influence of separate (or mostly separate) spaces on one’s participation in the “culture of beauty;” I can’t remember a time in that woman filled environment where I was concerned with how I looked. College really is a golden time.

    Nonetheless, it is certainly a nuanced challenge. For example, if I choose to go to the gym am I going because I want to be healthy, or because I want to wear a size smaller clothing? And if it’s the latter reason, is it because I want it or because society has conditioned me to want it? The deconstruction could go on forever. However, as a woman with curves I often find the decision is made for me. Not by the magazine images I am bombarded with but by clothing stores. No matter how much I love my body and feel good about myself there majority of the clothes that are made today are not designed for my body type. And you can only see yourself in so many dresses that accentuate your hips in the “wrong way” before it gets a little ridiculous. I can either participate in the culture and have more options available to me or refuse to participate on principle and spend the rest of my life hunting for the one dress on the rack that was designed by someone whose model of beauty is not the stick figure.

    Lots to think about. Great post.

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    • Thanks Angelina for your thoughtful reflections. You do a great job of showing just how difficult it is to isolate “authentic” desires – our desires are both mimetic and malleable, and so it is indeed hard to distinguish what you want from what you’ve been conditioned/socialized into wanting.

      A skirt and pasties, huh? That must have been some party! :)

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  10. Grace~
    I’ve also though about this issue of feminism vs the beauty culture. My awareness on this issue began in graduate school, when I started my program with long, bleach blond hair. Over the years (and going back to my natural darker blonde) I’ve been aware of how I want my outward appearance to reflect how I want others to perceive me (I’m short and even though I’m 27, I look like a high schooler in the right clothes..). I’ve kept my hair pretty short in recent years, and my use of make up has also lessened (mostly because it makes my morning routine that much simpler). Until recently, I could swear the skin pores on my face forgot I graduated HS years ago, that didn’t help my desire to mask blemishes either.
    I think ultimately it comes down to *why* a woman wants to play with her hair and make up (I too used to dye my hair different colors, mostly for expression’s sake), and if she’s comfortable in her own skin otherwise. For me, the line becomes visible when a woman places her safety at risk (with surgery, for example). But even then, I have a hard time getting too judgmental when a woman who has breast fed her children gets a breast augmentation because she wants to feel like a woman again (because several children left her feeling…..flat…).
    This has certainly generated much discussion!! Thanks for this.

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    • Bridge: thanks for writing and sharing your experiences. The question of why–intention-is certainly key. And I appreciate your introduction of risk as a major factor to consider; thus distinguishing the applying of, say, an FDA-approved eyeliner from cosmetic surgery to the eyes. And I like your point about even here not rushing to judgment – there are some procedures that are so routine we forget that they are indeed cosmetic/enhancement-based; for example, many parents pay for their children to get braces (and these are painful and expensive). In some cases, proper alignment of teeth is tied to health – i.e., proper bite and jaw alignment. But in many other cases, it’s simply that we as a culture have decided that we like the look of straight vs. crooked teeth.

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  11. Coming from the standpoint of a panentheist, it is very difficult for me to engage in a discussion where beauty, as a construct, ends up being attached to defining being or feeling “like a woman…” As a woman of a certain age, I am sorely aware of the way that the market plays on women’s insecurities, our need to be accepted by a larger group, or even by unacceptable others (I had one experience with this), to look “unblemished”… (I chuckle and remember Edgar Allan Poe’e poem Ligeia… probably rendered genderless by hallucinogenics, Poe wrote a warning to women). Sorry, as an older ecofeminist and panentheist, I feel somewhat lost after this last post. Are not we, the women of today, defining what it means to be a woman to others? The meaning of “beautiful” also, to be defined by women, the mother/creatrix of men… I hope I am no less women because of the many blemishes in this body… I have dedicated most of my life to having a less blemished mind, heart and spirit. From what I hear in this society, this body was probably obsolete after I had my first child. The question of who am I, when the body is more like a dear and honored tool, and less of a focus of attraction may be open or close an intergenerational feminists dialogue. (nothing against being the focus of attraction for the right reasons, the unblemished woman can attract those who do not see past the surface…). Maybe I am showing my age. Hope the dialogue remains open.

