Are Women Addicted to Beauty?

Tom Matlack asked 12 women about their understanding of women’s relationship with beauty. Why did he hear almost nothing in response?

I like to believe I am a student of popular culture. Unlike most of my straight guy friends, I watch pretty much all the award shows (Amy Poehler stole the Emmys Sunday night, as far as I am concerned, with that spontaneous pageant routine during the best actress in a comedy award). I also have grudgingly become knowledgeable about beauty and fashion. As a columnist focused on manhood, I have certainly written and thought a lot about how men mistreat women and the ways in which we all need to rethink what it means to be good.

But my thinking has hit a bit of a stumbling block when it comes to women and beauty. My observation from talking to women of a wide variety of backgrounds and interests is that much of what happens in the general category of women and beauty is completely divorced from men. Sure there are bathing suits that require women to shave parts of their body not meant to be shaved and shoes with heels that only a member of Cirque du Soleil could handle without breaking an ankle. No doubt there are still magazines filled with women in compromising positions pushing beauty product.

My question, though, is who is the real audience here? Most guys I know would prefer to see their wife or girlfriend in jeans and a t-shirt. Red carpet dresses, the ones on which many women are fixated, look like space suits to the male eye. We are trained to say the right thing about all kinds of things that are “girl cute” but really have no bearing on whether or not, from a male perspective, a woman is attractive.

Don’t get me wrong. I am perfectly willing to accept that male oppression is alive and well when it comes to pornography, sex trafficking, and all kinds of bad shit that I and others at GMP have written about extensively. But when it comes down to female beauty itself and the massive fashion industry from magazines, to television shows, to store after store after store, I just don’t see it. Men don’t care about the stuff over which women obsess.  There’s a disconnect. And while the connection between sexual exploitation and obsession with beauty is obvious, I can’t really raise a hand on behalf of men for all that has become a female addiction to beauty. I think there is certainly some part that women are doing to themselves in which we really have no involvement.

At least, I think it is worth asking whether or not that is true.

♦◊♦

Rather than speculate in my own little brain about this issue, I figured I would ask a dozen women who work in fashion or are media people related to the fashion industry in some way. They are all folks who comment frequently on GMP and with whom I generally have an open dialogue about pretty much anything. So I sent them this summary of my question:

I have written a lot about the acceleration of pornography and the sex trade in our country and its impact on both boys and girls. I am currently researching and just trying to get my arms around a related but different question: what is the relationship between the fashion industry and our concepts of gender? Specifically, how does fashion relate to the more obvious ways in which female sexuality is objectified?

The thing I am beginning to try to unpack is just how much of fashion occurs in an orbit that is unrelated to men. I am thinking of things like handbags, shoes, and the red carpet. Men truly don’t care or see it as a form of female sexuality. Many women care a lot.

I asked some specific questions about Alexander McQueen, handbags, the red carpet, fashion magazines, the potential innate differences between men and women, and the demise of female models as superstars.

What did I heard back? Crickets. No one wanted to take me on. Perhaps it was summer. Perhaps my outgoing email is overwhelming. Perhaps my supposed friends are sick of me. Or perhaps I hit a chord. Not sure.

The only response I got right away read:

As I’m sure you know, there are plenty of women who couldn’t care less about any of this shit.

The women you describe are alien creatures to me. Perhaps you’re not looking at “women” but at a particular demographic that involves a certain age and a certain level of money and leisure that does not include most of us?

A week later I got an answer that really puzzled me, given my preamble about having written about sexual exploitation and pornography a lot (which I have):

I would love to have you talk about the fact that in many cities in this country there is a massive sex slavery trade of immigrant women. The FBI estimates that thousands of women every year are smuggled into the US and held in sex slave operations. Only men, good men can change this. Does a guy really know, when he gets super horny or wants to do something that his wife won’t do (that he probably saw on a porn video) that the woman he is paying, really chose this for herself?

Wow, so the answer to a question about the fashion industry is sex trafficking even when I explicitly point out I am asking about something different? “Only men, good men can change this.” That line leaves me speechless. It implies that all men are guilty by association and women are completely powerless.

I have met a lot of women working damn hard to end sex trafficking who are very effective. I believe sex trafficking is despicable. That’s why I have written about it as often as I have. (Here, here, and here.) But to lay the whole issue at men’s feet is gender war talk, and it is disturbing when I am trying to understand what, if any, role women themselves play in the beauty obsession and trap. Maybe I don’t know, but talking more about sex slaves doesn’t illuminate much.

♦◊♦

I did finally get one response that made some sense to me (I have yet to hear from the other nine women):

It’s a way for a woman to feel both sexy AND protected. Women are in this peculiar “dance” with their sexuality. High-end fashion says, “Hey, you can look but you can’t touch.” It is telling people (mostly men, but sometimes other women) she’s a member of a club they can only get into with exclusive permission.

This writer went on:

For women, beauty (and fashion) have their own “tipping point.” A certain amount of things have to be taken care of for a woman to look “beautiful.” That’s why when someone says “she let herself go” — it means she hasn’t “tipped” into the beauty category. Or stopped tipping. So a handbag may not seem important AT ALL. But to a women who is obsessed with beauty, she can’t take the risk that it’s not right.

I have been drop-dead gorgeous twice in my life. Once from 17-24, once from 42-44. And it was all the same cycle. Beauty is an addiction. That’s why I’m not anymore.

♦◊♦

I am not a women. I can’t really say if beauty is an addiction. Where I come from, addiction is a self-diagnosed disease. But from the outside it makes a certain amount of sense. I see women spending endless time on things that to most men seem insane (another trademark of addiction).

I do think it perfectly appropriate to ask what originally caused this potential addiction. Is it male objectification of the female form that forces women to contort themselves in ways that even men see as odd at best and annoying at worst?

I don’t know the answer, but I think it is worth asking the question, even if no one seems to want to respond to it.

Photo Art Comments/Flickr

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More on Women’s Obsession with Beauty

Chasing Beauty: An Addict’s Memoir

Her Looks, Your Status: Why His Claims Not to Care About Beauty Ring Hollow

The Ugly Duckling as a Gender-Neutral Beauty Ideal

About Tom Matlack

Thomas Matlack is a venture capitalist.

Comments

  1. Also, the question you mailed out to those very busy women? There’s this thing? Called Google? That like, you can use to search out the oh, several hundred at least articles written by internet feminists on all aspects of this very topic where you could have found oodles of tidbits for your ‘research’.

    If you actually took the trouble to read what feminists have been writing about and discussing for years, then you could have written an actual article, instead of whining how those nasty feminists were ignoring you and sending you nonsensical* replies.

    *And by ‘nonsensical’ I actually mean ‘totally appropriate in light of your self-imposed obliviousness’.

  2. Dude, listen to yourself:

    “Only men, good men can change this.” That line leaves me speechless. It implies that all men are guilty by association and women are completely powerless.

