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Aug 02 2005

Tail, Part II

Dovegirls

[Today's essay rapidly outgrew its original incarnation as a response to the many excellent comments on yesterday's post about the so-called "real" women in the current Dove ad campaign. It doesn't say anything new, but it's a marginally better essay. Cuz it's longer!]

When strolling down the avenue–which avenue, by capitalist mandate, is entirely papered over like some sadistic Cristo installation with glossy hot young airbrushed babes humping whatever it is they’re trying to sell you (or humping each other; check out that one on the right) — it’s all right, I guess, to see a different girl once in a while, just to break up the monotony. But it is rash to assume that because the girl doesn’t look like a junkie skeleton with tits that the ad agency has landed some momentous blow for women’s empowerfulment

Or even a trifling blow. These Dove girls are still sex objects. That they are not professional models only magnifies the pathos. I invite you to inspect the photos in closer detail. Observe the body language. In their attempts to project empowerment they all look self-conscious and awkward. And why shouldn’t they? They’ve been posed in their fucking underwear by some fashion choreographer as though they are each wearing a single invisible stiletto pump on one cocked foot. Ouch.

As radical as it seems that they have used images of awkward pretty girls rather than of sophisticated, haggard drug addicts with lips like raw liver, Dove has not dismantled patriarchy. No. What they’ve done is, they’ve sold butt cream.

Check it out: in our society, a chick in her underwear, regardless of body mass, exists for one of two purposes: to make money for some male-dominated butt-cream entity, or for the pleasure of the male voyeur. Cosmetics companies can set themselves up as dispensers of self-esteem, they can even tell you that pictures of size 10 women in underwear are empowerfulling you, but they are fucking lying in order to sell you stuff. That’s because in our society all women are sex objects, whether they agree to it or not, until they are too old to make money or excite boners when shown in their underwear, and then god help’em.

What commonly-sized women–by whom I mean those gals whose weight-dot on the bell curve falls somewhere northeast of anorexic– what they appear to be responding to in these ads is the slender possibility, the faint flicker of hope, that at last the beauty standard might actually relax sufficiently to include them.

On the surface, a move toward a more inclusive, ‘healthy’ beauty standard seems a reasonable request. But gaze, if you dare, below the surface, where patriarchy’s greasy gears are relentlessly churning out their ever more sadistic tools of oppression. On the wall, carved in stone lo these past few millennia, is the company motto. It says “Normal Can Never Be Beautiful.” Beauty, by definition, is extraordinary, rare, and conspicuous.

The desperate desire to be beautiful, based on the lie that beauty is attainable, is the result of patriarchal mind-control. Here’s what the mind-control says: the only way a woman can really attain power is through her ability to stimulate desire and/or envy in total strangers, traits that are commonly thought of as”beauty.” Beauty makes people hire you and love you and invite you and it gets you more stuff. Beauty = power. And how do we measure beauty?

You are beautiful if you look like someone who sells butt cream.

But a size 10 can’t sell butt cream unless she’s Oprah, so naturally she is anxious that the rules change so she can get a piece of the action. But even if she succeeds, and size 10 becomes the new size 2, all she will have won is the opportunity to be even more grossly objectified. And the opportunity to buy more butt-cream. She will not be a fully-realized human being. She will not have achieved personal sovereignty. She will not be unrapeable. She will not escape pressure to !smile! or be feminine or have cosmetic surgery or buy softcore porn costumes from Victoria’s Secret. And for damn sure she’ll still be cleaning 8 out of 10 of the nation’s toilets.

Beauty standards come and beauty standards go, but one thing is constant: women are the sex class.

Rise up! Reject the beauty mandate!

68 comments

8 pings

  1. Erin

    Twisty, you are my favorite invisible gentleman farmer/spinster aunt. Hands down favorite.

  2. Anonymous

    Yay for you. Fab post. (what Erin said)

  3. curiousgirl

    Since these ads have appeared, wallpapering every Manhattan street corner, I have heard nothing but derision about them. From men? No, I try not to talk to to many men outside of a select few, so, no, though I’m sure that exists, that is not what I’m talking about.

    From women.

    “Good!” you say? “Great! These women know patriachal oppression when they see it!” (I mean, they should, since most of them were in my womyn’s studies classes in college.)

    But you’d be sorely mistaken. No, many normal size women I know are offended because women with bodies like that should not be seen in public in thier underwear. They’ll say “I mean, I know I’d look like that too. But if that was my body, I wouldn’t wear a bikini to the beach, right?” How virtuous of my lovely, young pretty, normal looking friends not to subject us all to thier chubby stomachs at the beach.

    Oh, well.

    Personally, the main thing that I’ve learned from these ads is that everybody looks good airbrushed and windblown.

    Thanks, Twisty, for your razor sharp wit and heat-seeking-missile of an intellect.

  4. Sylvanite

    Sigh. I’m smaller than a size 10 and I’ve noticed that you can never be “flawless” enough to not be punished by some men for being an insufficiently delectable piece of eye candy. I’m certainly no model (all the women in the Dove ad are prettier than I am!), but I resent the hell out of being made to feel bad about stuff that’s nothing more than my genetic inheritance. Guys, if I’m not to your taste, I’m not obligated to be, so spare me your comments implying that I’m supposed to be perfect for all men’s gazes.

    Anyways, why aren’t men put under this pressure? It’s astounding to me what men can get away with, looks-wise. I’m not suggesting that men be pressured into neurosis. I would just like for everybody to have the ability to be free of body-image neuroses. Oh, well.

  5. dorothy

    Amen, sister. Amen.

    I have been following this brouhaha from its inception. I’ve read a lot, but this is the first piece that really nails it.

    Thank you!

  6. Travelling Punk

    Shit, how do you come up with this stuff! Ace post.

  7. Finn

    >>Shit, how do you come up with this stuff!<<

    I don’t think it would be that hard to write Twisty’s column. You start with the blame and you work backward.

    ;-)

    Ok.

    So, I ask you, how many men do you think are buying Dove products becuase of this ad?

    The target is women.

    If there were no patriarchy, wouldn’t people still find reasons to find one another attractive? Isn’t it possible that in a patriarchy-free world, large people will be less attractive than thin people?

