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  1. #1
    Senior Member Viridian's Avatar
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    Default "In defense of fake beauty" (article)

    An article I found interesting from feminist website The F Word:

    http://www.thefword.org.uk/features/...efence_of_fake

    Recently I had the misfortune to catch an episode of a programme called Snog, Marry, Avoid.

    You might have heard of it; as a trailblazing champion of 'natural beauty', it delivers a smug weekly package of body-policing wrapped up in tasteful matching colours. A young woman takes us on a tour of her wardrobe and beauty routines, usually involving copious amounts of fake tan, eyeliner and sequins (occasionally, in the interest of diversity, the show features a camp man). She or he meets Pod, a snarky robot who proceeds to explain why every aspect of their taste and style is tacky, fake and disgusting, backed up by members of the public opining on just how grossly undesirable and slaggy they look.

    This is followed by an extensive make-under, designed, supposedly, to reveal its object's natural beauty under all that gunk, transforming the women into an image of demure femininity more palatable to the public taste.

    The ultimate purpose of the project seems to be to assure women that, if only they'd present themselves nicely, some anonymous men on the street might be generous enough to marry them. Which, as we all know, is every girl's dream.

    In capitalism's ever-evolving vocabulary of domination over our bodies, the make-under is an clever little piece of marketing: "I was never here," it whispers. "I only want to help you uncover your natural self," it promises. And you certainly wouldn't want to go around looking unnatural, would you?

    'Natural' beauty slyly requires us to use just enough makeup, spending just enough money and putting in just enough effort to convince people there was never any money or effort or makeup involved.

    And, as it turns out, such an achievement doesn't come particularly cheap, or particularly easy. The cult of natural beauty does not, in reality, ask us to strip away our feminine 'fakery', but rather to make our fakery more subtle and more convincing, which requires ever more expertise, ever more specialised products, and ever more anxiety about getting it wrong. A dress that doesn't flatter her, an uneven streak of foundation, a dodgy hair dye job: signs of failure, mocked because they signal ineptness at mastering our image - the ultimate sin of womanhood.

    In a society of compulsive airbrushing, saturated with images of impossible perfection, the notion of embracing a more natural - a more realistic - image of ourselves may seem instinctively appealing to a feminist sensibility.

    But we would do well to think carefully about the assumptions that structure such aesthetic categories. Natural has never really signified an intrinsic pre-cultural quality. As the process of the make-under so aptly demonstrates, what we call 'natural' is only ever a different mode of artifice, produced within society's power-structures and equipped with its own set of cultural codes and meanings.

    To talk about natural beauty is to naturalise a specific form of beauty, and naturalisation is always a process of privileging and exclusion.

    We live in a culture where the natural is made synonymous with the real, the authentic, the true and, by implication, the good. We live in a culture that still persuasively naturalises inequality, and we live in a culture where deviations from 'natural' states of gender and sexuality are met with heavy penalties.

    Society's unnaturals are forced to constantly work at convincing it that they're real enough and honest enough to be accepted into its fold: that they were "born this way", that they have an authentic, immutable origin of identity (a gene, a brain structure, a hormone) and a doctor's note to prove it. All this is demanded of them in order to validate their very existence, and still they are regarded with brutal suspicion.

    When it comes to feminine beauty, the stakes are not quite so high, but similar assumptions are woven tightly into the disparagement of fakery.

    Dictionary definitions of the word 'cosmetic' are twofold: the term signifies beauty and adornment, but also superficiality and deception. Our cultural discourse on femininity, one may note, is pervaded by the very same pair of ideas. In reality, the trend towards 'natural' makeup and dress - fashion that flatters, that covers, that airbrushes away the unseemly bits of our bodies - is perhaps more insidiously oppressive than the garish tastes of the Snog, Marry, Avoid targets.

    This is certainly not to suggest that the industries of glitter and hair-dye are free from problems of consumerist pressure, insecurity and marginalisation. But the most striking aspect of the show's subjects is their brash self-confidence. Each professes a deep attachment to the accoutrements of her 'fakery' and a reluctance to give them up.

    On the whole, these do not seem like people who spend hours agonising over which dress will most effectively mask their bellies or whether their foundation is a convincingly even shade; they revel in their own fakery, thoroughly enjoy embellishing and exaggerating the image of themselves that they are sold.

    The women are loud, hyper-real versions of the femininity to which we are all supposed to aspire, and the disdain with which our culture drenches them is a telling indictment of its own narratives.