    Yes. Exactly. It is men who are purchasing and raping trafficked women.
    What it takes to stop trafficking is for men to stop buying it. Women are basically powerless to stop rapists. There is nothing you can do, nothing you can wear, no place you can go that will prevent you from being raped. Rapists have to stop raping, for rape to stop. 99% of rapists are men. I ask you, what percent of men are rapists?
    So, yes: If you are a man and not telling your buddies to stop raping already, then you are guilty by association.

    Is it male objectification of the female form that forces women to contort themselves …?

    Yes. If you need more information, google ‘patriarchy’.

    That is all.

  3. I can only speak for myelf but i have to admit that i am absolutely obsessed with my beauty, though i`d say that i dont consciously think about it all day long. i do only feel convident leaving the house when i feel pretty which doesnt require a lot of makeup. it is some kind of hard to explain but i want to smell good, have glowing skin, shiny hair, my nails done my makeup done my clothing (which i am also obsessed about) thought-out….but at the same time it is supposed to look effortless. i spen so much time with skin care but it makes me feel good, like ive done the most of myself and my beauty. OK whatever haha 🙂

  4. OnTheOtherHand says:

    I wonder if there aren’t just different forces a play that can explain the contradictions? Women’s appearance, beauty, and sexuality have been made into a big deal throughout history. Even if there is more equality and women are seen as equal and complete human beings a women’s appearance still carries a great deal of cache. And that cache, I believe, was largely created by oppression, patriarchy, and sexism. And so now we have different parties who want to affect and control that cache. Perhaps women want to take back ownership of their own appearance/cache and so adorn themselves in ways that don’t make sense to men and that’s the point. But this cache is not completely free from the influence of men and their preferences and so you can still see that. And then you have the fashion industry that makes money by praying on the insecurities underlying that cache to keep women buying and tied to their version of what’s in and hot and fashionable.

  5. kimberly s. says:

    This article is great. It really opens up the many facets of answers to the questions revolving around male/female beauty and appreciation. I actually wrote an article myself which touches on (kind of) the same question, read it in the link i’ve posted below- it is titled “What Does it Mean to be a Woman (outside the context of man)?”

    as a woman who strives to see the beauty in myself and other woman from an inner/soul position, i have to admit that i LOVE spending money on expensive, pretty, shit.

    It must be said, though, that pretty, fashionable expensive shit on a rude, bitchy and judgmental woman only looks like shit. put the two gaudy and flashy gemstone rings i recently bought off the home shopping network on a woman with a sincere smile on her face to go with her sweet personality, and anything she touches is beautiful.

    anyway, anyone who loved this article, feel free to read mine at
    http://breathemovebewell.com/blog

    ks

  6. I have heard all kinds of men profess to prefer their women in jeans and t-shirts… and I have heard few of those men say a word about the looks of a woman who is dressed in jeans and a t-shirt with flat shoes and no makeup, and most of them praise the appearance of a woman who has gone to some trouble to look beautiful. I’m sure it’s not intentional hypocrisy, but it’s not something any woman with two brain cells to rub together fails to notice. And it’s not just men: women treat you differently when you take some care with your appearance. Should we be self-assured enough not to need validation from others? Of course. Is being treated with greater courtesy and kindliness and even as if you are more intelligent addictive? You bet. Are other women the target audience of certain specific items like designer purses? Absolutely.

    I guess my thoughts on all of this are summed up pretty well by a quote from a recent Pervocracy blog posting: Femininity and masculinity are things to be practiced as consensual kinks.

    • OnTheOtherHand says:

      I also regularly see how women who ‘do themselves up’ get more outward attention and gestures from both men and women and get approached more often and the like. However, I don’t think it is just that women are rewarded when they partake in this. I’m a guy, and I have been scolded numerous times by women for NOT commenting or drawing attention or making a fuss when a women dresses ‘up’ in some way. So I tend to think of this ‘doing up’ as a signal, a signal that can mean a lot of different things at different times or the same time, but still a signal. And women are active participants in whether or not they are giving a signal.
      So if a guy is considering approaching two women, one made-up and the other not, I can easily see how the guy tends toward the women who is made-up, in part because that signal of being made-up can be reasonably read (whether true or not) as a signal of their openness to approach because 1) in their own choices they have already acknowledged and established a connection to the public and 2) being made-up is more in line with (old) gender roles and dating is still very strongly connected to gender roles (and also helps suggests how to interact).
      I am a guy who prefers dating women who are capable and ready to interact with the world at hand and that (to me, visually) often means jeans, flat shoes, no makeup, etc. yet I don’t praise the appearance of women when they do this, but neither do I praise women who are dressed ‘up’ in some way. I make a concerted effort to stay out of the business of praising a women’s appearance. And I think it’s off base to suggest that men should start praising women in jeans, etc. because it still makes it about their appearance. In the very rare instances I have said anything about a women’s appearance it has been to a women made up in some way but the context and the signal suggested I had to say something and I hated doing it. But I don’t mean to suggest that this speaks for other men.

  7. With due respect, I think your initial email — at least the excerpt — wasn’t very clear in the questions it wanted to explore. I also think there’s some unintentional sexism in wondering why (some) women are obsessed with fashion/beauty if men aren’t pressuring them into it; women have interests, both healthy and unhealthy, that have nothing to do with men. The most fashion-obsessed women I know could not care less about what men think about their style choices. But I also think fashion and beauty are two distinct things.

    Beauty, though… Of course men play a role in the pressure to look beautiful. Like others have said, I receive much more male attention when I look traditionally pretty than when I don’t. Long hair, for instance, garners me far more glances than a gamine short cut ever has. Covering my under-eye circles, having the appearance of clear skin and rosy cheeks, looking younger than my age — all of these things signal “pretty,” and on some lizard-brain level, fertility. Men may not feel that they contribute to the beauty obsession of some women, but they do, because many men pay more attention to traditionally pretty women than to homely women. Women notice this. Some don’t care; others do.

    And it just gets harder for women as we age. We live in a culture that, if it’s not ignoring aging women, is mocking them for not being 22 anymore — so no wonder some women feel the need to look “perfect” as much as possible. When things like securing a mate and advancing in one’s career are tied to the way a woman looks (and they most certainly are) you can surely understand why some women spend copious amounts of money and time trying to compete.

  8. Hi there.

    My sympathies for the remarkably poor answers to your questions.

    I’ve had conversations with my female friends many times about this. Yes, it happens, heterosexual women do dress for other women. And, themselves. This is does not exclude dressing for men. I will take equal care of my physical appearance if I am going for dinner with my women friends or a man I am interested in. Fashion and beauty are (sadly) a very large part of (some) women’ s interactions.

    Why? Well, I am sure the massive advertising industry dedicated to selling women all kinds of beauty products might just be related to this issue. But its also societal. From when we are very young we here “what a pretty dress you have on” “what a cute girl you have”, and this doesn’t end. People rarely go around telling me how nice, thoughtful, generous, intelligent, humble (or any other important character trait). They do tell me I look fabulous though. And this is women and men. Friends, family, and strangers.

    Is it an addiction? Well shopping is! So I don’t see why not.