    I’m asking. Seriously.

  8. Sunya Harjis

    Oh Twisty, you’re all stick and no carrot. I had a similar crisis recently: I complained for hours about how women were very very objectified and men were not at all objectified.

    But
    I
    was
    wrong!

    There are articles on male anorexia in Maxim; there are waxing and bleaching tips in GQ; there are hundreds of sweet-ass Chelsea boys pitching booze, shaving cream, and $5000 suits. There are plenty of deliciously sexual-objectified gay men and an entire genre of gay porn made by women for women and featuring hot guys, their cocks, and precious little else. There are standards of male beauty. There are “good-looking” guys.

    What I’m drawing a blank on is how the culture of male beauty fails to chew up men the way the female beauty myth chews up women. One answer I’ve come up with is that straight women are insufficiently shallow consumers of beauty: there are too many other things that are important to consider before fucking, dating, or marrying a man. Men are sexually liberated, physically stronger, and easily gratified by default: they don’t need to know if their one-night fuckbuddy is stable, safe, and ready to go the distance.

    One moves straightaway to the realm of fantasy to examine the matter further. One thing about women’s sexual fantasies – if I can make a generalization about this particularly wild area of the feminine soul – is that the don’t not objectify men, if you catch my drift. The parade of faceless lovers is not uncommon; so is the literal fuck machine. Removed from the constraints of social, cultural, and physical bondage, women are free to judge on looks alone.

    More interesting still is how ready women are to judge OTHER WOMEN by their looks. Are men as ready to judge other men in the same way? Does the Abercrombie revolution point hither?

  9. Twisty

    I don’t think it would be that hard to write Twisty’s column.

    Joe Finn, you simply MUST stop showering me with compliments! You’re right, though, about ads in general making you fantasize until you have to resolve the tension with a purchase. It doesn’t just stop there, though. I don’t know about men, but women for certain internalize imagery like Penthouse or this Dove crap. Because these are women that our culture says are good-lookin, and we know that our purpose in life is to be as good-lookin as possible, so these are the chicks to emulate. Remember when everybody had the Jennifer Aniston haircut?

  10. Twisty

    Sunya, I am somewhat puzzled by your assumptions that I am (a) having a crisis and (b) arguing that men are never objectified. So, no carrot for you!

  11. Mistress

    But . . . . . I’m a dyke & I’m a shallow consumer of beauty. Hmm . . . .

    As for male standards of beauty, my big, hairy, weightlifting, metalhead male roommate exfoliates & uses pore refining cream. So who knows what your male friends are hiding in their bathrooms?

    Hating yourself isn’t an exclusively female thing.

  12. allison

    While the target of these ads may be women, it’s hard to deny that men all over haven’t noticed them and subsequently found it necessary to grace the rest of us with their opinions.

    While some of the women I’ve talked to about these ads have actually claimed it struck an emotional chord with them, I just don’t understand it. I would hope that in a patriarchy-free world, we wouldn’t all be scrambling to be labeled “beautiful.”

  13. Ron Sullivan

    It’s not whether we’re “beautiful” or not. It’s that if we aren’t “beautiful,” nothing else we are matters.

    I suppose you can argue that if we are “beautiful,” nothing else we are has to matter, eitheralsohowevertoo.

  14. Finn

    >Joe Finn, you simply MUST stop showering me with compliments!< I felt a pang of regret as I clicked the "post" button on that one. What I meant to say was that I could never hope to compete with your deliciously seductive rhetoric, and that your writing always brings me back, but that the logic seemed simple enough.

    >Because these are women that our culture says are good-lookin, and we know that our purpose in life is to be as good-lookin as possible, so these are the chicks to emulate. Remember when everybody had the Jennifer Aniston haircut?<

    I get your point (and I liked the Aniston do, too), but I don’t think that the “purpose in life is to be as good-lookin as possible” part is the only motivator. It would be much simpler if we could chalk it all up to one societal force doing all the pulling, but I think there’s more going on there.

    Society issues more messages than just those about being good-looking and that’s where I think your point weakens somewhat. Don’t we also get the message that we are more attractive to others, generally, by the level of respect we generate from others? The reason I read your blog, for example, is because I respect the quality of writing and creativity you pour into it. More on that later.

    We were talking about the Dove ad, so I’ll try to stay on topic.

    I can agree that standards of beauty are influenced by the patriarchal society. Sure, they are. But, as our society changes, and the patriarchal tendencies level off, I wouldn’t predict any less of an obsession with beauty. It may change its flavor, but it will be just as strong a motivator. Who will we blame then?

    I would submit that human nature being what it is, regardless of which gender has a larger influence, there will always be measurements of beauty, respect, intelligence, etc. And, most of those standards will seem unacceptable to those of us who are less endowed.

  15. Kyria

    In New York the pictures are all over. I must say I enjoy looking at them, much (though not perhaps quite as much) as I enjoy looking at pictures of young Bertie.

    I can’t say, however, that this translates at all into a desire to run out and buy butt cream.

  16. Steph

    One thing I didn’t like about the ad campaign is how it overwhelmed the urban space. I first encountered it visiting San Francisco, and I’m waiting for it to come to Canada and assault me on the transit system here.

    I felt like Dove was hailing me to congratulate them on their defiance of beauty standards when all the while trying to sell me some butt cream that only reinforces the standards they purport to be defying.

    Sure it was nice to see women who eat on the ads (and women of different skin colours) because it doesn’t happen that often, but it’s hardly radical stuff and I’m not about to congratulate them for trying to make money by being a bit creative.

    Not developing butt creams to treat made-up beauty concerns…now that would be radical.

  17. Jim McCulloch

    “…there will always be measurements of beauty, respect, intelligence, etc. And, most of those standards will seem unacceptable to those of us who are less endowed.”

    A pessimistic view. Being a utopian, I guess, as well as a Buddhist, I hope that will not always be true. I remember reading somewhere, recently, of a psychology experiment in which the subjects are found to be more dissatisfied with the physical attractiveness of the people in their real personal lives, after an immersion in pictures, or seeing tv shows (I forget the important details of the experiment, which sort of screws what I am trying to say, but, hey) of beautiful people.

