Krista Christensen

Read Write Teach Love

Opting Out of Beauty

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Stars_by_ethereal_forest303_pe_girlfriendWhen I was seventeen (exactly half a lifetime ago), I worked in the the Juniors’ Department of a major department store chain. One day, I wore a knee-length skirt. A coworker, also seventeen, and heavily made up, gasped in horror at my legs.

“You don’t shave?” she squealed.

“Nope,” I shrugged.

“Do you ever, you know…” she began, then faltered, working to formulate her question. “I mean, what do boys say? Do you ever get asked out, looking like that?”

Like that? I laughed. The truth was that I had a boyfriend, and I’d had several prior to that. I’d never had a problem with interest from the opposite sex. “Sure. I mean, yeah, I get asked out. If a boy doesn’t like my legs, why would I date him?”


Recently, a spate of op-eds and columns have addressed the implicit sexism that suffuses women’s appearance. This is not just a question of female insecurity: women today are not considered completely dressed until make up is applied and hair is neatly coiffed, a standard that is not applied to men. This article noted that the time lost constructing a well-dressed female form was, in itself, a penalty for being female. And this recent article in the New York Times hit home the notion that, as women continue to kowtow to today’s expectations of dress and appearance, they struggle to teach their daughters how not to value appearance over merit.

Nowadays, I do shave my legs. Originally, it was to please a few conservative family members at my wedding reception. Once I shaved (for the first time in six years), I realized that the tattoos on my legs looked nicer–realized that I myself liked looking at them more. I continued to shave, and still do, not because my partner likes it, or because I fret over my job security (usually I cover those tattoos anyway).

I shave for me.


Throughout my teens and twenties, though I didn’t eschew make up, I rarely wore it. I owned one tube of lipstick, which I trotted out perhaps a half-dozen times a year, and some tinted Chapstick, and a compact of translucent powder. For a short time, I wore mascara, but after a grain of sand lodged in my eye and had to be medically removed, I gave up decorating my eyes; black clumps clinging to my lashes only reminded me of the painful foreign object.

In my thirtieth year, I visited a specialized salon and had my waist-length hair knotted into dreadlocks. I’ve worn this hairstyle for nearly three years, and I spend about as much time on my appearance as my husband does on his; a few times a month, I twist my roots and otherwise neaten and tidy my hair. Most days, for work, teaching college composition classes, I sweep it back into a bun. I pat some translucent powder over my nose, forehead and cheeks, both to dim the shine that will build over the day and also to provide a bit of sunscreen. I dress conservatively, in comfortable skirts or pants, a plain shirt and a cardigan sweater (working in that department store taught me that fully dressed for work is three pieces, and I never fail to follow this rule… one which applies equally to men and women). I put on a set of comfortable 1/2 inch heels and am out the door.


Thing is, now that I’ve revealed to you that I didn’t shave, that I now have dreadlocks, that I reject make up, I will be labeled. Perhaps even now, the dreaded H-word lingers on your lips: hippie.  But I remain unconvinced that any response other than outright rejection of an industry built on capitalization on female insecurities will win what women fear they continue to lose, what women fear they cannot teach their daughters–to value themselves for their abilities, for their heart–while trucking about makeup-ed and in four inch heels. Because those women–brilliant, intelligent, successful women–fear the backlash that rejecting the fashion industry might bring.

The problem with this logic, however, is that the whole debate, the whole farce of the feminist rant against make up and fashion, misses the point completely. Yes, it’s unfair that today, men do not have to concern themselves with their appearance as much as women do. But just as the mommy wars keep women battling one another, so does casting the problem of female preoccupation with image as one of feminism, as one of inequality between the sexes, miss the point.

The issue is, at its core, one of blind consumerism. Companies of all kinds prey upon consumers and highlight their supposed deficiencies in order to convince them of their need for products to alleviate said deficiencies.  This kind of advertising thrives on competition, on the consumer’s competition with her peers. Underlying this competition is a fear: of looking bad, of being judged, of some terrible fallout sure to occur, should a successful woman suddenly be revealed as unpolished, average and normal, in a candid Instagram photo.


The fears only have power because women, collectively, validate them. If a woman rejects the implicit notion that she is somehow deficient, the need for the product–eyeliner, hair dye, cuticle lotion–disappears. The more women play into the fear of never looking their best, the more money companies make off of them. That collective insecurity dooms us all, yet insecurity is a choice. We can choose confidence instead. We can reject judgments, rather than whine about them. If a person has a problem with my appearance (beyond the basic modesty and hygiene required for the proper execution of my job), the problem is not mine. No, that issue lies with the person doing the judging, not the person being judged.

Let’s teach our daughters and sons that buying products and keeping up with the Jones’ will not bring happiness: not with make up, not with four-inch heels, not with new cars or bigger houses or bigger salaries or matched bedroom sets or coordinating separates. If a daughter will learn to value herself for what’s inside, she will learn it from her first, and most loving, teacher: her mother.

As for me, I will busy myself teaching the future husbands of those daughters, my sons, the true nature of beauty.

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Author: Krista

Krista Christensen teaches developmental English and reading at her local community college, and she is an MFA candidate in creative nonfiction through Ashland University. In her past lives, Krista has taught high school English, sold home and auto insurance, and night-managed a chain thrift store. Originally from Southern California, she has also called Oregon and Alaska home. She is drafting a memoir tentatively titled Hysterics, and now lives in Asheville, North Carolina, with one cook husband, two young children, and one hound dog.