    On a side note, if I may, one thing that has always confused me is make up. Some women wear make up ALL the time. They can’t leave their house without it. Others ( minority like myself) never wear it. I don’t even own any of the stuff. I don’t think I am less beautiful because I don’t wear it. I’ve asked people about it, and well, it can be awkward. I don’t want to insult my female friends who do wear it, nor place men in the uncomfortable position of telling me, yes, I would look better with makeup. So I can’t get to the bottom of it. Why the face paint?

    But also, men and women can’t be shoved into such simple categories. I know men who like ‘dolled-up ladies’, I know ladies who love to get dressed up and made up and who consider it very important, I know men who much prefer a girl wakes up and can leave the house quickly and doesn’t buy into the fashion industry. I also know men who are as obsessed with beauty and fashion as the most obsessed girl I know. Why are they hooked?

    I think one of your respondents got it right. In certain circles fashion and beauty are of utmost importance. But not in all circles.

    • I get what you’re saying.

      Though I’d love if some people examined how much they do it out of a genuine “I like doing this” instead of a “All women do this, I don’t want to stand out!” thing.

      I also hardly ever wear make-up. But own lolita fashion dresses for my own interest.

  9. point 1. in nature, males are the well-dressed ones so they can impress the females and therefore be more successful in propagating the species.
    point 2. now that females participate in the modern-day hunting – the necessary occupation of making money so we can feed ourselves – women take on the roles previously reserved for males
    point 3. fashion doesn’t have to be about sexual attractiveness- it’s also a way to compete with or impress other women and gay men, a necessary part of the race for resources
    point 4. when fashion IS about sex, it’s about how wearing something “beautiful” makes a women feel. A good, beautiful handbag, dress, accessory, or whatever thing a man wouldn’t even think to look at, is a pleasure to touch and wear and look at. Touching and wearing something beautiful makes a women FEEL beautiful and puts her in good humor.
    point 5. women (men too) are more sexually attractive when they’re smiling. so when a woman feels beautiful and smiles because of it, she appears more beautiful.
    point 6. there’s a ton of money to be made in fashion and it would be naive to think the Marketing Team hasn’t manufactured demand using manipulation tactics that work well on women.
    point 7: there are so many things in the world that make women feel ugly (including the fashion ind. itself) that now women engage in and obsess over the quest for beauty to preserve their self-image, and therefore the way she appears to others, especially men they might want to attract.

  10. Well fashion and beauty are two different things. It’s beauty that men are interested in and fashion that women (and gay men to some extent) are interested in. To be sure, a relatively plain looking woman can become beautiful given the right application of fashion (which I will include makeup in this), but the type of beauty that men desire is something a woman has or does not have and fashion cannot help her attain. When it’s all said and done, men don’t care about shoes and bags and false eyelashes and the feminine accoutrements of fashion.

    They care about your hair, your eyes, your smile and most importantly how hot your body is. That type of woman is evident independent of whatever paint or costume she is wearing. Fashion helps women believe they can achieve beauty a natural endowment by wearing the right things. Many women often only feel feminine and attractive IF they are wearing the right things.

    Real girls participate in fashion. Adornment is part of the feminine role and it’s done to separate us from the guys. Just like a lot of men believe football, spittin’, NASCAR and beer = masculinity. Femininity = striving to look pretty with makeup clothes accessories and beauty treatments. It’s part of our identity as a woman. We grow up with it. If you deviate from it you are a butch, dyke, nerd, and just pathetic non-woman type creature.

    • Dr Marzipan Souffle says:

      Fashion and beauty are 5000 yr old traditions separating social classes of women.

      Blue collar women don’t have to spend time, and money on makeup and clothes for work. They are efficiency experts w/ performance based on merit.

      White collar women have to spend money, and time appropriate to a formal career environment. These women are required to work w/ style, and specific social standards of dress, based on big box retail designer image. There is no choice. All identity has its price.

      Fashion is an art form of tremendous global growth, volume and profit, with emerging working middle class in thriving economies of China,Russia,India,Brazil,Australia,et al., creating more demand.

      There are more clothes available today than ever before, due to internet merchandising. Many dresses look like space suits to women too, and expose too much of a good thing.

      Men enjoy a simpler life. Women and men have different social roles, and dress appropriately.

      This is a complicated 5000 year old topic. Hope this brief breakdown helps,as a start.

      • pillowinhell says:

        And the changing hem lines are both indicative and predictive of economic boom or bust. Hem lines frequently get shorter just before or during economic downturns. In terms of history, the more fabric you wore the wealthy you were.think of the nine or ten petticoats women wore under their dresses to create the bell shaped skirts. Or that very wealthy women wore dresses made from enough fabric to make three dresses for the serving women. Laces and luxury fabrics were tied to specific aristocratic strata. Called it the sumptuary laws I believe

  11. You say that men don’t care, but, at least in my experience, it makes a huge difference as far as male attention goes. Until the age of 23, I lived “beauty-free” — without expensive clothes, accessories, or cosmetics. I didn’t style my hair or engage in facial depillation. My body also was a lot “closer” to the straight-sized norm: I wore small sizes and had a thin, modelesque figure. And men never paid any attention to me.

    So, I “made over” my image. (Having ah igher paying job helped.) I now wear expensive, designer clothes, use high-end cosmetics, engage in all of the relevant beauty practices (mani/pedi, facials, facial hair removal). I wear make-up daily, I do my hair all the time. I wear heels, carry high-end accessories. And despite significant weight gain, I get more male attention now that I am “beautified” than I ever did before.

    So, I mean. Men might consciously profess that they don’t care, or that it doesn’t matter. Usually, that’s what men tell me. But I do notice that on the days I slip out of the house in jeans and flip flops, with no make up on, etc. the same men I see around my neighborhood every day basically don’t even notice I exist.

    • Tom Matlack says:

      Sabrina I wasn’t saying men don’t care, I was really asking what role men play. Your story and experience are obviously very helpful in answering that.

      • crimsonearth says:

        I think more likely the case is that women use fashion to *feel* sexy and beautiful. A confident woman is usually a more attractive woman, and so engaging in practices that make you feel more beautiful, will make you seem more beautiful, without the clothes and the makeup and the accessories being the object of that acquired beauty. It’s external change to prompt an internal change.

        • perfectbinding says:

          I recently overheard a female friend’s male fuckbuddy tell her that she was “letting herself go” when he discovered she hadn’t shaved her legs in a few days. How could that comment possibly have been about anything other than him telling her that unless she engaged in socially-mandated beauty rituals she was going to become unattractive to him? I’m not saying this guy is a stand-in for all men, but I would never claim that men don’t care about or have no influence on women’s beauty maintenance.

    • My experience is pretty much the same as Sabrina’s, except that I was very late to the party in finding out just how much looks matter to men. I work in several “male dominated” fields and so most of my close associates and friends are men. I heard a lot of bitching from men about how they didn’t understand why women spend 2 hours in the bathroom getting ready to go out, “she looks fine just wearing jeans,” etc. etc. and I believed them, because 1) they were intelligent perceptive guys whom I liked a great deal as human beings, and 2) I felt the same way, personally, about fashion – never cared about it. Felt more comfortable in jeans and T shirts and little or no makeup. So I would agree with them: “Yeah, that’s really stupid. They must be really insecure.”