    In other words, we have just as skewed a vision of personal attractiveness as we do of the prevalence of murder. Most Americans have not personally seen a murder. But most have witnessed thousands on tv.

    Go to your local Walmart (which someone, making my point, has called the ugly people’s store) and you will see real people, but not the people we have held up to as as models, every day, over and over again, of what we want and what we should be by the Economy, (or the Patriarchy, assuming a difference).

  18. nazrafel

    Though I must say, I have this driving need buy/adopt a cute puppy right now!

  19. deja pseu

    Yet another excellent post, Twisty! I am in awe.

    A few years ago on a prominent feminist BB, the topic of Beauty=Power? came up. What I said then and still stand by is that “the only power inherent in youth and/or beauty is the power to attract and appease those who hold the REAL power.”

  20. AB

    Eh… my main reaction to the whole Dove thing has been frustration about the dialogue not rising far above “Is this good or bad for women? Check box []A or []B.”

    All of which is to say, it tweaks my sore spot about how the feminist movement wants to be everywhere–and hence ends up being nowhere–all at once. (Kinda like that kid in fifth grade with perpetual ADHD.) Ever sign up for a NOW or Feminist Majority email list? Yee gods. It’s like every. little. damn. thing. ends up as a *huge* deal. And after reading through a couple of days of it, all issues seem to be exactly the same size, whether it’s a po-dunk golfing course in Armpit, Arkansas that won’t allow women to play in a competition or it’s a huge policy shift in the federal government that means millions of poor women will lose medical access.

    I’m not sure exactly how to reconcile this. I mean, I think it could get dangerous to start deciding which issues are “important” (in practice, we all know which issues those would be: the ones affecting straight white middle-class women) and which ones should be shunted off to the side as unimportant. But on some level, I look at this and say, Damn. I remember the first time it clicked for me that images in advertising were horrible and sexist and fulfilled patriarchal norms. But after you’ve had that click–why are we feminists so intent to keep picking at that scab? I mean, are we really expecting the feminist revolution to come from advertising and cosmetic companies, anyways? (It’s like expecting that wearing a Che shirt somehow is a stike against capitalism. Uh, not so much.)

    Not that this is meant to be a slam on Twisty, who is amazing and insightful and the first thing I read each morning at work. If there ever was a place to write about anything and everything related to the patriarchy, a blog is certainly it. I just had such a different reaction than most people to these ads. My feminist friends kept asking, Do you think Dove is a force for good or evil with this campaign? And I kept wanting to ask, Has the movement seriously gotten to the point that this shit is still that important?

  21. flea

    Twisty, you might like watching this Quicktime video of Alan Cumming selling his new perfume. While you’re watching it, imagine Giselle doing the exact same ad. It’s interesting.

    http://www.cummingthefragrance.com/commercial.html

  22. Steph

    AB, the reason why the discussion sticks to Dove ads and the like is because they’re easy. Asking feminist questions about beauty products and advertising makes one a good liberal feminist but not an evil radical one.
    (Again not a swipe at Twisty, because I firmly believe she fits into the latter camp).

    It’s easy to take shots at Dove, it’s hard to take shots and ACTION at capitalism and patriarchy and all its evil effects. It’s also really hard to live by those feminist ideals in a patriarchal world. I struggle with it every day and sitting in my comfy chair with my comfy life, I’m pretty sure I’m not doing as good a job fighting the patriarchy as I could be.

  23. Lauren

    When I go to the beach, I put my size 8/10 body into a teensy bikini. Why? If I’m going to burn (or tan, as whitey calls it), I might as well get everything.

    And seriously, if anyone wants a body image check, go to the swimming pool at noon on any weekday. Check out the moms and kids in all their glory. Nobody to impress and nobody cares. It’s lovely.

  24. tarte suite

    Man, I loathed the Jennifer Aniston haircut.

    Sunya says, “What I’m drawing a blank on is how the culture of male beauty fails to chew up men the way the female beauty myth chews up women.”

    Face it, the beauty industry is driven by the kind of misogyny that (unfortunately) bonds men, and echoes the homosocial (and homosexual) underpinnings of patriarchy.

    One of the true signifiers of the patriarchy is how maleness, even mitigated by gayness, continues to arbitrate good taste in terms of beauty. Why do we have fresh-faced, fine-pressed gay men telling straight men and women how to look fine? Because in many ways gay men are the ones who know how to DO the patriarchy best, who know how to orchestrate the heteronormative look best. Gay men are the ones who have heretofore refused the refusal chosen by so many dykes, because gay men believe in and crave that power, that seemingly timeless, brutal, shiny power, like so many Peter Pans on Brooks Brothers and crystal meth.

  25. Elaine

    About the men being objectified thing:

    Think about your (or most people’s) initial reaction to hot studded beefcake-ism. It’s to laugh, isn’t it? And you know why? It’s because objectification is a feminine thing and seeing men portrayed as something feminine is HILARIOUS to some people.

    While the effeminite metrosexual might be trendy, its only peripheral and not ingrained in our preconceptions of gender. Also I think the men that are more inclined to care about their appearance is more of a class thing. When you don’t have the money to tend to your appearance, those who do are “faggy.”

  26. Pinko Punko

    I just love that we can talk about these things. And the reason the Men’s mags are so abusive to men and manipulative and evil? They’re the same writers as the women’s mags- its the same patriarchy- suppressing peoples’ self-esteem is the best way to sell them something. Convince people that they need change and you are creating new markets. Create group think, and you can manipulate your market as a bloc, and not have to worry about individuals.

  27. Finn

    Steph said:

    “It’s easy to take shots at Dove, it’s hard to take shots and ACTION at capitalism and patriarchy and all its evil effects. It’s also really hard to live by those feminist ideals in a patriarchal world. I struggle with it every day and sitting in my comfy chair with my comfy life, I’m pretty sure I’m not doing as good a job fighting the patriarchy as I could be.”

    It’s my humble opinion that you’re being too hard on yourself. Idealists, whose number I’ve often found myself counted in, tend to set impossible standards. I’m not saying you should give up, but, it’s good to set reachable goals.

