On Feminism, Social Justice and Beauty Standards

TW: This entry may inadvertantly sound racist, sexist, or discriminatory in some way because I’m trying to talk about a sensitive topic. Please skip this if you are a regular reader of my beauty articles.

Recently, many people have been discussing social justice and feminism. Slogans ranging from Black Lives Matter, to All Lives Matter, to Men Going Their Own Way, have been ranging throughout the country. I’ve heard criticism of beauty standards ranging from stating that a certain ideal of beauty is Eurocentric, to stating that it’s patriarchal, and more.

On the surface, I support feminism and the modern anti-racist movement. There are things that I understand as a minority woman. There are also things I am learning to understand and be an ally about, such as gay rights, disability rights and socioeconomic class issues. I am upper middle class, raised secular and speak standard English, however a lot of people around here do not have these privileges.

But on a deeper level, there is a lot of anger and pain in the SJW movement. Many people in the feminist movement make statements that are fraught with other issues. For example, I have heard “Asian and Hispanic men are (more sexist) than White Anglo men”, but also that Asian men are “beta males”, immigrant families are “super strict to where it’s detrimental”.

This sounds like a put-down toward men from other cultures, more than an accurate statement, since there are aspects in which Eastern cultures are more advanced in gender equality. For example China and India have a higher percentage of women in engineering than the US. Moreover, some people who only know of their heritage from hearsay (the author Amy Tan is a big example) perpetuate these myths.

Beauty Standards (Allegedly Eurocentric and Patriarchal) and This Blog 

People also ask me: how can you say you are a feminist, pro social justice, when you adhere to Eurocentric (blonde and red hair) and patriarchal (booty enhancing exercises) beauty standards instead of just the ones that originate from your heritage (such as fair skin, v-shape face, certain nose and eye shapes), or are not explicitly sexualized (like sleek and professional clothes)?

Aren’t you selling out women of color by buying into the idea that blonde hair extensions and colored contacts are hot, instead of expressing your creativity through say, a purple buzz cut? Aren’t you selling out musicians by buying into a sexualized image of female musicians so that you are not taken seriously? Aren’t you attention whoring by trying to appear sexy to men which disrespects your relationship, even though you do not typically date white men, but you are buying into what they consider hot?

Consider the business suit. Sure it’s a sexist, Anglocentric construct. However, you put on a business suit because you want to convey a certain image whether you’re black or white, a man or a woman. That image is one of professionalism, it doesn’t matter where it comes from, if you want your idea to get out there you want to dress a certain way. In my mind it’s the same in terms of the arts. Certain hairstyles and a sexy image are part of presenting yourself as an artist, and to me, going on stage and having a purple buzz cut, not being in shape, etc is okay but it’s not as professional.

People are going to look at the entire artist in a performance, and some of the audience is going to pay more attention to the music if the artist is sexy. They are not going to look for a redefinition of sexy, people who do not fit into the beauty standard are not going to get as many chances because the idea of “hot” is defined for most people at the subconscious level. Some of the easiest things to change about your image are your weight, your hair, and skin texture. These are the things that I focus on in this blog. That is not to say that people who do not fit the image aren’t able to make it, but it’s much more difficult. Even if you can’t lose the weight due to biology, you can still get a favorable hair cut and color, wear makeup or wear waist trainers in order to look slimmer.

To me, beauty standards are not a tool of oppression but a tool that an average person can use to work with in order to improve his or her lot in life. Also, not all beauty standards are sexist since many of them apply to men, such as muscularity, low bodyfat and tan skin (West) / fair skin (Asia). If someone says to me, you can’t use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house, to me it’s not about using the master’s tools but becoming the master. Moreover I do not feel that minorities are so disadvantaged that the only way to become successful is to “fight the power” or that some “power” is keeping people down en masse.

When you’re talking about white discrimination against POC, such a thing only applies when a majority of power players in society are WASPs which is increasingly not the case. If you are for example African American, and a CEO, and you wear a suit to become an executive, and use that as a platform to speak out against discrimination, you contribute more to taking down racism in the US and therefore worldwide, than if you wear Afrocentric clothes, move to Africa or even go the other way and dress punk-rock with a purple buzz cut.

The Schizophrenia of Capitalism 

A quote jumped out at me today from a feminist site: “private property is violence”. I recognize this from Soviet communism, a historical phenomenon. I do not see this as really relevant to either women’s or minorities’ rights. In fact, I see it as a direct attack upon minorities, who tend to be small-business owners. But upon closer inspection, I do see a point to it.

On this page I encourage readers to use products like Retin-A, hydroquinone and corticosteroids. These products are technically heavily regulated in the US, but are sometimes available at stores geared toward people who don’t necessarily adhere to US norms. Beauty lines such as L’Abidjanaise and La Bamakoise, whose names evidence their international origin, contain these ingredients.

I understand that the reason people technically need to buy these products through a doctor is because they can cause skin damage when used in the long-run, and Retin-A should not be used in pregnancy. But the problem is that if you want to get (Triluma) by prescription, it’s not covered by health care plans and they can charge you much more for it. However, L’Abidjanaise costs $3 at the hair store. Moreover, if you want to get rid of spots on your face there is no reason to seek the services of a doctor.

To me this is schizophrenic capitalism. Who is shamed for their choices? Working class women of color who buy “dodgy African fade creams”. Who is seen as legit? High income, usually older women who buy “legitimate pharmaceutical products”. When in fact they’re pretty much the same.

Men’s and Women’s Roles in the Mating Market

When it comes to the feminist and MRA movements originating from men’s and women’s roles in the mating market, I have to kind of step back here because I have no pony in this race. As an Asian woman I am about as much of a stakeholder in Anglo-Scandinavian gender relations as an average white male is in discussions of black women’s hairstyling. A huge part of the roots of the feminist / MRA divide in the US was pretty much “baked-in” to much of Northwest European society by 1500 AD. It doesn’t apply to everyone but on a society-wide basis, it’s as deeply embedded as the filial concept in much of East Asia.

I don’t want to cause offense but if I say anything about this, I have a feeling that I’m going to be slotted into this “non-Western” box and held up on a pedestal that will worsen the discourse on gender in society in general. “Look at those Asians, Latins and Eastern Europeans, their women are women and their men are men! Unlike you *goes at each other’s throats once more*.

***

Ultimately, the general idea of social justice is about learning about life, helping yourself, and helping others. It’s not about pushing others around. The truest, deepest social justice is about taking responsibility for your own life and moving forward in a meaningful, positive way.

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