      But then I started noticing that that these same guys, as much as they enjoyed hanging around with me as a “friend,” never asked me out. They always asked girls out who spent half their life in the bathroom and half their money on makeup and wardrobe. And when I went out in the company of a (more typical) female friend, she was always the one that guys noticed – not me, even though in many cases I had much more in common with these guys, and I’m not shy or socially awkward.

      For a long time, I never let this bother me. I figured “Well, that guy just isn’t the right one for me.” But once I got into my late 30s, it became obvious that I’d been deluding myself. By that time it was really too late for me to suddenly become a beauty queen, and I don’t have any desire to do that anyway. So mostly I’ve just been profoundly saddened by it all and have no idea what to do. It’s not that I think I’m ugly or anything – I just don’t want to spend all my time thinking about it one way or the other, and that is what most women feel compelled to do, and I now understand why.

      I really think that asking women in the fashion industry what they think about all this was exactly the wrong crowd to ask. The fashion industry makes its very living exploiting women’s fears, and on some level they know it. It’s no wonder they wouldn’t talk to you about it. I think that most women aren’t even consciously aware of how much their sense of self worth is tied to their appearance, whether it’s how they look to men or how they look to each other in terms of their social status.

      And most men aren’t aware of it either. It’s something that is deeply ingrained from early childhood (both in boys and girls) and most people never think about it or take any steps to overcome it, and we all lose.

  12. I think you provide a really great insight on beauty. I as a woman personally define the term beautiful (as applied to women) as the quality that appeals to the opposite sex. Quality is a vague word, so it doesn’t necessarily mean everything from outside, neither does it mean absolutely everything from the inside. So I also think going overboard for the outward appearance is ridiculous, much worse is setting a default definition of physical beauty.

    Back in my country there are plenty of women living in poverty (Indonesia), and sex trafficking is not uncommon, but there are plenty of raping incidents in the small islands surrounding Java. There was this recent case about a man getting his 12-year-old daughter pregnant. When imprisoned, he pleaded guilty and gave a reason because he had marital problems with his wife, simply said he seldom gets horny anymore with his wife and he couldn’t help it.

    There was also a recent news about a graduate student doing a research on beauty and went without facing the mirror for a whole year before her wedding, studying how she feels and how different her life became without the insecurities about her appearance (http://newsfeed.time.com/2011/08/31/restrictive-reflection-woman-vows-to-go-one-year-without-mirrors/).

    Truthfully speaking, with the media’s hype about the importance of outward appearance, everyday I face a big challenge when prepping up before I get out of the door. It’s always good to remember that I have a good man as a boyfriend, loves me at first sight but also loves me for who I am.

  13. Anonymous Male says:

    Seems to me that women’s fashion and women’s clothing choices are sometimes about male desire and sometimes not. I find it hard to believe no one considers hetero male desire when marketing mini-skirts, thongs, thigh-high stockings, spaghetti straps, high heels, low-waisted jeans, etc. On the other hand, I don’t think there’s a hetero man alive who is turned on by the expensive designer handbag or the giant bug-eyed sunglasses. (Maybe turned on by wearing them himself, but on women? I doubt it.) If you’re sinking half your paycheck on a boutique handbag or high-end Italian heels, do not blame men for that.

    Also, I don’t think male attraction explains the rapid changes in fashion or the reasons that fads rise and fall so quickly. Sure, supposedly men seek constant novelty, but on the other hand our visual fantasies are fairly well-conserved over time. Old pin-up posters have lost none of their potency. Making pink the new black and black the new pink make no difference to ones gawking. And, male attention doesn’t really explain why the hems of skirts fluctuate up and down over time.

    • Dr Marzipan Souffle says:

      Men have a sense of humor about womens’ clothes,and patience w/ fads.

      Men react physiologically to their environment, including women. The intent behind less fabric is what is in question w/ sexism.

      Women need to live w/ social reality. Fad fashions don’t work everywhere, as teen years of past.

      There’s an implied purpose for adult women in society lost in silly clothes. I’m sure this is confusing to men, as well as the rest of the population.

    • pillowinhell says:

      Male attraction has nothing to do with it. Its status among women. It displays the wealth resources and incredible amount of free time and energy is needed each day to look this way. Just ask the new mother why she’s so disheveled.

  14. In my experience there are some things that are far more about status between women than between women and men. Women are far more vicious, cruel, and attentive in regards to female fashion mistakes than men are. My test on this point has always been for a woman with fresh nail coloring to hold a conversation with a man in which they don’t draw attention to their hands. After five minutes the woman is supposed to hold her hands behind her back and ask the man what color they are. I’ve yet to have a girl tell me a straight man could get it right on more than a guess.

    There is a ton of male social dynamic that has NOTHING to do with women, at least directly, and there is a lot of female time spent NOT concerned directly with men. The woman at the top of the female food chain can have a better pick of the men. There are ways to climb that social ladder that don’t directly involve a man. The best dressed, styled, and made up woman demands the respect of her peers.

    There are many women who “don’t care about that shit”… but they tend to stand aloof from traditional female hierarchies. Men who “don’t care” about traditional male shit like-wise tend to exist outside (or at the bottom) of male hierarchies. I have no doubt the female concern with looks is the root of fashion obsession, and that men have a huge role in why women care about their looks. But women, again, are far harsher than men. That’s why a man won’t notice her new hair cut/dress/earrings but her female friends will. It’s not because he’s an inattentive dunce; those things never mattered to him, why would they suddenly now that they changed? He’ll notice if she gains five pounds or gets breast implants… but most men just don’t care if your shoes clash with your pants. But I’ve stood, awe-struck, as otherwise kind and intelligent women mocked a woman for having a top they thought didn’t match their accessories. I don’t think we can put it all on men.

    • Tom Matlack says:

      I guess MIchael my question is whether or not it’s possible to be yourself in some authentic way, whether male or female, and still be powerful without playing the game? I have seen examples of this and in a weird way it seems to me if you have the courage to stand apart you have more power than if you knuckle under to what is expected.

  15. There was this book I read a few years ago called “Ways of Seeing” by John Berger. In one of the essays, he mentions how women play the roles of both men (the observers) and women (the observed).

    Women are critical of their own appearances because they know their looks are constantly scrutinized. The situation evolves to the point where it has nothing to do with men anymore. It just becomes their self-identity. I have no doubt in my mind that this attitude in women, that persistent self-consciousness, is the driving force behind the fashion industry.

  16. Tom, I have found that the women who are working the hardest to end prostitution and other forms of misogyny are usually the ones who say “only men can stop it.” They aren’t saying it because they think women are powerless. They are saying it because they have been in many situations where people will only listen to men tell the facts about trafficing, they won’t listen to women. They are saying it because other men play a decisive role in men’s attitudes and behavior.

    Lots of research suggests that people will not take a social justice movement seriously until enough members of the privileged group stand together with members of the subordinate group. This dynamic happened in the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, and the gay/lesbian rights movement.