    Like, maybe, just don’t buy anything from Dove.

  28. AB

    Eh, I think I’m just convinced that the feminist (well, to be fair, many leftist movements) have become a wee bit more concerned with representation in the media than… well, anything. And while it’s an important thing, I think it’s ultimately not something that will in and of itself bring women more power. I don’t believe media stands completely outside of our culture and spoonfeeds us this shit. It’s to a large extent a reflection, not a creation, of the power imbalances in society.

    Don’t buy Dove–well, whether or not I buy it, whether or not Dove makes a million bucks or goes bankrupt, there’s always going to be another bullshit ad glorifying women as nothing more than sex objects.

    Until women get the economic power so that won’t happen anymore. (No reason to be a sex object if you can pay your own damn bills. Much less degrading.) When your looks and body are the only power you have, it’s easy to acquiesce to the whole sex-object thing. I view this as a problem that women not being at the bottom of the economic heap might help a hell of a lot more than any number of consumer boycotts.

    But that means agitating for support for universal child care; an unemployment insurance system that recognizes many women don’t work 40 hour per week, 52 weeks per year; stronger anti-discrimination employment laws with teeth; women having easier access to capital and to little things like health insurance and so forth.

  29. Twisty

    As yall have no doubt surmised, the purpose of this here patriarchy-blaming blog is not political action, although I’m all for that if it’s your bag. I Blame The Patriarchy is more an ideology depot. I use it to illuminate (and to disseminate commentary on, and to make up funny words about) the pervasiveness of the archy in question by compiling a (woefully incomplete) record of day-to-day misogynies that popular culture perpetrates, which it does often without knowing it, often while knowing it and lying about it, often while knowing about it and not giving a fuck. Acknowledging the impact of all these “little” issues is vital to a thorough understanding of the mighty hooliganical force of the system that oppresses us all–girl, boy, boy-girl, Negro, and honky–every goddam day. Sometimes it’s douchebag “village elders” in Pakistan, sometimes it’s a fucktarded state legislator trying to pin the blame for teen pregnancy on cheerleaders, sometimes it’s a soap company pretending to be gung-ho about women’s “self-esteem.” The way I see it, any act of sexism is a big deal if you’re the one on the receiving end. Which, believe me, you are.

  30. AB

    Ahh! Sorry! I wasn’t trying to slam on you, Twisty… dammit, you know when you have that beautiful, crystalized idea in your head and it just gets garbled as shit on the way out?

    Um, I was trying to say something more along the lines of “it’s real depressing that this is being held up by a bunch of my progressive, feminist friends as a grand movement forward for women” when clearly, clearly it’s not. Which is pretty much what you were saying. And I was trying to agree with you.

    Arggh. I’ll stop now, while I’m behind. Sorry again.

  31. Twisty

    Hey AE, I know you weren’t slammin’ me, mostly because you wrote “I’m not slamming Twisty,” and then you wrote “she’s a fucking SAINT!” or something along those lines. No, it just seemed like time for a clarificational mission statement-type remark, that’s all.

  32. yankee transplant

    Excellent post, as ever.

  33. lcgillies

    Fantastic post. Concise criticism and sarcastically funny as well. Pointing out the mind control, regardless of its scale, is more important than many understand. It truly is the accumulation of little things, the pervasive detail of the messaging, the accumulation of a neverending stream of apparently everyday, unremarkable statements, that saturates and overwhelms our otherwise healthy minds. And its not something about which we need any kind of “balance”! The onslaught (in this case on womens’ self-image and the male parameters for judging women) is total and unremitting. I won’t tell you to keep at it because I’m sure you will regardless…

  34. bitchphd

    That they are not professional models only magnifies the pathos.

    I thought this was a brilliant insight.

    This is a much better–clearer, more convincing–essay than the previous post. I agree with every word.

    I think one thing a lot of ppl are getting at in comments is that yes; being physically attractive does connote a certain kind of power, and so yes, of course young men in their sexual primes, like young women in their sexual primes, are going to want to maximize that asset. But that’s not the point: the point is that men have alternate paths to power that are, if anything, seen as *more* valuable than mere physical beauty; women, as far as the culture is concerned, really don’t. If anything, being brainy or athletic or whatever is, at best, a consolation prize for a woman.

  35. Andrea

    I agree with a previous poster who said that while patriarchy manipulates people’s desire to be beautiful and has stretched the standard to the point where no human woman could ever possibly match up–the actual desire predates patriarchy. People like pretty things, they like to look at pretty things, have pretty things, and be pretty things. Use of “things” intentional. Our prehistory is full of people smearing themselves with ochre, and I don’t know if we’ve yet found a human society that has not adorned themselves in some way, or found a way to distinguish “ugly” from “beautiful” and punished those who didn’t meet the criteria.

    Yes, it’s been distorted and twisted out of shape like all get out. But it was always there.

    But I think more importantly (and this is a failing I’ve noticed consistently in most writing on this subject, not just here), it’s important to realize that the Beauty Deal is a Big Patriarchal Lie. Beauty is sold as a route to power, influence, happiness, success, a beach house in Hawaii, etc., but it’s not. it is only a route to those things if you are willing to sell yourself to the highest male bidder and accept your life on his terms. If you’re not, trust me, beauty won’t do shit for you–and it could seriously mess you up.

    Who are the people telling us that Being Beautiful is the be-all and end-all of female existence, and that those who have it have ultimate female power? The same ones who use that beauty to sell us butt cream. The girls who are selling the butt cream are just as screwed over as the rest of us–only in nicer clothes, and documented by better photographers.

  36. Sunya Harjis

    >Sunya, I am somewhat puzzled by your assumptions that I am (a) having a crisis and (b) arguing that men are never objectified. So, no carrot for you!< Oh both trifling issues of semantics. Similar! Crisis! One word ignored and the other overexamined. For shame.

    The reason I wanted to examine male beauty and male objectification isn't because you'd brought it up, but because it provides enlightenment of the power structure that supports beauty. One conclusion I came to was that the people who want beauty in their lovers (as a primary consideration) are typically not straight women, and the people who go to fantastic lengths to pretty themselves up are not straight men.