2 thoughts on “Opting Out of Beauty

  1. > women today are not considered completely dressed until make up is applied and hair is neatly coiffed, a standard that is not applied to men

    If men had dressed like women throughout the ages they would not been able to mine coal, plough fields, fish the seas, build cathedrals, build ships, invent modern technology, fight wars etc etc…. all things women have demanded men do on their behalf. Wearing petticoats, and skirts and shawls and make up and lace and painting your face and nails are all ways to OPT OUT of manual labour by enhancing your frailty, fragility, femininity and your status as a precious ornament.

    > This article noted that the time lost constructing a well-dressed female form was, in itself, a penalty for being female.

    This ‘penalty’ includes not being expected to do manual labour, not being sent off to wars (and caged or shot if you refuse), and being provided for by men directly (husbands supporting their wives financially) as well as indirectly (the state providing welfare and other programs to help women, all paid for by hard working taxpayers).

    A twenty something woman with no qualifications and no career prospects can put on a dress and make up and learn to be charming and she can soon find a man willing to support her totally, in return for light housework and sex.

    A twenty something man in the same position will never be able to find a woman willing to support him, no matter how well dress or charming he is.

    This is a literally female privilege …… or as feminists like call it ‘the oppression of women’.

    > And this recent article in the New York Times hit home the notion that, as women continue to kowtow to today’s expectations of dress and appearance, they struggle to teach their daughters how not to value appearance over merit.

    Yes. When you have the privilege of being valued just for being female, and when you have the option of not working, and dressing up getting a man to provide for you instead, it can become difficult to motivate yourself to achieve anything more than a full wardrobe and the skill of make up and colour coordination.

    But again, that is not oppression is it? That is laziness born of privilege.

    > Yes, it’s unfair that today, men do not have to concern themselves with their appearance as much as women do.

    Would you prefer it if men were valued just for being men ….. and women had to earn social status, money and have a decent stable career before most men even considered them potential partners? Maybe… but most women would hate that!

    > Companies of all kinds prey upon consumers and highlight their supposed deficiencies

    Sure, that’s how advertising works…. but you are depicting women as passive ‘acted upon’ objects which is a form of objectification of women. The fact is the cosmetics/ fashion industries are only so massive because millions of women CHOOSE to enhance (or completely fabricate) their appearance. And they do it for fun, for art and also to manipulate men. In every case they do it for their own benefit.

    Men are attracted to youthful (fertile) attractive (good genes) women. And that is a big reason why women spend a fortune on their appearance – making themselves look as youthful and fertile as possible. All standards of female beauty are basically indicators of fertility. When do this to attract the most high status and rich man possible.

    Likewise, women are attracted to high status and rich men, and that is why men work their little socks of to climb the social hierarchy and career ladder and make themselves attractive to women, so they can attract the most gorgeous (and often high maintenance) woman.

    So to define women’s obsession with make up and clothing as some sort of unfair penalty or form of oppression is fine… but to be fair you have to also define men’s obsession with careers and earnings and sports cars and so on as THEIR unfair penalty and their oppression.

    But usually men’s hard work and expense to attract women is defined as ‘male privilege’, whereas women’s hard work and expense to attract men is defined as ‘women’s burden’.

    That is a double standard.

    > As for me, I will busy myself teaching the future husbands of those daughters, my sons, the true nature of beauty.

    This is admirable, but if all women agreed to not wear make up, push up bras, high heels etc. and all men agreed to not go overboard in their careers and everyone agreed to live like ..well…. hippies, that would be fine. But then after about a week a few women would apply a bit of eyeliner to give themselves that edge over the competition. And a few men would get a second job so they could get a more expensive car than other men and give themselves the edge over other men … and pretty soon the whole thing would snowball again.

    I think it’s a mistake to focus on the insecurities, and ignore the obvious benefits of being shallow. Once you recognise the benefits of being shallow (the ability to attract equally shallow people) then the whole motivation kind of loses its power. Focusing on the insecurities just makes you feel more insecure. LOL

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    • Curiosetta, thank you for your comment. You make many points that I agree with and some I do not, but I’ll only focus on one element here. I wrote this post to specifically address the issue of women who wear make-up and heels, etc, out of a sense of obligation rather than a sense of joy. So for your example, that many women wear make-up for themselves, because they like it… my opinion doesn’t apply to them. These women are in my camp: I shave because I want to, not out of a sense of obligation to a societal structure that may punish me with sexism if I do not.

      And I’d like to say, for the record, that I’m not anti-competition. I’m anti put-down. Healthy competition and desiring an edge over another is a normal and natural thing. Working two jobs to get the car of your desires is fine, if that’s what a person wants to do. But if that person would rather NOT hold that second job and DOESN’T really want that new car, but does it anyway, out of a sense of obligation, I don’t think that’s healthy, for the individual or for the society. In the same vein, I want women (and men) to feel empowered about their appearance rather than self-conscious. I would encourage you to read the New York Times Op/Ed to which I was responding (which I linked in the post) to get a full sense of where my response is coming from.

      Thanks for keeping the conversation going!

      Like

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