    Tom, I’ve noticed that from time to time, someone recommends that the leaders of The Good Men Project read Allan G. Johnson’s classics, “The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy” and “Privilege, Power, and Difference.” Allan explains concepts like privilege in a way that everyone can understand and shows that having privilege doesn’t mean that you’re evil, that you should wallow in guilt, and that you have an easy, carefree life. He also shows that not having privilege doesn’t mean that you’re good, that you should become a rageaholic, and that you have a miserable life.

    Allan’s books can help this group have a more productive dialogue about power issues between women and men, people of color and whites, and so on. I hope that Allan will someday write articles for The Good Men Project. You ought to ask him to write, “What do we mean when we say male privilege?”

    • Tom Matlack says:

      From the piece, “Sure there are bathing suits that require women to shave parts of their body not meant to be shaved and shoes with heels that only a member of Cirque du Soleil could handle without breaking an ankle.”

      So I am with you on the heels and a variety of other pretty stupid male-induced fashion trends. As a male I actually find it a lot more attractive when a women finds a way to be herself than shoving herself into some uncomfortable silly armor.

    • Tom Matlack says:

      Kath I am sure Lisa would be happy to have you or Allan write on this topic. Drop her a line at the info email address on the home page.

  17. Ah. High heels. That is a bit of an issue, isn’t it. I haven’t put high heels on my (happy) feet since 1998. They’re not comfortable. They’re not good for my feet. And, I refuse to wear them. I do not need my butt to wiggle. My husband (of almost 15 years) would rather me not wear heels. He thinks they’re completely senseless and is glad I don’t. I have several friends who, over the years, tried to convince me that I would be more sexy if I wore heels. I worry about these women. Teetering around on spikes isn’t my idea of what defines “sexy”. (Men haven’t had to wear them for a few centuries now, why the heck should I?) The fact that women have told me I “should” wear heels” makes me sad – for them. Why? Do I want to be in pain 24/7? No. Is this even rational? No. Do I care that I can “practice” walking around on them, so I can walk in them? No. I aim to be intelligent, healthy and strong. I’d also like to be able to walk properly when I’m 78 (that’s 40 years from now). Wearing heels will never be on the list of the things I want to be able to do. And, you know what? One of my guy friends the other day made a point of telling me, and I quote, “I really admire you for sticking to your guns and refusing to wear heels.” I’m not at all sure men really give two hoots weather we’re wearing shiny, expensive stilettos or not. The good ones? They don’t care. And, you know what? I don’t care if they do or not. I dress in classic, comfortable clothes which make me happy. (and, of course, look good on me, which also pleases me and my husband – I am only human, after all). My beauty is in my intelligence and in my smile. And, people will see that, if they really want to. If they don’t, then it’s their loss.

    What really bugs me is that much of this is women doing it to ourselves. And, I am sick and tired of women who just can’t give it up and be themselves and say, you know what? I’m not going to talk about my weight all day. I’m not going to squeeze my feet in those ridiculous shoes. I’m not going to slather stage-makeup on every morning before I can even step three feet outside my house. I am good enough the way I am, and if you (collectively) don’t like it. Too bad.

    Also, I’m sick of seeing botoxed, stick figures on my tv and movie screens.

    Wake up, ladies, if you don’t stand up for yourselves, you’re going to disappear entirely – and the world will not be better for it.

    p.s. Also, I don’t read the “women’s”. I stopped years and years ago. They’re awful. Pick up a Home and Garden, or a National Geographic, or even the local paper if you’re stuck at the dentist for longer than you want to be. Most women’s magazines are poison for the soul.

    • The Wet One says:

      Yeah, I totally agree with you about the “women’s”. I hate standing in line at the grocery store with those magazines. Such useless drivel. Why don’t they have the Atlantic, the New Yorker or magazines on sports (mens or womens), outdoors activities, or science at the till? I’ve never understood why women read this poison.

      That said, I do viscerally understand the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue (though I prefer Ironman’s swimsuit issues myself. Now those women are HOT!). Sigh…

      • Yeah. I get the Swimsuit Issue. But, even they’re all airbrushed into *perfection* also. Plus, they can’t eat and look like blowup dolls, because while we can see their ribs, their breasts are practically popping out of the page (which is the point, I guess) – when you’re simply being judged on your looks (because they are all models) – nothing else matters, really.

        I hate those magazines, especially when I’m forced to stare at Victoria Beckham all the time (I live in New Zealand). Seriously, can we put someone else on the front of these things? She looks like a Pez dispenser these days.

  18. Interesting that the letter in Cary Tennis’ column today is about beauty as well; it’s a topic I think about a lot, as a 46 year old woman who has, like Bec, never been traditionally beautiful. Like you, Tom, I look back at pictures from my teen years and see that I was pretty enough, but I never knew it and wasn’t treated that way. At 46, I like the way I look, but I do recognise the parts of my face, especially, that are not symmetrical or “perfect”, and I have a difficult time finding men to date. We may start out chatting online and they are taken with my wit, intelligence, and accomplishments, but invariably after they ask for a picture, I either don’t hear from them again or they ask for a second picture (to make sure I’m really not pretty enough?), then after I send it, I don’t hear anything else. I don’t know all the factors that go into this beauty economy, but I know it is real.

    Fashion does seem to be something different; I don’t think most men care much about it, except as a way of showing that a., they can afford to buy fashion for their woman or b., that their woman is “fashion-conscious” and therefore this says something about her desirability, both of which reflect well on the man.

  19. Sheryl Campbell says:

    I believe that from an early age, we are shown through mass media what is ‘beautiful’ and what is not. I do know women who epitomize the ‘idea’ of beauty, and I know those who chase it consistently. It comes down to how you view yourself, and if you internalize the messaging that comes across in our culture. I am not 5’10 an I do not weigh 110 lbs. But I must admit, I do enjoy finding a nice piece of clothing that flatters my slightly round body. And I do want to look good, although I know when my weight was lower i did receive more attention from the opposite sex. I think it comes down to owning what you want to be, and being confident enough to know that the mass-marketed images we see so frequently are desirable. My male partner does have his own ideas of what is attractive in women – very tailored wardrobe with some low-cut areas – but my tastes are much more bohemian like. Mix and match new and old styles is what I like to do. Some men find it attractive, but that is likely outside of the question you are asking. When it comes right down to it – I am not a strikingly beautiful woman, but I have a pretty fine mind that can converse well and ask good questions. Those beauty queens, they can have it all. Life is more interesting if you make it more interesting – whether you be typically beautiful or not.

    • Sheryl Campbell says:

      Correction: “I think it comes down to owning what you want to be, and being confident enough to know that the mass-marketed images we see so frequently are desirable.”

      I meant to say that “… it comes down to owning what you want to be, and being confident enough to know that the mass-marketed images we so so frequently are NOT that desirable.”

  20. I think the problem here is laziness on the part of the author (for not casting a wider net for a sample of how women relate to beauty) and for majority of the women who didn’t think the question deserved even the courtesy of any kind of response; how busy can these woman be that they can’t spare 15-30 minutes on something they are experts about?

    The problem is Madison Avenue’s death-like grip on the minds of women from the cradle to the grave feeding them a line of bull about how to be their best, and get the best man and all the rest of the crap. I’ve got two words for all of you to think about: high heels.