    Over in fagland, we have the more interesting sexual vagaries of queers, dykes, trannies, and intersexed people. A lot of gay guys are really hung up on looks! But here's an interesting bit of fluff: being hung up on looks doesn't mean being hung up on the waxed, buffed, bleached, etc. version of beauty. You have twinks! You have bears! You have gym rats! You have fussy professional men! Then we wander over to the dyke clubs and we find that there are some butch dykes, some femme dykes, but - I would generalize again - physical appearance tends not to play a severely reduced role in even casual relationships. Dykes have their kinks, sure, and concepts of relative hotness exist, but they're not the deal-breaker we're familiar with in het relationships.

    I want to get into a very delicate and complex discussion here about the state of dyke beauty and, as someone else pointed out, the target market of the Dove ads: Dove is for women, the ads are for women, women are judging themselves by advertising, women judge other women by the standards of advertising, women are not judging themselves or others by dyke standards of beauty. I wish to then lightly indicate the recent (controversial) study done that showed that most women had a response of sexual arousal to both men and women, from which the scientists concluded that bisexuality is relatively common among women. Then I would draw the inference that women are consumers of female beauty and have internalized the patriarchal sexualization of female faces and bodies: it’s not that so many girls are “bisexual” – actually the word will have to be redefined in light of my next radical thought – it’s that women have, like salivating dogs, come to associate beauty and sex on the patriarchy’s terms so closely that they have adopted the patriarchy’s mindset towards themselves and included it as a part of their own sexuality. But that’s a terrifically dainty line of thought and spinning it out in full is no thing to do in Twisty’s blog comments.

    PS: People saying the beauty deal is no big deal are so stupidly wrong. Of course it is: good-looking people have an edge up in society no matter which gender they are. People are uncomfortable around ugly people, fat people, and disabled people. They feel more comfortable with attractive people and that’s just a fact. I’ve never seen beauty sold as a route to power or money: I’ve only seen it sold as a standard that women are obliged to meet, and that if they don’t meet it they’re not only ugly but bound to live lonely lives. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy when it’s promulgated so continually and pervasively.

  37. Sunya Typo

    Whoops. “… appearance tends not to play a severely reduced role in even casual relationships.”

  38. mmcc

    Whoops. “… appearance tends not to play a severely reduced role in even casual relationships.”

    hey, sunya, didn’t you just say the same thing over again? did you mean, by any chance “appearance tends to play a severely reduced role in even casual relationships.”?

    just wondering.

  39. Twisty

    Sunya, I’m totally enjoying your theory that patriarchy has invaded womens’ sexuality to the degree that you postulate above. It’s sheer genius.

    What, however, is the dyke beauty standard? I ask because I am a dyke, but do not know what you’re talking about. In my experience, girls seem to pair off the same way het couples do, that is, according to their degree of hotness on the heteronormative (I can’t believe I just used that word) scale. Hot goes with hot, not goes with not.

  40. Nerice

    I’m a relatively new reader of this blog. All I can say is, I love you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :D

  41. Sunya Harjis

    I’m consciously moving onto skeezy ground here because, Twist, we are going to have to get into our subjective and reflective experiences with dykeness and hotness. I’m especially conscious that I will have to fess to being less dyke than you, as – despite my many happy and unhappy and sexual and asexual relationships with women – the only relationship I’ve had lasting longer than half a year is with a man. But I don’t generally find men attractive; I generally find women attractive. And straight white men don’t generally find me attractive but many dykes do. So I have to make the third admission that my faith-like belief in a dyke beauty standard stems at least in part from wanting to explain the way I personally appeal to one population more than another.

    So with all the emotional baggage aside, I also have to say that I disagree with your hot-with-hot theory because in the first place whose hot are we talking about? The patriarchy’s hotness? Are you saying patriarchially hot dykes tend to pair up with likewise, and ugly dykes, to continue, with ugly ones? What standard of beauty do you personally adopt? What is, in your opinion, a hot chick?

    Let’s suppose that dykes in general and straight men find the same girls to be the same degree of hot. This indicates a strong correlation between the het and dyke standards of beauty and sexual desireability. Yes? While I love the KD Lang/Cindy Crawford story as much as anyone, I feel hard pressed to explain how dykes would find patriarchially women attractive without resorting to my own theory that women have absorbed the patriarchy’s definition of hot. For the obvious reason that women who are genuinely attracted to women would like women who look like women more than they would like women who look like blow-dried man-pandering sexbots. That is: dykes would be less likely to appreciate the misogyny inherent in the patriarchy’s definition of beauty.

    The established, decades-long, comfortable-with-it dykes of my acquaintance throw wonderful beach parties and also tend not to bother with many of the patriarchy’s favorite woman-reshaping technology: makeup, foundational garments, uncomfortable shoes. Of course we run self-consciously into the stereotype of the unshaven, homely, Birkenstock-clad lesbian with her eight cats and her natural food store, but the ladies to which I refer are attractive and professional ladies… just not attractive like boob job, dye job, nail job, blow job kind of way. They have nice faces and nice bodies, but don’t trouble themselves to emphasize their lips, de-emphasize their thighs, etc.

    In other words, they tend in their personal habits to be more like tidy men than straight women, and they are comfortable with this level of self-attention in their lovers.

    Also, and maybe this is just my experience, but the patriarchially hot dykes (PHDs) I know tend to be more femme than not, and also tend to select butchier (and less patriarchially attractive) dykes for their flings and even their LTRs. I have never seen two lipstsick lesbians together outside of (man-oriented) porn. Maybe that’s just me though.

  42. Sunya Typo

    WELL WHATEVER YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN. God damnit. =^_^=

  43. WookieMonster

    If by “lipstick lesbian” you mean to lesbians who wear makeup, I have seen two lipstick lesbians together many times. I’ve also seen quite a few butch couples too.