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  12. Thanks to all of you for being authentic. I appreciate this ongoing discussion, and hope that my being critical, to some extent, preserves the spirit of gratitude that I have for this fundamental topic where beauty and the sacred merges for most of us.

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    • Vrinda – to both of your posts; thank you for being authentic and sharing. Let me sum up what I feel in two basic points:

      (1) As feminists, we are right to continue to interrogate the unrealistic beauty standards that popular culture, the media, society, etc. continues to hold against women–critique it for encouraging consumption, obsession with youth, eating disorders, and so forth. But here then comes my question (and where my post really began): now what? Is the “only” proper feminist response to unrealistic expectations of beauty a total shunning of participation in (what I called) “beauty culture”? And if not, how does one discern what aspects to participate in and which to avoid?

      (2) What my post did not discuss, but what I’ll take up here, is this: I would much rather do the type of thing that you are suggesting (in your first point), detach “beauty” from “womanhood” than try to deconstruct or democratize “beauty” entirely so that the word becomes meaningless. I’d say the same thing about other qualities or traits: intelligence, creativity, athleticism, humor, etc. In other words, it is more in line with my theological convictions, my Confucian “rectification of names” tendencies, and my observations in life to preserve the meaning of terms without tying self-worth to them. For example, not everyone is funny, but even those who are not still have tremendous value. Not everyone is creative, but even the artistically-challenge are of inestimable worth, etc. So, too, with beauty–as you suggest, even those who do not meet society’s standards of beauty are no less of women as those who do and most definitely, their worth should remain intact indeed!

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  13. Yes, let’s avoid any notion that beauty means being “blemish-free”. Is it not the imperfection that at times makes a work of art more enticingly beautiful? My processing of all of this very human, authentic dialogue is to receive whatever unique manifestation(s) of beauty–body, mind & spirit–come our way, enjoying them as reflections of the Divine but without being over-identified with any one of them knowing that they ebb and flow and are always in the process of change. Finding beauty in just being an ever-changing life form participating in the larger cycle of Life… and making sure that whatever “edits” we choose to make are only to enhance what is already truly ours.

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    • Emily: I love where you are going with this! Let me add a clarification. My 2 and 4-year old children don’t have liver spots like I do–obviously, that’s a function of their age (relative to mine) and also because I’ve slathered sunscreen on them, while I foolishly basked in the sun in my teenage years because I liked the look of tanned skin. I think it’s perfectly fine for me to say that their skin is more beautiful than mine (but to reassert, as I did in my previous comment to Vrinda, that beauty should be disconnected to self-worth or self-esteem).

      Your point about imperfection is dead-on: beauty doesn’t have to reside in something like symmetry nor does it have to connect to something like flawlessness. I knew someone who had a large (1 inch or so) reddish birthmark on her neck; she was a beautiful women (body, mind, and spirit) and in my judgment the birthmark only added to her attractiveness!

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  14. Ditto on the sunscreen. Can’t bear to think about the baby oil my sisters and I slathered on our skin. Now we apply sunscreen religiously to our kids and ourselves too, dare I admit not just for health reasons but for some vanity too?

    Beauty, it has a vain face, but yet it points beyond itself, doesn’t it?, to something transcendent? Often it is just a glimpse, something that evokes a sigh or a longing, a hint of perfection that reminds you that life is good and everything has its blessing to offer the world. This conversation is reminding me of a book I read while touring the breathtaking beauty of the national parks. Our souls do need beauty it seems, we just don’t always know where to look and often we miss what is right before our eyes.

    http://www.amazon.com/Beauty-Invisible-Embrace-John-ODonohue/dp/0060196432

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    • Emily: thanks for the book tip; I’m always looking for books to add to my summer reading list; and yes, I love your point about sunscreen serving both health and vanity reasons; so much of what we do is overdetermined and also “hidden” behind health (as Angelina pointed out in her reply – yes, many of us work out for cardiovascular health, strength training, stress reduction, etc. but ALSO to maintain a certain body size; that’s not to say that the latter rationale is unjustifiable, it’s that we should always be honest about the many reasons why we do (or don’t do) certain activities!