    • Tom Matlack says:

      Agree about Madison Avenue. On the folks I emailed, the part that I found interesting is that they would talk about just about anything else but were silent on this. I of course could have talked to more women but wanted to write this as a question for readers rather than an answer.

  21. Interesting timing on this article. I have always been entitled to the various priviledges we bestow upon people considered ‘attractive’. I just started dating a fashion photographer and am wondering if his being around super young ‘beautiful’ women will make it harder to remain confident about myself, especially as I age. It is MY responsibility to help myself stay comfortable and sassy… and I need to do that no matter who I partner with. I want to to figure this all out so I can enjoy this opportunity with a man who has been very kind to me so far.

  22. Like Jill, I think that there’s a pretty clear distinction between fashion and beauty. High fashion, particularly for those who can’t afford it (like me), is more of an art form. It’s something to be appreciated aesthetically. Depending on the designer, “sexy” may not even come into the equation. When it does, however, I think that it’s more a representation of what women have been convinced that men find sexy, not necessarily what they actually do.

    As for beauty, though, definitely has a lot of male influence. If you send two twins into a bar, one plainly dressed with no make up and one who spent hours getting ready, which do you think would get the most attention? Easily, the beautiful one. Men may not sit there and think “she has to dress nice and look nice or I won’t even notice her”, but that is the end result most of the time.

    Looking “put together” on a day to day basis also costs a lot more time/money for women than it does for a man. The standards are just higher. Even if you’re not draped in McQueen every day, you still have to put in a lot more effort than a guy does to not look “frumpy”. If you got a woman and a man that most people would rate a 10 and asked what they spend on beauty, I don’t think many people would preduct that the guy spends more. The high standards of beauty for women need to be challenged by everyone, men and women. This is definitely a topic where i think women have a say and more should be outspoken against this.

    • Tom Matlack says:

      “The high standards of beauty for women need to be challenged by everyone, men and women. This is definitely a topic where i think women have a say and more should be outspoken against this.”

      I guess that was really my point. Not that men are innocent of focussing of superficial beauty, but that we are all in this together to some extent and the insanity really has to stop, specially when you think about young women like my daughter.

    • Feminist women have been outspoken from the get-go about oppressive standards of feminine beauty. Naomi Wolf wrote the classic, “The Beauty Myth” and in about every Gloria Steinem book I have read, she challenges double standards of beauty.

      The problem is that when women talk about beauty oppression, they frequently get lambasted.

      The double standard of beauty may be subconscious. It may be like subconscious racism and sexism. That certainly doesn’t excuse it, but it does mean we need to address it.

  23. ‘Men don’t care about the stuff over which women obsess’ said Tom.

    This is palpably untrue. As Elissa said above men are consumers of beauty products now, and in countries like the US and the UK, at far higher rates than the global 15-20% she quotes.

    the GMP has only just featured a piece by Mark Simpson, an expert in men’s consunption of beauty products and cosmetics. I think Tom could do with some metrosexual reflection of his own.
    http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/metrosexual-reflections/

  24. There was a lady i think her name was wendy, who wrote in reply to me on gmp a month or so ago about fulani men. in that culture as with maasai men, it is the men who beautify themselves more than the women.
    it would be interesting to see if the pressures to meet their male beauty standard taxes them as heavily as the female beauty standard appears to tax western women. perhaps wendy can comment on it

  25. GirlGlad4the GMP says:

    While I agree that women tend to fall prey to the industry standard, I don’t think it occurs in a vacuum. While men don’t (on average) care that your outfit is trendy or your purse branded, they do uphold the beauty concept displayed in fashion imagery. Take an image from the ad pages in InStyle, for example. I can read this magazine and look solely at the clothes, whereas my male counterparts reading over my shoulder are looking at the women. Same images, different outlooks, right? Seemingly, but subliminally, the messages of attractiveness and fashion are leaking through to each set of eyes. We see that the dress looks stunning on the perfectly proportioned woman wearing it. They see a beautiful woman whose body is accentuated by particular clothes and or labels (if there was ever any doubt of the correlation between fashion and sexuality, check out the styling of Roberto Cavalli – the styles are always leggy and/or low cut, accentuating of waistlines and very animalistic in cut and print). It’s like looking at those two similar picturescapes and trying to spot the differences – you cannot do it without seeing the whole picture.

    I’m not going to talk about how we should boycott this, or petition that…it seems like a lot of effort to unfreeze the status quo. I think the solution begins at a more basic level.

    My formative years were difficult in that I was always physically different. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, but always ‘different’. To me, physical beauty is fraught with awkward situations and unwanted sexual advances, and the feeling that your other, less obvious traits are just not important. I came out of those delicate years, however, without any disorders or compulsions, and a healthy sense of my own worth. I believe I am beautiful because I strive to embody all the things I believe make up a good person. I am lucky because the people I look up to in this life perceived beauty as a concept that included who you were and not what you looked like, and impressed upon me that I was more then a face, a body, an object. And that’s where we as good men (and women) come in. We can be good people by reinforcing to the people in our lives (our kids, our partners, our friends and family) that beauty lies in the whole of a person. With this positive reinforcement we allow our kids to enter this world stronger in mind and therefore less likely to be influenced by such images. With this positive reinforcement we show our adult counterparts the value in their person.

    It’s funny, earlier this year I read a piece on the GMP about men and their insecurities in the physical attractiveness arena. Clearly we are all susceptible.

    • Tom Matlack says:

      Great comment. With a teenage daughter and son, and a fashion conscious wife In-Style comes into our house (a prior version of this piece actually included the way all the women in our house, guests included, would devour the fall preview like some kind of bible). But truth be told you are exactly right. Men look at the bodies, women look at the clothes. It’s all the same picture.

      I really like the second half of your comment. Again as the father of a 17 year old daughter and a 15 year old son these issue are front and center for me as a father both in how my daughter feels about herself and my son looks at the girls in his life.

      I too struggled mightily with body image as a young person. I was chubby as a kid and never thought I was attractive. I was also very tall for my age so in grade school and junior high I was made fun of. The upshot is that even though I was actually pretty traditionally handsome, I think now looking back, I spent my years probably until I was 30 hiding out because I was so ashamed of my body and how ugly I felt.

      I am working very hard to try to insure that my kids have an easier time of it.

      • GirlGlad4the GMP says:

        Ahh the fall fashion editions!!!
        I’m glad you are taking such a pro-active stance with both of your children. While it’s true that girls suffer with body image issues to a greater degree, it’s not to say that boys don’t, as you clearly highlit in your personal example. Also, it is true that how boys view girls impacts them both in the long-term. As a woman of ‘family’ age, I often find that those family influences (good and bad) rear their heads when deciding the future of a relationship with someone. Those discussions of body, fmaily and traditional gender roles can really be make or break.