    What we have is not a war against fakery, it is a war against that which displays itself as fakery; we're all supposed to be pretending that we're naturally wide-eyed and soft-skinned and blushing and blemish-free. Women are expected to be photorealist portraits of femininity, not expressionist canvasses; lies are tolerated only in so far as they are told convincingly. But when we start being too overt about the fabricated status of natural femininity, there's a lurking danger that we might start to question their absurdity, or realise that we can invent altogether new images in radical moulds.

    Perhaps, then, instead of demonising fakery, we should embrace a proliferation of artifice, in a style that refuses to acknowledge the existence of any such thing as 'natural'.

    Fashion and cosmetics can often seem close bedfellows of consumerism and marginalisation, but nonetheless, fashion as an aesthetic field provides a uniquely frank view of the fact that beauty has a history, that self-expression is not spontaneous but culturally determined.

    Traditionalist aesthetics always deals in oppressive universals. In fashion, nothing is intransigent, no beauty is transcendental, everything has a material existence and a social position: this month's hideous mistake can be next month's bold statement. Style and beauty are produced, discarded and reinvented with startling rapidity and, in such a climate, the very notion of the natural can be seen for what it really is: just another aesthetic category, its signs every bit as carefully fabricated as the most flamboyant artifice.

    It is this aspect of fashion and cosmetics, perhaps, that can put them in the service of transformative ideals. A radical aesthetic of the body would not coerce us to 'flatter' and flatten ourselves into a tasteful range of shapes and styles; it can provide, instead, a space to adorn them, to perform them and invent them and challenge what they signify.
    Interesting... Sounds like a post-modern concept of beauty.

    I have a few thoughts about the article, but I'd rather hear what you guys think about it. Agree? Disagree? Only partially? Why?
    Tentative typing: ISFJ 6w5 or 9w1 (Sp/S[?]).

  2. #2
    Blah Orangey's Avatar
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    This is certainly not to suggest that the industries of glitter and hair-dye are free from problems of consumerist pressure, insecurity and marginalisation. But the most striking aspect of the show's subjects is their brash self-confidence. Each professes a deep attachment to the accoutrements of her 'fakery' and a reluctance to give them up.

    On the whole, these do not seem like people who spend hours agonising over which dress will most effectively mask their bellies or whether their foundation is a convincingly even shade; they revel in their own fakery, thoroughly enjoy embellishing and exaggerating the image of themselves that they are sold.
    So, the argument seems to be that because everything is fake (even what the cosmetic industry would have us believe is "natural beauty"), then there is no such thing as "natural" or "real." Thus we should embrace artifice because (1) if we believe hard enough, it can be authentic and empowering, and (2) by taking it to extremes, we can indirectly reveal the absurdity of dominant messages about femininity.

    To me, this seems to be the same as saying that since we can't beat them, let's just join them and take things to their logical conclusion, at which point it might be revealed that it was all bullshit to begin with. I have serious problems with this because (1) it seems like a pipe-dream, (2) it sounds like apologia for dominant interests, and (3) it gets away from structural critique and more towards being bogged down in subjectivism (e.g., if I don't feel oppressed by having ten guys cum on my face, then Bukkake is not an oppressive practice!)
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  3. #3
    & Badger, Ratty and Toad Mole's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Viridian View Post
    An article I found interesting from feminist website.
    I have a few thoughts about the article, but I'd rather hear what you guys think about it. Agree? Disagree? Only partially? Why?
    What women are loath to admit is that they mimic arousal to actually arouse the male.

    This gives women the upper hand, as when men are aroused, they are susceptible to suggestion, while the woman remains fully awake and in command of herself and the situation.

    So female 'beauty', natural or not, is the mimicking of arousal for advantage.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Viridian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Orangey View Post
    So, the argument seems to be that because everything is fake (even what the cosmetic industry would have us believe is "natural beauty"), then there is no such thing as "natural" or "real." Thus we should embrace artifice because (1) if we believe hard enough, it can be authentic and empowering, and (2) by taking it to extremes, we can indirectly reveal the absurdity of dominant messages about femininity.

    To me, this seems to be the same as saying that since we can't beat them, let's just join them and take things to their logical conclusion, at which point it might be revealed that it was all bullshit to begin with. I have serious problems with this because (1) it seems like a pipe-dream, (2) it sounds like apologia for dominant interests, and (3) it gets away from structural critique and more towards being bogged down in subjectivism (e.g., if I don't feel oppressed by having ten guys cum on my face, then Bukkake is not an oppressive practice!)
    That's what I meant by post-modern. To me, it sounds kinda like "Let's embrace those standards - but ironically!". I might be misinterpreting it, though...
    Tentative typing: ISFJ 6w5 or 9w1 (Sp/S[?]).