  44. Sydney

    “women are not judging themselves or others by dyke standards of beauty”

    While I agree with the idea that women may judge themselves from the patriarchy’s standard of beauty, the dyke standards of beauty part still makes me say, huh? The dyke standard of beauty is what exactly? I read your second post which was supposed to clarify what that standard was and I’m not sure I understand. Are you saying dykes (and bisexual women) have one standard of beauty to go by? Meaning that queer women who are femme are that way because they’ve absorbed the patriarchy’s standard of beauty and not the right standard of beauty? And do you think it’s possible for queer women to be femme but still a follower of the dyke standard of beauty- aside from dating butch women?

    I just want to make it clear that I’m not attacking you here- I just am really curious about what you think.

  45. piny

    >>Over in fagland, we have the more interesting sexual vagaries of queers, dykes, trannies, and intersexed people. A lot of gay guys are really hung up on looks! But here’s an interesting bit of fluff: being hung up on looks doesn’t mean being hung up on the waxed, buffed, bleached, etc. version of beauty. You have twinks! You have bears! You have gym rats! You have fussy professional men! Then we wander over to the dyke clubs and we find that there are some butch dykes, some femme dykes, but – I would generalize again – physical appearance tends not to play a severely reduced role in even casual relationships. Dykes have their kinks, sure, and concepts of relative hotness exist, but they’re not the deal-breaker we’re familiar with in het relationships.>>

    I hear this mixed-bag thing a lot. It’s usually used to conflate presence with equal access and space, qualified tolerance with full inclusion.

    A really diverse set of subcultural preferences can coexist with an overarching set of patriarchal beauty standards. A height/weight-proportionate butch with a high facial symmetry index* will still get more play from many butch lovers than a big one with a wonky nose. While bears and bear-lovers idolize big bellies, fuzzy bodies, and chubby cheeks, most of them still prefer conventionally handsome faces, straight white teeth, and clear skin.

    And speaking as a tranny, subcultural beauty standards can be as oppressive, as obnoxious, and as conducive to self-hatred on the part of the objectified as the old-fashioned ones. They tend to be a multifarious but still narrowly-defined set of standards, and many of them are only open to certain kinds of people. A bisexual man can’t easily opt into butch-dyke beauty standards; a female bodybuilder can’t hang with the gym rats; a stocky, bearded, middle-aged mtf is not an acceptable genderqueer boi.

    Plus, acceptance for objectification purposes tends to come only at the expense of respect on other levels. I get entry into the tranny-lovin’ queer subculture if and only if I agree to be there as a hot trannyboi slampiece. When my personality or identity complicate that position, I’m no longer wanted.

    Also, this kind of objectification too often gets confused with uncomplicated acceptance–it’s a more progressive version of the way sexual attention from any male source is something women should be slavishly grateful for. It becomes really hard to explain how telling me I have a really nice ass is not the same as honoring me as a person, or how having sex with lots and lots of transmen half your age doesn’t mean you’re validating their gender, or that a butch dyke might not need sexualized attention from femmes to feel sufficiently butch.

    *Just pretend there are little *eyeroll* html codes around most of these dependent clauses, okay?

  46. Hazel

    Sing it sister!

    Women will be liberated on the day it stops mattering how we look. Whether it’s larger women or thinner women being objectified, it’s still objectification and it’s still about keeping us in our place as f*ck toys/eye candy for men.

  47. Mandos

    Will it ever cease to matter how people look? I mean, even without patriarchy…?

  48. Twisty

    Probably not. But it’s possible, isn’t it, to imagine a society in which half the population isn’t valued exclusively on its adherence to the sexbot standard?

  49. piny

    What Twisty said. Yes, there will always be attraction and therefore standards of attraction, if only the individual kind. But that’s not really what’s happening here, not when the Dove women are supposed to represent every diverse female body the mass media has been leaving out of its ads for the past several decades. When there’s acknowledgment of more female body types than Bondage Fairies plus a little bit of watered-down Strangers in Paradise, then we can start talking about human lust in the post-patriarchy.

  50. M@

    I read with great interest this post and the comments on it. I had not seen these Dove ads before reading about them on this and other blogs. I hate to post me-too comments on blogs, but: hell, yes.

    It was a little surprising that Dove pretends they’re doing anything positive at all this way. That the Dove ads are supposed to represent “real” women is laughable — and I say this as a man. Very few of the women I know fit into the standard of beauty that the Dove campaign promotes (i.e. “not models, but not _too_ ugly”).

    Replacing one standard of beauty with another is hardly what I’d call progress. Pretending that an underwear photo and a playmate questionnaire captures anything “real” is insulting to any woman.

    I notice, too, that most of the models on the site mention their curves. Is there any greater signifier of sexuality than curves? How is this an improvement on the standard supermodel?

    And what about women who are less curvy? What about women who, for example, have large bellies and small breasts? Funny that Dove didn’t include any of them. Apparently you can be curvy, but the curves have to be in the right places and the right proportions. Again, replacing one beauty standard with another.

    I may not be sufficiently informed to comment on the feminist point of view; I realise that I am as much a sucker for the beauty mandate as pretty much any other man. I hope I am at least qualified, though, to enter this debate, if only to call the Dove campaign a steaming pile of crap.

  51. mgood

    This post and the resulting comments made for a fantastic read. I’m glad I followed the link from Beanie Baby.

    I don’t have much to contribute here, except for something regarding this: “They’ve been posed in their fucking underwear by some fashion choreographer as though they are each wearing a single invisible stiletto pump on one cocked foot. Ouch.”

    This is because that pose fools the eye to make the legs look longer. I learned this from reading biographies of pin-up girls from the mid-century. When reclining, when in a bondage position and when naked on the beach, Bettie Page said she would deliberately pose with her feet and legs in this position to make them look as long as possible.

    And so, pictured above, are clear-complected, smooth-haired, straight-toothed women with incredibly even skin tones and phenomenal grooming who are being directed to give the impression of a rather rare leg to torso proportion to their images.

  52. Hazel

    Hey Mandos, I said “women” not people. It matters far too much at the moment how women look. If it didn’t, there wouldn’t be a multi-billion dollar diet and beauty industry based on the idea of making women feel inadequate with our natural bodies. There wouldn’t be a fashion industry which puts women into uncomfortable and ridiculous clothes for the pleasure of men, and there wouldn’t be a porno industry which not only objectifies the women it uses but is now setting new standards in cosmetic surgery for women with labial trimming as one of the latest requirements. The surgeons use Playboy as their aesthetic guide.

