Tom Matlack Talks to the New York Times About Women, Beautification, and Self-Esteem

Who are we to judge what someone else decides to do to her own face or body?

Tom Matlack recently wrote a piece for the Room for Debate section of The New York Times discussing women, makeup, plastic surgery, and tattoos. He asserts that when it comes to subjects such as how much or what types of makeup, or choosing to get breast augmentation surgery “women should do whatever they want.” Unfortunately, in our culture beauty and “beautification” are highly controversial topics, controversy which is evident in the comments the post has already garnered from both sides of the debate, and in all honesty most times whatever she wants is a relative term.

Following is an excerpt of that piece.

When I asked a ton of men and women about breast enhancement I got a remarkable diversity of responses. It would be easy to criticize women who get fake boobs and men who admit to liking them. But the truth is a lot more complicated than that. Who are we to judge what someone else decides to do to her own face or body?

One of my best friends has body ink head to toe and I happen to think it looks pretty cool. And if I didn’t think so, it’d still be his own body and none of my business.

So when it comes to makeup and self-esteem I plead ignorance other than to say women should do whatever they want. That includes my wife, by the way. As long as she knows that I love her most when she has nothing on.

I can’t help but wonder though, if what a woman wants is to be considered beautiful by societal standards then are things like using makeup or getting breast enhancement surgery really a choice at all?

Join the debate: Room for Debate on Facebook

Read more:

Is Fake Really Better?

Photo: AP/File

About Kathryn DeHoyos

Kathryn DeHoyos currently resides on the outskirts of Austin, TX. She has 2 beautiful children, and is very happily un-married to her life partner DJ.


  1. Yes, I’m sure us divvy men have never heard of the marketing trope “natural beauty” – and could never manage to tell when our makeup wearing significant others are sporting a natural look vs. just rolled out of bed.

    Of course we definitely couldn’t tell the difference (I mean, it’s not like I’ve been with my girlfriend for seven years – I guess she must have been nipping off to the bathroom all the time, because I could have sworn I knew what she looked like without makeup). No, when we say that we think they’re hot and want to support them either which way, what we are really doing is PATRIARCHY SOMEHOW

    Serious question here – what is the bloody point of Marcotte’s rant? If we say women should wear make-up, we’re jerks. If we say they shouldn’t – we’re jerks. If we say they should do what they want – we’re jerks. Is there any way to win with that sort of mentality?

  2. I’m just going to say no to anal bleaching!

    Society has been after my anus for years, but I’ve held fast…

  3. The Wet One says:

    Thanks to the posters who pointed out that women have agency and free will in this who business. Yeah, we all get that society pressures people to do things. Nonetheless, people continue to have the power to say “No. Blow me!” and that hasn’t changed. It’s not like women have guns to their heads to do these things to make it “hard” to say no. Anyone who suggests otherwise does a great disservice to those who said “No” under far less comfortable circumstances. The people of Vietnam come to mind when they said “No” to the imperial powers of the world and had to give their lives (2 or 3 million if I recall rightly) for 10,000 days of war. If others can do that, sure women can say no, should they choose to do so, to the ridiculous demands of the beauty industry.

    The really funny thing about the author’s article and final paragraph is that she herself ignores the “remarkable diversity of responses.” Someone finds something attractive about just about everyone. Just find the right audience if being considered attractive is so important to you. Does that rule 45 of the internet prove this (that rule about if you can imagine a sexual fetish of some sort, somewhere on the internet there is a porn site dedicated to it)?


  4. I can’t help but wonder though, if what a woman wants is to be considered beautiful by societal standards then are things like using makeup or getting breast enhancement surgery really a choice at all?

    There is the choice to be brain washed by advertising and go with the society they advertise, or you can get on with living and have fun and interesting times. I’m used to being around folks male and female as they breath their last, and it gets real interesting hearing what folks wish they had done more of. I have to say after some 30 years I have yet to hear bigger tits or more make up on the “I wish I had” list!

  5. “I can’t help but wonder though, if what a woman wants is to be considered beautiful by societal standards then are things like using makeup or getting breast enhancement surgery really a choice at all?”

    Yes, because it’s fundamentally her choice to pursue being beautiful by societal standards.

  6. I recently had dinner with some old high school friends, “the hotties” of the class… They were beautiful in their teens with or without makeup… Today they are still gorgeous, with whatever amounts of makeup they choose to put on— some women at our last HS reunion had breast augmentation done— and, honestly, they looked beautiful (and they would have looked beautiful even if they hadn’t had it done)….

    There is no one definition of beauty— but if great makeup, killer outfit, and luxurious hair gives you the confidence to stop a plastic surgeon in his tracks— then more power to you, if that’s what it takes to make you feel like a goddess…

  7. Chooses always come with consequence.
    If a woman wants attract a large number of men then she’s going to have to do the things that attract them.
    You can’t reject everything that attracts a mate than complain about the lack of interest you’re getting.