  5. #5
    darkened dreams labyrinthine's Avatar
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    My first reaction is that there is also the option of not wearing make-up and buying clothes at thrift stores and wearing them for years. You can also just run a brush through your hair in the morning. These are all more possibilities to explore.
    Step into my metaphysical room of mirrors.
    Fear of reality creates myopic morality
    So I guess it means there is trouble until the robins come
    (from Blue Velvet)

    I want to be just like my mother, even if she is bat-shit crazy.

  6. #6
    Blah Orangey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Viridian View Post
    That's what I meant by post-modern. To me, it sounds kinda like "Let's embrace those standards - but ironically!". I might be misinterpreting it, though...
    No, that's exactly it. I tend not to like that pomo shit.
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  7. #7
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    tl;dr

  8. #8
    Senior Member Viridian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Orangey View Post
    No, that's exactly it. I tend not to like that pomo shit.
    Yeah, I found it kind of odd that fia's suggestion:

    Quote Originally Posted by fia View Post
    My first reaction is that there is also the option of not wearing make-up and buying clothes at thrift stores and wearing them for years. You can also just run a brush through your hair in the morning. These are all more possibilities to explore.
    ...was not explored by the article. I did think the "natural vs. appearing 'natural' through even more painstaking work" point was worth exploring, though. It's like two articles in one.

    I guess I just assumed I had missed something.
    Tentative typing: ISFJ 6w5 or 9w1 (Sp/S[?]).

  9. #9
    Senior Member Moonstone3's Avatar
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    I agree that 'natural' primping requires an equal, if not more, amount of effort. To me, the difference is this: Enhancing natural beauties is someone else telling you what your best qualities are and directing you to enhance them. This is because they can see from the outside-something you cannot do. Overdone/Exaggerated/Loud adornments are usually things we feel, as individuals, come from our core and we are not concerned with how they appear from the outside.
    I like certain colors-blacks, reds, blues, etc. I wear them because the color is awesome, not because they make me look thinner. I do not wish to obsess over my projection to other people. I am much more concerned with my image of myself, and how it resonates with my inner core.
    All in all, I think that any person that knows who they are and how they want to dress/appear has the right to do so. NO ONE should be made over, unless they seek it out. Does this show belittle people into thinking they are wrong about their ideas. Ideas that hurt no one. Free ideas. Entitled to them by their creator.
    I don't know where society gets all this 'natural' talk, either. I guess they mean natural-like a baby when it's first born. That does not appeal to me. They are still judging skin imperfections and the like-which may be totally natural for some people. Acne IS natural. Most people do go through it.
    Since the dawn of time, people have had tattoos, worn huge elaborate hoop earrings, and dyed their clothes to wear colors of the Earth.
    If we're going to be natural, then we should all walk around naked, too. Because that's natural. To me, all this natural talk is just another ploy to calm down the rebels and make everyone drones.
    What is normal to one, is incomprehensible to another.

    ALL anger in this world stems from a lack of control.


    All of reality bows to the illusion of life and death.

  10. #10
    Blah Orangey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Viridian View Post
    I did think the "natural vs. appearing 'natural' through even more painstaking work" point was worth exploring, though.
    It's certainly true that the idea of striving to appear "natural" is both (1) fundamentally absurd and (2) a symptom of a patriarchal society which seeks to control women's bodies and behaviors. So, yes, the Snookies of the world get policed because their over-the-top look is just as much a failure to conform [to what is asserted, at this time at least, to be how a "real, natural" woman looks] as a woman who chooses to wear no make-up.

    Where the article goes wrong, IMO, is when it starts to prop up the "radical, transformative" power of the over-the-top use of make-up over the critique inherent in choosing to wear no make-up (which is why, I think, they failed to mention the no make-up option, because, like, that's for prudes!) The latter is an opt-out of the system while the former, for all its transgressiveness, is still an opt-in. That's why I originally said that they must be formulating this entire argument around the fundamental idea that there is no such thing as an opt-out; everything is artifice, and the sooner we embrace it the better we'll be able to combat false ideas such as "natural beauty." I think that's where, like you said, it's like there are two articles in here; one with a structural critique of the deceptive use of "natural," and another cynically denying altogether that we can ever get around the deception...except with further deception...all while hoping that this will reveal, not the truth, but rather that there is no truth, so anyone saying that they have it is a liar.

    I really, really don't like pomo bullshit (and this article does it wrong, anyway, because it wants too much. That's the problem with using this shit as a rhetorical and philosophical springboard for anything having to do with liberation of any sort.) It's incoherent, impotent for the purposes of knowledge and critique, and just...really fucking boring.
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