Sick of beauty? Dang it, me too. That’s why I’m posting on it more or less nonstop.
Blamer Magriff, reading yesterday’s post on how beauty is dumb, suggested that for crying out loud, people, shut the fuck up about beauty. She based her suggestion on the notion that writing about beauty merely perpetuates its evil power, like unto dropping delicious little nuggets of our splintered selves into its gaping maw.
The less attention we pay to how women look, one way or another, the better, at least for a while. And that goes for everyone. Stop talking about it already, it’s the ultimate sore subject, and everyone knows sores don’t heal if you insist on picking and picking at them.
Lard knows I love Magriff like fish sauce loves a spring roll, but I cannot get behind this thesis. To enlarge on the diseased skin metaphor: just as the treatment for a festering carbuncle is unlikely to include ignoring the carbuncle, so too might ignoring the hideous consequences of a critical aspect of women’s subjugation be unlikely to make it go away. I remind the Blametariat that, because women are an oppressed class, we don’t have the luxury of simply existing and lounging on the Lido Deck and traipsing around town as though our appearance were totally a politically neutral dealio and there was no global humanitarian crisis afflicting our entire population. That perk is reserved for the dominant class. We are an oppressed class, so everything women do, voluntary or no, is a political act. Is this tiresome? Painful? Exhausting? It sure is! That’s why I advocate immediate feminist revolt. Maybe then we could take a fucking load off, for crissake.
Anyway, I was motivated to complain about beauty for the second day in a row by a soap commercial on television. The soap commercial to which I allude is one of that insidious species of soap commercials that plays into women’s insecurities concerning our level of commitment to beauty and beauty products. In this ad, a group of women confront the horror of “soap scum.”
That’s right! You called it! It’s our old friend Dove!
Dear old Dove! Who can forget 2004’s surreal Campaign for Real Beauty? This devious advertising gimmick paraded conventionally pretty women and posed them crouching awkwardly in their underwear, rebranding soap model hotness to include a few more fat cells than previously allowed on TV. Dove called the models “real women.” They were meant to appeal to potential Dove butt-cream customers because the women were not the typical pubescent Slavic speedfreak toothpicks.
Internet feminists laughed and laughed. We were well used to this kind of schizoid women’s marketing. We cut our vagina dentatas on glossy women’s magazines where one page contains an article on the dangers of dieting but on the facing page is a giant ad for Lean Cuisine Bacon Alfredo Pizza (320 calories). Those 2004 Dove models might have had a little meat on their bones, but the message was same shit, different day: “Hotness is king! Buy yours here!”
The creepiest thing about it all was the camaraderiffic tone. The Dove company pretending to be your best friend and trusted confidante and professional life coach all rolled into a single “beauty bar,” existing solely for the purpose of helping you and your precious self-esteem be more beautiful than ever. Six years later, I’m still shuddering.
The Dove website is a fucking scream, by the way. Dork city! Check this out:
“As part of the launch campaign, DOVE invited women to rediscover the beauty in their own hair.”
Invited by an altruistic cosmetics company who cared for nothing so much as her self-esteem, Twisty discovered the Taj Mahal, a sunset on the beach, and a monarch chrysalis deep within the tangled web of her own hair.
And there’s actually a link titled “Real women react to soap scum.” No shit.
“So, Daphne, whatcha been up to lately?”
“Oh, not much. I got an internet video gig.”
“Doing what? Tickling kittens? Weeping piteously over Star Wars?”
“Nah. Reacting to soap scum.”
“Soap scum? Sweet!”
But back to the commercial. It’s set up like some kind of bizarro-world scientific study, which for some reason is being conducted outside using wacky equipment: life-sized woman-shaped mirrors with shower heads attached to their tops. The mirrors have cute flip hairdos. A bunch of women are “invited” — Dove is constantly inviting women to do moronic shit — to take part in the demonstration, which will reveal “the truth” about soap scum.
Dove puts the women test subjects to work right away. Cleaning, of course. What else?
“Every woman washed mirrors,” the narrator says, introducing the unlikely premise.
Cut to women diligently soaping up their weird woman-shaped mirrors. Cue the showers for a rinse.
Uh-oh. There’s unsightly white shit left on the mirrors! But why?
“Soap leaves soap scum behind every time you wash.”
Yet, “you can’t see [the soap scum] on your skin …” admits the narrator.
So technically, what they’ve shown is that a substance purported to be soap can leave white shit on woman-shaped mirrors with shower heads stuck to them, and that actors can be paid to look horrified by this.
Happily for consumers who loathe and despise white shit on woman-shaped mirrors, Dove is “different.” As is demonstrated by a pretty, naked, decidedly non-scummy woman in a towel who caresses her cleavage with a sensual hand, Dove leaves skin “soft, smooth, and always soap-scum-free.”
Can you imagine being that towel model?
“So Miriam, whatcha been doin lately?”
“Oh, I got a job wearing a towel and feeling myself up on soap commercials.”
“You do this with a straight face?”
“It puts food on the table, OK?”
“But towel modeling? At your age?”
“Lucky for me Dove is an equal opportunity exploiter. As long as you’re really, really photogenic, towel models can be as old as 35, 36!”
The Campaign for Real Beauty has now morphed into the Dove Self-Esteem Fund, which “was developed to help free the next generation from self-limiting beauty stereotypes [and] promot[e] a wider definition of beauty.”
Notice that, in promoting this supposedly “wider” definition of beauty, Dove is tacitly promoting an all-important corollary: that there will always be those hopeless unfortunates in the margins for whom the definition still isn’t wide enough. Meaning that this new fake commodified Dove beauty will continue to retain exclusivity and unattainability, while injecting a new dose of guilt: if you can’t manage to be beautiful even under these new, lowered standards, you can’t be trying hard enough, or spending enough money.
Here’s a little taste of some of the shitty shit that beauty does:
• It creates and reinforces the notion of the sex class.
• It creates and reinforces the notion of social status.
• It promotes pointless adversarial relationships between women, effectively isolating them from each other (divide and conquer).
• It promotes physically and emotionally damaging, dangerous practices.
• It genericizes women, transforming them from humans into interchangeable fleshbots.
• It infantilizes women, transforming them from humans into morons who seek baby-soft skin.
• It publicly communicates private information which may be used against a woman, including her caste, sexual availability, and degree of personal investment in patriarchal mores.
• It diverts women’s financial resources from things like health care and organic margaritas to the beauty industrial complex, to the tune of billions a year.
• It diverts women’s attention from stuff that actually matters, like global women’s oppression, to superficial, meaningless, neurotic rituals. One of which is that you must endeavor to be free of scum at all times.
So that’s why I’m writing about beauty again. If it doesn’t get some bad press once in a while, people might forget how bad it sucks. It sucks way worse than soap scum.