    Get rid of those things and then we can talk about whether it matters how “people” look.

  53. Blue

    Our entire society is based on looks, and it is more biological than you think. No it does not give one right to objectify anyone, but I did notice that when I started to work out again and lose body fat I recieved more smiles and advances from women, even younger women.

    And the fact is that the women in the dove commercials are not as they would be waking up on a Saturday morning. My favorite Sigreid, yes I even have a favorite, claims they fixed her hair apllied makeup etc. So really Dove just thought of an advertising scheme to get people to buy their stuff, and people are falling for it had over foot.

  54. Erin

    The “campaign for real beauty” site is blocked by the filter on the computers in my office. The reason? According to the filtering software: “The category: ‘Swimsuits and Lingerie’ is not approved”

    Oh.

  55. gigi

    Yes! The slithery nature of this shit and our cultural perpetuation of it can make it so difficult for me to keep my words in line long enough to make the point that is raging in my heart (raging because proper expression is somehow inhibited as mentioned above) – so thank you INFINITELY for so succinctly and undeniably stating exactly why this “campaign for beauty” might not be a win after all.

  56. gigi

    …or WORTH winning, after all.

  57. TeenageCatgirl

    The accepted bluprint of ‘attractive’ female does not come from aesthetics, and in fact aesthetics cannot even reasonably be cited as a justification for it.

    Ceratin things are more aesthetically pleasing because they suggest good genes, healthy skin, hair, eyes and size suggest the same. These things subconsciously suggest any resulting offspring would be healthy and strong. This is why they are aesthetically pleasing.

    A female with no fat deposits to enable her to carry a child to term, with a pelvis so narrow and backside so small as to render her almost incapable of bearing a child, with inflated non-working breasts so she could not feed a child, and a whole host of other cosmetic ‘improvements’ which make her totally unnatural in appearance cannot be argued to be aesthetically based.
    The sexbot is a sexbot, and is patriarchal, because she is unnatural, she is feminine, as opposed to female.
    If aesthetics played a part of dictating the attractiveness of women, cellulite would be attractive, because it would indicate the ability to nourish a foetus in the event of a famine, stretch marks, showing a child had been born previously and the the female was fertile would be so too, as would breasts which have obviously spent a period of time lactating.

    Also, I think the suggestiion that ‘femme’ dykes choose ‘butch’ dykes, because one has to be the girl and one the boy is pretty offensive.

  58. piny

    “Aesthetic” refers to a standard of physical beauty, any standard of physical beauty. You can have a patriarchal aesthetic, a butch lesbian aesthetic, a bodybuilder aesthetic, a chubby-chaser aesthetic….All that’s required is that you decide what’s beautiful and what’s not, and divide up your cohort accordingly. Your aesthetic can be completely arbitrary, even completely unattainable.

    So there’s no malapropism involved in referring to a misogynist media aesthetic. Fembots fit one particular visual standard. Healthy, sturdy, fertile women’s bodies fit another.

    I understand that you’re trying to make a point about illogical beauty standards, but it seems like you’re falling into the EP trap of seeing things as aesthetically pleasing because of cultural connotations of health and “good breeding.” Strong yellow teeth are as durable as strong white ones; thick, oily skin is as healthy for some people as clear dry skin for others. Healthy bodies–including fertile female ones–also come in an enormous range of sizes. Also, who says child-bearing talent is the most sensible standard for selecting a female mate?

    >>Also, I think the suggestiion that ‘femme’ dykes choose ‘butch’ dykes, because one has to be the girl and one the boy is pretty offensive.>>

    Who said this?

  59. TeenageCatgirl

    Actually, I was responding to the individuals who had suggested that biology, not patriarchy, were responsible for the obsession with the appearance of women. Therefore I think it makes sense to come from the same initial point of fertile = attractive.
    Since that was my argument, many of the points you have just made in disagreement are actually an extention of it, as at no point did I mention anything about teeth, or skin type and certainly not size.

    And thankyou, I’m fully aware that individuals have wildly differing tastes, however, biologically speaking certain things are seen as more attractive by a greater number of people, and these are not generally characteristics displayed by the women held us as beautiful.

  60. piny

    >>Ceratin things are more aesthetically pleasing because they suggest good genes, healthy skin, hair, eyes and size suggest the same.>>

    You did, too, mention both skin and size, and you implied that certain skins and sizes are connected with good genes. I’m assuming you’re referring to the genes that our cave-dwelling ancestors got hard for, yes?

    >>Therefore I think it makes sense to come from the same initial point of fertile = attractive.>>

    Again, why? Why assume that fertility is the only possible biological/hardwired/culture-independent reason for selecting a female mate? I know why EP misogynists do it: they see women as incubators, period, and assume that women have always been primarily useful for that purpose. Why are you doing it?

    >>biologically speaking certain things are seen as more attractive by a greater number of people, and these are not generally characteristics displayed by the women held us as beautiful>>

    Like what? What physical characteristics are a reliable indicator of actual fertility or health as opposed to (either) connotative of fertility or health because of culturally imposed meanings (or) based on such broad physiological generalizations as to be inapplicable to most actual fertile and healthy women?

  61. TeenageCatgirl

    I’ve just explained why I was doing it.
    If you disagree with the concept that certain things are universally more attractive than others, take it up with science, not with me.

  62. piny

    Nothing, but nothing, is universally attractive.

    I disagree with the idea that certain things are _generally_ more attractive BECAUSE WE’VE BEEN HARDWIRED TO FIND THEM ATTRACTIVE, rather than with the idea that many things have broad appeal BECAUSE WE’VE BEEN TAUGHT TO FIND THEM APPEALING.

    See the difference? Culture. Biology. Nurture. Nature. We have no assurance that biology causes us to find anything attractive, or that we have evolved to find any particular quality attractive for any particular reason. The study of human sexuality is in its infancy, and the current administration has chained it to a pipe in the basement. There is no scientific consensus. We have a lot of conjecture, and a bunch of people–including you, apparently–who think it’s just as good as fact.