        I’m sure you are Tom, in the months I’ve been visiting this site, I have found through reading your articles and comments, that you are a seemingly diligent father and husband. 🙂

  26. Tom, I think you are confusing fashion and beauty. To say that men don’t care about beauty is ridiculous. Men are obsessed with beautiful women. One of the most depressing experiences of my life occurred a a couple years ago when I first heard about the “pickup artist movement” and I went to some of their websites. “Never date ugly women again!” said the advertising on one website. “Date Perfect 10’s! No more fat chicks! ” said another. I read article after article about how terrible and awful it is for poor men to have to “settle” for women who are, God forbid, chubby, older or plain. It is clear to me that many men despise women who aren’t beautiful. They feel a kind of loathing for non-beautiful women. Quite a few men are willing to spend thousands of dollars just so that they will be able to learn some fancy techniques that will hopefully allow them to have sex with physically attractive women. Forget her personality. Forget her character. Forget meaningful relationships. It’s all about banging hot babes with perfect bodies.

    Granted, not all men are that superficial, but many of them are. Enough that women learn early on in life that being beautiful is the only path to happiness. (Not that it is, but that’s the message we absorb.)

    In this environment, is it any wonder that women likewise feel obsessive about their own beauty, or lack thereof?

    Fashion is completely separate from beauty. Why women wear some of the things they wear is a mystery to me, personally, and I agree that fashion is often about impressing other women. Women have ideas about beautiful clothes that don’t quite line up with what men find attractive. Why that is, I don’t know.

    But, make no mistake, men like women in jeans and a T-shirt if she’s beautiful, not otherwise.

    • Tom Matlack says:

      Fair enough Jill. I should have been more clear about the distinction between fashion obsession and beauty obsession. I think they are related but not the same thing. I totally agree that men are overly obsessed with female beauty. God knows the very acceleration of porn and the sex trade is enough to demonstrate that (women who don’t even use their real names and don’t speak other than is sex talk). But I do think there is something going on in terms of female fashion and their own perception of female beauty that I don’t get. But then perhaps it all just goes back to the false hope that to be beautiful in the eyes of men is the answer since that is such a strong message in our culture.

      • I think you’re on to something with the difference between beauty obsession and fashion obsession.

        Fashion can be very creative and yes, it has a huge impact on our lives. Perhaps a fashion obsession is no different than an artistic obsession with sculpture, painting, architecture, and so on. Perhaps if fashion weren’t associated with women, it would be more respected as an art form.

        P.S. If you like wearing jeans everyday, Tom, you can thank Coco Chanel for it. The great fashion designer made comfort and simple elegance a cornerstone of her fashions during WWI and the roaring 20’s. She took work clothes and made them fashionable. Chanel had her flaws and unfortunately, she didn’t join the French Resistance during WWII (far, far, far from it), but she was a great designer who still has an impact on today’s fashions. Chanel believed that women should dress comfortably.

  27. I think there is certainly some part that women are doing to themselves in which we really have no involvement.
    This reminds me of the mixed messages men get when it comes to sexual attraction to women (I talked about this in a post at my own blog a while back called Mixed Signals I think).

    On one hand men are supposedly so narrowly focused on a specific type of woman that we hold said woman up on a pedastal and exclude other women to the point of our behaviors being called -isms. Yet on the other we are supposedly so overcome with lust we want to have sex with any willing woman (and some unwilling women as well).

    “Only men, good men can change this.” That line leaves me speechless. It implies that all men are guilty by association and women are completely powerless.
    I call that guilty by gender association myself. Apparently the reason women have beauty issues is because some small fraction of men engage in the horrible crime of sex trafficking and by sharing gender with those horrible men we are all responsible for ending…Nice.

    I do think it perfectly appropriate to ask what originally caused this potential addiction. Is it male objectification of the female form that forces women to contort themselves in ways that even men see as odd at best and annoying at worst?
    Similar to the way men think they need to amass power and status (even at the cost of going all darkside in the process) in order to be attractive to women I’d say there is some truth in this. But just as there are a lot of women that aren’t fixiated on how much power/status a man has there are a lot of men who aren’t fixiated on the physical beauty of a woman.

    • Tom Matlack says:

      Yeah on the last line there Danny I think that is fair enough. There are plenty of men who are fixated on female beauty. I was trying to point out that such beauty in terms of fashions et al. has spun out into its own thing that is pretty detached from the original fixation by men. But maybe it’s more connected that I am aware of. In the end power, status, and beauty addictions really don’t tend to breed a lot of happiness but then I have only lived one life so can’t really say for others.

      • Nothing wrong with questioning it. And mind you I am by no means trying to absolve neither men nor women from partaking in the cycles that I describe. But I do agree that there is more to it that “women are looking for successful men” and “men are looking for attractive women”.

  28. Ask more women! When I launched my blog, which is entirely about women’s perspectives on beauty, I sent out a question on Facebook asking who wanted to respond and got tons of responses, including from people I didn’t know who had been referred to me through friends. Women are VERY eager to share their experiences. I think beauty is highly personal and perhaps the questions you were asking were a shade abstract? If you ask women about their personal experiences, chances are you’d eventually get what you were looking for–but it would probably take more time than you have for the project, I’m guessing.

    • Tom Matlack says:

      Autumn sound like YOU should be writing a post for us on this topic. If you are interested send a note to the info email address on the home page.

  29. I watch a lot of project runway, and it seems like fashion is about beauty without the woman. The models are beautiful in that they are tall and thin and symmetrical. However, they are interchangeable. Their hair and make up is fixed to conform to the dress. They are nameless machines who walk down and back, their only purpose to make the clothes look good. Which is ironic, since the clothes are supposed to make the woman look good, right?

    • Tom Matlack says:

      A friend was running a fashion show in South Beach a couple years ago. My wife and I were back stage and just wanted to see how the whole thing operated. What I noticed was that the men were darned attractive with their clothes off (if only I were gay…) but the women were downright sad. They were tall and emaciated and, yes, interchangeable. I didn’t understand it then and don’t now. It was the furthest thing from female beauty I could imagine

      • @Tom Matlack
        You Said….
        “I didn’t understand it then and don’t now. It was the furthest thing from female beauty I could imagine”

        I blame feminisms inability or reluctence to define Classic Femininity once and for all. 

        If you don’t mind me saying: Classic Femininity is the willful act of giving a “false” perception of Frailty & Submissiveness.

        (just as masculinity is the false perception of dominance)

        For example when a man steps up to another man twice his size, refuses to cry, acts boldly in the face of fear and has strong militaristic pro fighting features like Big muscles, square jaw, short hair, hight etc….That’s the general ideal for Classic Masculinity. 
        Conversely,
        Classic Femininity is the opposite..Long hair, soft voice, petite frame, long Manicured nails to illustrate that manual labor is beneath you, and a societal expectation to raise children instead of earning an individual income. Being submissive.

        And Let’s not forget that there is a difference between submission and oppression. 

        Where Oppression implies a willingness to fight back while submission means complete and total surrender. Just as some people are submissive to “God” while others are Oppressed by religious laws that aren’t their own. 

        The end result of Classic femininity is the act of purposely looking like you can’t fight back. You are a possession, a prize to be fought for.

    • I wonder about that. Supposedly men are all interested in trying to look at “hot women” at every opportunity right? Then why aren’t men “allowed” to watch those shows?

