I'm going to give you a concrete example here. I listen to Pandora internet radio a lot, and that means that I hear a lot of ads. One of the ads circling around right now is one for something called "Ideal Images", a laser hair-removal company. Their ad goes something like this: "Are you sick of shaving, waxing and tweezing? Then stop! Call Ideal Images and take a step towards a more ideal you with our laser hair-removal services." If you don't make a habit of picking apart every ad you hear, it might not seem problematic to you, but let's take a moment to dissect exactly what's being said here.
1.) It is expected that you (woman listening to the radio) are already routinely shaving, waxing, and tweezing.
2.) You will not like to shave/wax/tweeze. It will make you tired, but you will endure.
3.) As a woman, you have the right to not shave/wax/tweeze--as long as you use some other method of de-hairing yourself. Remember, the ideal you does not have body hair.
To a lot of people, this ad might sound like just another commercial, but to me it embodies everything fucked up about how modern women view themselves. It invokes that Holy Grail of Perfection, the unattainable "Ideal You", and that ideal you isn't someone with self-confidence, it's not someone who can be assertive and know her own mind, it's not someone who looks at herself in the mirror and says "Fuck it, I love my unibrow!" This ideal you is someone reached only by shaving/waxing/tweezeing/mascarizing/powdering/touching-up/starving yourself so much that the person looking back at you in the mirror isn't even you anymore. But that's ok. You're going to have to make some changes if you want to be ideal.
Now, I get it. Capitalism is a system that works by doing two things. First it tells you that whatever you currently have is inadequate. Then it convinces you that whatever is being sold is the best possible replacement.
No one's going to take you seriously in that old rust-bucket--you should buy a new Subaru.
This new iPhone is faster, lighter and more attractive than that hunk of crap you've got there, never mind the fact that you only bought it a year ago.
Look at all that hair on your upper-lip! You'll never get a boyfriend that way.
It's one of the things about Capitalism that makes my skin crawl. Nothing is ever good enough (especially not your body).
I'm going to let you in on a secret that Ideal Images doesn't want you to know: everyone else is hairy too. It's not just you. People have toe hair, arm hair, pit hair, pubic hair, leg hair, back hair, neck hair, facial hair. Every inch of the human skin is covered in hair. You might not notice it, but it's there. Some people have more noticeable hair than others, but almost everyone on the planet is hairy. Why on earth is it so important for women to be perceived as being hairless when literally 99.9% of the people on the planet are covered in hair? It's ridiculous. It's as ridiculous as thinking you have to smear make-up on your face before it's acceptable to be seen in public, or believing that your waistline and bust should somehow be more important than what's going on inside your fabulous, amazing, wonderful brain. The Ideal You should be someone who doesn't have to strive for some unattainable, unrealistic perfection to be happy with herself. The Ideal You should be someone who is comfortable in the skin she already has.
Don't get me wrong--I don't have a fundamental issue with the things women use to change their appearances. I'm not against shaving, I'm not against make-up, I'm not against body-slimming undergarments or high-heels or mini-skirts or lyposuction or nose jobs or anything else you might care to mention. I'm a firm believer that you should be able to do whatever you want to your own body. But I think we should be focusing less on changing ourselves and more on loving ourselves the way we are. Wearing make-up is fine. What's not fine is believing that you are somehow less worthwhile without it. Imagine if someone had said "Listen, Frida. Your paintings are great and all, but really you ought to do something about that eyebrow. No one's ever going to take you seriously." What am I saying: someone probably did tell her that. Luckily she was smart enough to ignore them.
Growing up, there are a hundred things that make it hard to like ourselves. We live in a society that makes a living out of making us feel unsatisfied. As a woman, your breasts are too small, they're too big, you're too meek, you're too outgoing, you're too white, you're too red, you're too smart, you're too stupid. You've got acne, frizzy hair, big feet, nerdy hobbies. You feel like everyone from the clerk at the grocery store to the president of the United States is judging you every moment of every day and consistently finding you lacking. Is it any wonder, with ads like the one from Ideal Images being thrown at us all the time? From the moment we realize that there's a world outside our front door, we learn that our society would rather us laser away our unibrow, our pubic hair, and our leg fuzz than have us learn to just accept the fact that people have body hair. I know I'm a beautiful person (so are you, by the way) but I've had to wade through a bunch of shit to get here without having to fundamentally change myself first.
There's a reason why the angry feminist is viewed with so much derision. It's easy to dismiss anger as being irrational. Who would waste their time dissecting some dumb ad on Pandora? Who would write an entire blog post about it except for some dumb angry lesbian who can't get a boyfriend and has no other method of getting out her sexual frustration? It sounds ridiculous, but it's the way that people always discredit women who make legitimate points about social issues. Don't worry about them--they're just angry, just frustrated, just lonely.
But why shouldn't I be angry? Why shouldn't I be pissed that not wearing make-up or plucking my eyebrows makes me less ideal? Are you fucking kidding me? Life is hard enough without the media constantly telling me all the ways I could improve myself. And I can't just ignore it. If it isn't an ad for hair removal, it's an ad telling me that my hair isn't shiny enough, or a movie telling me that I should always be looking for a man, or a billboard talking about how smooth my skin could be if only I would purchase this skin cream. It is literally everywhere. So, yes. I'm angry. I live in a world where I can't be an ideal person without zapping away my pubic hair, where people say I look tired because they've never seen what a woman without make-up looks like in the morning.
So I guess I'll get to the real point here, which is actually what I said at the very beginning of this post. Nothing I've said is new. There is nothing in this blog post that hasn't been blogged about, ranted about and screamed about a hundred times before. I'll leave you with this question: why is nothing ever done about it?