    We don’t know what made our ancestors desire each other. We don’t know what they were looking for, or to what extent or in what direction _their_ cultures influenced their desires. We don’t know why men desired certain types of women. We can’t even settle the question of what signified health or fertility, given that most people are both fertile and healthy but that very few people look alike.

    Not just that, but do you understand why the rationales you’ve decided must have been of primary importance to Early Man are patriarchal in the extreme? You’ve just culled the distaff side of our family tree for breeding hips and good teeth, and decided that every other quality is negligible. Why are you assuming that fertility was the most desirable female quality, then or ever? Why are you assuming that it would be most advantageous to select a female mate for that quality alone, or that we would naturally evolve to do so?

    That’s a sexist assumption based on a sexist preconception of how societies naturally order themselves, and sexist beliefs about how women are useful to the survival of a community and therefore attractive to potential mates.

  63. Anonymous

    Last I heard, symmetric features are universally attractive. This isn’t taught culturally–we didn’t even notice until recently, and we still can’t consciously perceive it without photographic tricks or taking careful measurements.

    If evolutionary psychology holds true, it doesn’t mean that health and fertility were all that our ancestors decided was important, it’s simply the limit of what any animals can infer just by looking at each other. Fertility in males would be equally desirable, if it weren’t invisible.

  64. TeenageCatgirl

    Thankyou anonymous person. Piny, I’m not quite sure why you’re being so hostile, but as I previously said, since you’ve got such a problem with it, take it up with science, not with someone you don’t even know and accuse of being ‘sexist’ regardless.

  65. TeenageCatgirl

    Just for the record, at no point did I assign the passive, ‘useful to society as an incubator’ role to motherhood that you seem to take as a given. Rather I suggested, and rightly so I believe, that when selecting a female MATE, that is, someone to produce young with, that the fertility of that mate would of the upmost importance. Just as the fertility of the male would be of the upmost importance to the female, and if any physical characteristics would indicate decent sperm to her, she’d probably find them attractive.
    At no point did I imply the female would be a victim of patriarchal decisions to impregnate her.
    And for the last time I didn’t mention anything about fucking teeth!

    That’s the last I’m going to say on the subject, because hijacking someone else’s blog is in my opinion, impolite, and I have better things to do than constantly justify myself to someone who’s opinions on what I am are already concrete.

  66. piny

    Anon, tfg did not talk about facial symmetry.

    Tfg, I understand if you’d rather not respond. I’ll reply to what you’ve said anyway; hopefully you’ll at least read it.

    >>Rather I suggested, and rightly so I believe, that when selecting a female MATE, that is, someone to produce young with, that the fertility of that mate would of the upmost importance.>>

    I apologize for reading you wrong. This is a very limited definition of “mate,” one not apparent from the context of your original post. A “mate” can be someone you raise children with, for example. Or someone you partner for life with. I don’t see why answering _these_ questions wouldn’t introduce “universally attractive” characteristics from early human society onwards.

    And again, I gotta ask: why is fertility–especially in terms of degree rather than a simple can/can’t–of the utmost importance even in answering this question? Would you select a woman likely to bear eight children over a woman likely to live long enough to see them into adulthood? Would you select a woman likely to bear children over a woman talented at providing for them? Why would we not evolve to answer these questions before hopping into bed with someone?

    And then there’s the problem of whether or not the characteristics you mentioned are in fact indicators of fertility. They aren’t. They don’t necessarily make women good at conceiving children or at successfully delivering them. It wouldn’t be a good idea to select on these bases, either, since you’d inevitably reject a good many healthy and fertile women in favor of not-necessarily-healthy-or-fertile women.

    That’s why it seems like you’ve internalized cultural beliefs about what connotes fertility: you’ve mentioned a bunch of characteristics that are tied to fertility only by cultural prejudice. And when you forget that cultural prejudice determines a great deal of what evo psych says we find generally attractive, you’re losing sight of sexism and how it informs evo psych analysis.

    The “teeth” comment, btw, was in reference to the other superficial indicators you mentioned–good skin, for example. You know, like checking a horse’s teeth?

  67. gia

    i just came across,so sorry for posting late but i believe the argument is way relevant.i just want to thank you for completely elucidating my view on the matter.i agree 100%.when i heard about this,before i’d even seen the ads,all i could think was “…ok,so now they’re using ‘real,everyday’ (whatever that means)women to sell their products that are supposed to make you ‘beautiful’?”pretty hypocritical considering that they sell moisturizer and crap promising to enhance your eligibility at being the ultra smooth no body hair docile fembot that you’re supposed to be..

  68. the anti-fascist

    The arguments about what is aesthetically pleasing (i.e., Sunya’s “state of dyke beauty” is really a question of deciding on which degree of objectification you find acceptable in yourself, as a pre-requisite to allowing yourself to feel attracted to an “other”. Most of us, having been raised in a patriarchal, capitalist world from birth, we are trained to desire “products,” trained to admire “winners,” and trained as to what “beauty” is. A slew of objectifying judgments arise from that, and it seems we are almost helpless to see it, helpless to imagine our lives without it, like a fish in water might be helpless to define the very water he swims in.

    Pornography seems an easy case. Dove’s models are perhaps a more camouflaged example. Advertising is built of objectivism, and its practitioners work hard at training the public to “buy” not only the products, but also at training the public to buy the “self image” being sold, in effect, to engage in self-objectification. And it damn-well works.

    Not unlike a cat coughing up a hairball, to free oneself from all the objectivist ideas which have been crammed into us over decades requires a lot of heaving and ugly self-realization (once you spit up and see what you’ve been carrying around for so long).

    One can never hope to rid oneself of all of it. But perhaps one can, with humility and kindness towards the self, try to learn a new standard towards others not based on the superficial objectivism that works so well to create and maintain this patriarchal mess of wars, oligarchs, defense contractors, banksters, misogynists, rascists, etc.

  1. Sappho's Breathing

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  5. Beanie Baby

    Is Beauty Truth, or is it An Oppressive Tool of Patriarchal Mind Control?

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