  8. “I can’t help but wonder though, if what a woman wants is to be considered beautiful by societal standards then are things like using makeup or getting breast enhancement surgery really a choice at all?”

    Are women just children , a bad choice is still a choice. It might not be one you would choose but such is life. Of course it’s a choice.

    • If I want to be widely regarded as rich and successful, I have to earn a lot of money. So is that really a choice?

      Well, yes. Yes, it is.

      • So if a woman wants toe widely regarded as beautiful, she has to have lots of make-up on and get her breasts “enhanced”?

        • Yes, if she wants to meet the mainstream definition of beauty. And if anyone wants to meet the NFL’s definition of “skilled athlete,” they have to put in a lot of practice. Some even take steroids.

          But as always, deciding to aspire to that standard is the INDIVIDUAL’S choice, not anyone else’s.

          • And in my humble opinion, having indivudal choices about what we can do with our bodies shouldn’t shut down a conversation about being mindful about what cultural messages exist, what lies exist, and the realistic impact they have on us.

            I do agree that if someone wants to meet the definition of “skilled athlete”, they have to put in a lot of practice to accomplish that. That goes for the NFL, the NBA, the WNBA, figure skaters, softball players, baseball players..etc etc. It goes for any male OR female that play a sport right? But putting in a lot of practice to develop your craft isn’t the same thing as getting surgically enhanced and feeing constrained to achieve and unattainable level of beauty just so one is accepted by societies unrealistic ideal of female beauty. At least not in the way I see it.

            And yes, some do take steroids but they aren’t suppose to. And plenty have fallen from grace because of steroid use. Why? Because we all understand that when steroids are involved, we are getting less of that “real” person. We are getting less of someone with a “real” skill. We don’t really like fakers at the end of the day. We don’t like people that use illusions to trick us into believing they are somehow better or more skilled in areas then ourselves. I don’t really know many men that have more pride and respect for men in sports that get caught using steroids. These things cover our authentic selves. They keep us from being who we really can be as we work so much harder to keep the illusion up of who others think we should be. And as long as people keep giving more attention to those that use fake means to achieve success, people will keep striving to do anything in their means, fake or real, to meet those ideals of success.

    • Aspire, it’s not a question of women being “children”. I actually find that kind of question really demeaning toward women. It’s simply not easy for us in this world and our body image. There is a reason that so many women struggle with their bodies and their idenitites. It isn’t because women are terrible people or because we are emotionally immature and comparable to children. It’s because there is something darker and deeper going on with the messages women receive about their bodies from both men and women alike.

      Men have those struggles too. I bet there are a lot of men reading this right now that can think of several things they struggle with regarding their identity as a man. It’s the same for us women. And our bodies are one of those things.

      I really wish men tried to understand this topic more instead of chalking women up to just being terrible, childish creatures. Some understanding would go a long way.

      • Erin: Yes, the question of “Is it a choice at all” is very demeaning towards women, it treats them as children who can’t do anything except what society and madison avenue tells them. Thanks for making my point for me.

        • I don’t find the question, “is it at a choice at all”, demeaning toward women in the least. Or suggestive of treating women like children. I actually think it’s you that is being demeaning toward women by suggesting that real issues women struggle with are nothing but child-like frivilties.

          Sometimes as a woman, it can feel like you don’t have much of a choice. The pressure is astounding. It can feel like a weight on your heart. Of course, you don’t have to conform, but that doesn’t mean those messages aren’t running after you everyday.

          I totally understand why women conform to the pressures of idealized beauty. At the core of it, we all want acceptance, community, to be loved and cared about. I think this is true for men as well. But so often in our culture, I don’t think women experience much real and true exceptance for who they are in their hearts and for their god given flawed bodies. We are always being told that we need to do this and that before we can even consider anyone caring about us. Do you know what advice women most often get when they want to start dating? They are told to, “get in shape”.

          And if you want to talk about choices, lets talk about choices. Everyday women don’t get a choice in what images are sold to us about the worth of our feminity. Neither do we get to dicatate what messages men recieve about where our beauty lies. I don’t get to have a say in what kind of women Victoria’s Secret uses to sell it’s products. I don’t get a say in the type of women that are usually picked for a Playboy magazine spreads. I don’t get a say in what men find attractive. I don’t get to decide what messages and images are plastered all over the internet about *my* inherent femininity. So yes, lets talk about choices. I don’t get a choice about how feminity is judged and depicted in our culture.

          On a presonal level, I have an internal war with my body everday. I struggle between what my body really is and what society tells me my body should be. That doesn’t mean I am going to run out and buy breast implants or take diet pills. Those are choices I can make. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t struggle with the messages society gives me about my worth everyday. And I can undrestand why some women don’t feel like they have a choice. Especially when at the core of it all, what they are really seeking is acceptance and love and to feel intrinsically beautiful in the ways women want to feel beautiful.

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