      Me personally I don’t watch those shows for the reasons you mention Middy.

  30. That is an excellent question Tom, you have me thinking….

    Elissa, I think you are on to something. Have you ever read the peek oil feminist argument? There was an article called ‘Why Peek Oil is a Women’s Issue’ by Sonia Astyk which unfortunately the link isn’t working and her blog is a bit rambling but essentially the argument was something like this. Women’s roles began to change when consumerism took off. Women are the ultimate consumers and really how difficult is it to sell a woman a washing machine. It is a no brainer right? When these types of goods became available it gave women more time, to consume or to work to earn more money to consume. The peek oil argument is questioning what will happen to women’s lib when we can no longer afford the electricity to run the washing machine. I personally believe that some enterprising woman (or man) will find a way to run a washing machine without electricity. However, it highlights the tenuous link between women’s lib and consumerism and technology for that matter.

    I agree with you Tom. While I am passionate about educating people on the issues that pornography raise and about the huge human trafficking problem we have, I do think that women have a stake in this too. We could choose not to wax, to buy second hand household good, swap clothes and shoes before we buy new ones. Ironically Bec, I do have the classic hall marks of beauty but I really struggle with the idea that ‘no I do not need to be excessively thin’. That extra skin and scars from my pregnancies is really not that bad. I really admire that you are able to love who you are despite how people say you should look and I am aiming for that. I am still on my way there.

    We have this great show in Australia called the Gruen Transfer and they did this episode on how the advertising agencies have influenced the way people use hair removal products. There was one particular ad in the 50’s (?? maybe earlier) that had a picture of a woman on a bus with her arm up and her hairy arm pit showing. She was of course wearing the new fashion summer dress. It was an ad for razors. The company had previously only sold to men and their profits doubled in 2 years (don’t quote me). You can imagine where it goes from there. Now we groom our nether regions and men groom and of course there are all sorts of products out there that will help you….
    I think you are right Tom. We as women have a stake in defining what beauty looks like and we should not be allowing the advertising companies, magazines, hollywood tell us what that is.

    It reminds me of the ‘How I met your mother’ episode. Robyn decides not to shave before a date so she won’t be tempted to have sex on the first date. Barney tells her while playing wii golf with Ted ‘We just want to play on the green, we don’t care if we have to go through the rough to get there’.

    If you are interested in peek oil check our transitionvoice.com

    • Tom Matlack says:

      LOL on the playing through the rough comment Jem. Also agree about consumerism specially in terms of hair grooming. Of course my best friend is a 46 year old straight man who is obsessed with biking (he is pretty good for his age but hardly a racer). He has been waxing his legs now for a couple years….

  31. Well, I’ll provide some palpable feedback on your query: consumerism plays a large role, and as one of your responders remarked: leisure and conspicuous consumption are also necessary conditions – the never ending quest to maintain desirability, inevitable fear of aging, peer pressure and general status seeking.

    Historically men focused their status seeking on amassing wealth and prestige as a signifier of desirability, yet more recently, the consumerism of beauty has caught up to men and similar patterns to the above can be found. I found a dollar value a while back that stated that men now contribute roughly 15-20% of beauty-care spending on a global basis (about 30 billion dollars per year), and growing rapidly.

    In the end and regardless of sex – it’s usually a combination of leisure, consumerism and status seeking that drives these arms races, regardless of how they display as an artifact of desirability.

    • Tom Matlack says:

      Yeah one women told me that the $20k handbag is the exact same thing as the $200k car for a guy. I don’t really understand either frankly, or I should say my experience personally is that neither expensive handbags or cars get me very far in life…

  32. “Don’t get me wrong. I am perfectly willing to accept that male oppression is alive and well when it comes to pornography, sex trafficking, and all kinds of bad shit that I and others at GMP have written about extensively”

    Seem to me that you have a hypothesis.

  33. I am not beautiful. Not in the sense that I have low self-esteem and can’t identify beauty, but on an objective level I do not have the qualities that make a woman objectively good looking. I have genetic lipodystrophy and thus have an extremely imbalanced physique (size 4 up top, size 12 down bottom) that doesn’t respond to weight loss (and is actually exacerbated by it). I have pale Celtic skin that takes many hours of sunlight and heavy supplementation with vitamin D to tan. I have a broad asymmetrical face that bears a number of scars from childhood incidents. Acne in my teens has left me with deep pores and a tendency to be a little oily (though I’m spot free and remarkably unlined – I pass for someone 10-12 years younger most times). I have thin hair and small eyes and as a result I photograph extremely poorly. I am fit and healthy, but I am not conventionally beautiful and exhortations to “find beauty within” are more than a little pointless because even if I were beautiful, I am not an ornamental thing, and as one can mentally and deliberately choose a life without striving for something like wealth, then so too should I be able to live a life without striving for physical beauty.

    It has never emerged as a source of contention for women, or for men I get along with. So long as I have good hygiene and I make an attempt to be appropriate and respectful in regards to event-appropriate clothing I get on fine. My sense of style is complimented frequently – if you have an extremely atypical physique you learn to dress in a manner that allows for range of motion and modesty very well. But being in public with how I look prompts commentary solely from some men unknown to me as though my mere presence becomes an imposition on them.

    • Tom Matlack says:

      I would call that being comfortable in your own skin, which I do think is the whole shooting match no matter what you look like Bec.

      • But I’m not, really. I loathe myself. I find that I avoid human contact on most days because I’ve internalised the idea that I don’t deserve to *be* outside or seen by people. I’m deeply critical of my faults to a point where it makes other people uncomfortable but what they see as rampant self-loathing is for me just a minor acknowledgement of objective facts about myself.

        Comfortable in my own skin is nothing. I’m only comfortable when I’m swathed head to toe, when my form is nearly invisible, and when I remove myself from situations that could cause criticism. The only way I can make it as a teacher of boys is to remind myself that to them I’m just a surrogate mum and there’s nothing about my position or appearance that ever changes this dynamic. It’s ultimately very stress-relieving.

Trackbacks

  1. […] read this post a while ago but I haven’t been able to put it out of my mind because it is too funny and too […]

  2. […] a piece by Tom Matlack, one of the founders of the fabulous Good Men Project, questioning if “women are addicted to beauty”, which initially seemed odd to me. He wasn’t talking about beauty so far as I could see, but […]

  3. […] Men Project has a really interesting post on women, beauty, and if some women can be considered to have an ‘addiction’ to beauty. Its an interesting exploration, though my first reaction to it was to get a bit pissed off. Not […]

  4. […] started reading this article about women being addicted to beauty, which lead me to the confessions of a woman who considered […]

  5. […] = 'confrontinglove'; tweetmeme_style = 'compact'; Share Email This In “Are Women Addicted to Beauty,” Tom Matlack at The Good Men Project proffers that ladies spend “endless time on […]

  6. […] beauty week at the Good Men Project. Founder Tom Matlack has a piece asking Are Women Addicted to Beauty? Editor Lisa Hickey answers at least partly in the affirmative with her powerful Chasing Beauty: An […]

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