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  15. We can add or create beauty wherever we go, from simple to complex, rituals are events of beauty. We tend to forget that we move from one ritual to another in our daily lives, and every ritual in our daily life can be a time for beauty…

    Thank you Emily for beautifully expressing wisdom and a flow of experiences in poetic cadence, “receive whatever unique manifestation(s) of beauty–body, mind & spirit–come our way, enjoying them as reflections of the Divine but without being over-identified with any one of them knowing that they ebb and flow and are always in the process of change.”

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  16. Beauty is the great gift of bounteious earth. There is very little in nature that is not beautiful. Do we make exceptions for human beings and start deciding that only some kinds of people or some ages are beautiful?

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  17. Yes, sadly we do. Nature is indeed our best teacher. No phD, no life-coaching, no beauty magazines or self-help books, no bible studies, no make-up, no nips and tucks or “need” for protection against the sun, a rose knows how to simply be a rose… a tree a tree… a dog a dog… A rose doesn’t complain when it starts to lose its petals, a tree its leaves; both give off a beauty throughout the life cycle. If nature had the gift/burden of agency, would it try like us try to hold onto its petals a little longer? Enhance it’s color? And have mid-life crises that prompt these existential ?’s

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  18. The only importance here in regard to beauty is how “YOU” feel as a woman about yourself. Other women and men will always find reason to criticize. I have come to find people may not always like the way I look but what they do notice is how I carry myself. I care about who I am and love myself to much, that others opinions are not as important to me. Yes I have had younger males bad mouth me and not know who I am just to be mean, but the minute I say something straight to their face, they realize they barked up wrong tree. Males are the first to innate criticism about a woman’s size and look.

    I’ve never been into vanity per se, but I care how I look for me, as it makes me feel good. I’ve come to observe white women carry the most weight of insecurity in regard to their looks, especially as they age. You can have all the plastic surgery in the world but your still, going to get old and so are the people around you. I only follow my own norms of what is important to me, not to everyone else, if I did then I would be existing to please others and not myself.

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  19. I really enjoyed reading this article, mainly because I feel this is a topic that many feminists disagree on. As a feminist, I feel that women should do whatever makes them feel happy, and confident in being a woman. If that means wearing makeup, not wearing makeup, etc. We should have the freedom to express ourselves however we choose. I also think women should dress for themselves, and not focus on the way men, or women might see them. For myself, I dress the way that makes me happy, and I wear the amount of makeup I want because it is a personal choice. I try not to let other people’s opinions matter when it comes to the way I want to present myself. I know there is pressure from our society to look a certain way, with plastic surgery, botox, and other ways to alter ones body- women are pressured to look “attractive”. I say screw that, and choose the way you want to look. Don’t let others influence how you dress or the amount of makeup you wear. Confidence is the true beauty in a woman.

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    • Confidence is indeed key; as an ethicist I would add to complexify the considerations that goes into efforts to improve one’s physical appearance, but no doubt personal happiness and satisfaction needs to be seriously considered as an important factor!

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  20. Zareena – thanks for taking the time to comment; thanks also for raising the point that effort put on one’s outward appearance can have multiple audiences — men, women, oneself!

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  21. this is such an interesting topic. it is something that i believe all women deal with, whether they wear make up or not. beauty culture is a huge part of society, and being in the society, it affects everyone in someway or another. i also feel the “answer” to this topic is quite difficult as well. if one doesnt participate in beauty culture, its almost as if they are making a stand against it, (or so it might appear.) if you do participate in it, are you anti feminist, or vain, or insecure? i participate in beauty culture but dont feel i am a part of any definition i listed above, but i am also A PART of this very culture. can i see this topic clearly? would i care about how i looked if i were not a part of this particular culture? the society you are a part of can define you in some sense, and i think that applies to this subject. to be a feminist to me is to bring to light that women are human, and beauty culture, or vanity, is a part of our human condition. Eleanor Humes Haney says “as feminists, our primary responsibility is the liberation of and by women……the specific agendas of liberation will appropriately vary around the world, and we can support as well as critique one another’s agenda. loyalty to one another and to all that is, demands no less.”(7) all we can do is support each other, discuss difference of opinions on such matters, and respect everyone view from where they stand.

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