Thursday, September 29, 2011

Buying Beauty

Many, if not most, woman long to be beautiful. That may seem like a very politically incorrect statement. After all, we're strong, independent women. We don't need to be beautiful. But just because we don't need to be beautiful doesn't mean we don't long to be beautiful.

I know I do. I'm definitely not the kind of woman that spends a lot of time on my looks. And I'm much rather be thought intelligent than beautiful. And yet I long to be beautiful.

I think partly that has to do with the fact that so many of the magazines, adverts and television programs tell women we should be beautiful. And yet it's those same magazines, adverts and television programs that stop so many women from feeling like they are beautiful.

For they all combine to make women feel completely inadequate about the way they look. It is this feeling of inadequacy that makes them go out and buy products that will help them feel better about their appearance. Or at least, they might feel better until the next ad comes along telling them to do something about their grey hair, cellulite, pimples, wrinkles, stained teeth, rough hands, et cetera. Because the ads don't actually want anyone to feel beautiful. When a woman already feels beautiful she doesn't need to buy anything to make her feel that way.

Now I don't think there is anything wrong in women buying certain things to improve their appearance. Women have been trying using various substances and items for thousands of years in order to try and look more beautiful. I don't think they are going to stop now. A new dress, a bit of make-up, a wrinkle cream, a new pair of shoes - none of these are necessarily bad.

Where I do see a problem though is the expectation that women will be addressing all the many issues they see on the advertisements. So if a woman has grey hair, it's seen as something wrong with her. Here's news. We're meant to have grey hair when we get older. And again, if people want to try and cover up their grey hair, that's fine. But there shouldn't be the expectation that all women will try and 'remove the grey' - or get rid of wrinkles or buy this season's fashions or wear heaps of make-up.

I've heard more than one Christian say women should wear make-up for their husbands. And it annoys me each time I hear it. Women should feel beautiful the way God made them. And that's the message they read in Christian books. And yet the other message they're hearing (particularly in books or shows on marriage) is that the way God made them is not good enough for their husbands. Why else would they need to wear make-up? If God's pleased with how he made a woman, then their husbands should be too.

And this idea that women must be doing and buying all these various products just to be beautiful 'enough' leads to other problems. Firstly, it's a drain on the environment. If all women stopped buying beauty or fashion products for a year, what difference would that make to this planet? Think about the resources we pull from the earth to make those products, the transport that's needed, the carbon emissions released into the atmosphere, not to mention the various chemicals that we are dumping on the earth and placing on our bodies.

Today's beauty expectations are not good for the earth. In trying to create a beauty that is 'better' than what God has made, are we destroying the very beautiful earth that he has made?

Another problem I see with current beauty ideas is that it leaves women who are struggling financially like they will have enough money to be beautiful. If the adverts tell you that you need this product and that product and the latest fashions just to be acceptable in the looks department, how do you feel when you don't have the money to spend on this product and that product and the latest fashions? You feel like beauty, like no many other things, is something that is completely beyond your grasp.

And I don't think it's just a matter of women feeling like they can't be beautiful. I think society's expectation is that a woman will spend a lot of money on their looks. Beauty is expensive. Many women spend a great deal of money on their looks. And, in a lot of cases, the money spent does help them look fantastic. But where does it leave those people who can't spend the same money? Looking and feeling like everyone around them is much closer to the 'magazine beauty ideal' than they are.

And speaking of the 'magazine beauty ideal', have you ever noticed how so many of them are white? Yes, you do get the odd woman who's Asian or coloured. But mostly, it's white, white, white, white, white. I am white, so I have no idea how it feels to have the ideal beautiful woman always presented in skin of a different colour. But I imagine that for some women, particularly young women, it would feed into the idea that they can never reach that standard of beauty.

I remember very clearly my Asian friend in high school telling me one day that all the white girls were pretty. I was shocked, mostly because I didn't think all the white girls were pretty at all. And of course, white girls aren't any prettier than Asian girls. But I guess, for her, being confronted with these images of beautiful white woman all the time, she had linked pretty to white in her mind.

I think it's fine that women want to be beautiful - and even that they do things to improve their looks. But I really wish we could get rid of this false, artificial, magazine-created idea of beauty. I wish we could stop telling women that they need to get rid of their grey hair or their wrinkles or their daggy clothes before they can even think of being beautiful. When we continually tell women that certain products and items will make them beautiful, we are just reinforcing the message that they're not okay the way they are. And we're holding out an ideal that some women can't even hope to attain.

And I really wish that we could learn to appreciate true beauty in women, beauty the way God made it, beauty that doesn't need to be fixed up, covered up or dressed up to be acceptable. And I also wish that women could learn to see that beauty in themselves.


  1. Amen!

    You've captured well the un-winnable arms race of beauty that (I suspect) drives a large amount of cosmetic & beauty product sales out of fear of missing out and falling behind. If very few people are willing to say, yes, I am getting older and my grey hair is a crown of spendour (Prov 16.31), then it sends the message that somehow those who don't dye their hair are odd, when really, it is the other way round.

    I was delighted when my wife didn't wear make-up on our wedding day (and has very rarely done so since). I don't condemn those who might use it occasionally for various purposes, but people who are confident and humble enough to not feel the need to always wear a mask in public or always be competing for attention are thereby more attractive in my eyes.

  2. I think it's great that your wife didn't wear make-up for your wedding day - and that you were delighted - especially when you consider how much money some women do spend on things like make-up and hair on that day. And it really turns on its head that message that I've often heard from Christian books and radio shows that women should wear make-up for their husbands.

    I must admit that, while I don't wear make-up all the time, I feel like I need it if I'm going somewhere special. And the couple of grey hairs that are starting to appear are bothering me. Even though I know our ideas of beauty has largely been driven by the push to sell more products, it's hard not to take in their messages.

    But I really applaud people like your wife who don't feel the need to always wear make-up. And I can't help thinking that God must be pleased when women allow the beauty he made to show, rather than trying to cover it up with some artificial beauty instead.

  3. My Mum has sent me an email, saying she couldn't figure out how to leave a comment but had a poem that she would like me to post for her.

    Growing Old Gracefully

    Not for me the lotions
    Sitting on others' shelves
    I'll keep my wrinkles gratefully
    It's good to be myself

    My feet are rather crooked
    But they keep me on the ground
    My knees, they are like sponges
    But I still can get around.

    We won't say much about my teeth
    They're few but still my own
    Dentists have made their fortunes
    While I sat there and groaned

    Not for me the fancy diets
    Or trips to the nearby gym
    So don't try and sell me any fancy pills
    Or slimming food out of a tin

    I allow myself one beauty aid
    To face the world out there
    In my bathroom you'll find a kit
    That gives me my red hair

    So what you see is what you get
    No fake facades for me
    Apart for the coloured topknot
    I'll grow old gracefully

    From Rachel Symons (my mother)