uncanny valley’d!

There was a post on Sociological Images a few days ago concerning Susan Anderson’s profoundly creepy images of child beauty pageant contestants, recently collected and published in the book High Glitz. After a few photos of heavily made-up (and heavily Photoshopped) young girls, Lisa Wade notes that what these girls are doing to mimic “grown-up” sexuality/femininity (wearing makeup, getting veneers for their teeth and extensions for their hair) isn’t any more unnatural than what adult women do to perform femininity. Reaffirming an identity that is properly feminine, according to American cultural standards, isn’t something that’s effortless and natural; it requires work.

Wade goes on to quote a blogger who says that anyone who’s troubled by child beauty pageants should be troubled by femininity in general; who refers to femininity (in her original post, not the bit Wade quotes) as “the practice of oppressive mores.” And that’s just something I can’t get on board with.

I was irritated enough to want to leave a comment, but thankfully someone managed to voice my exact thoughts:

And it seems that in some of the comments on here women are rightly deconstructing the demand that we wear makeup, but maintaining the devaluing of doing so, or implicitly suggesting that those who never wear makeup or revealing clothes are more aware or whatever. So women who wear makeup are thoughtlessly sexualizing themselves and are mindless consumers, while those who don’t are political, aware and intellectual. This is a dichotomy that maintains sexism and continues to do the patriarchy’s work for them while seeming to deconstruct it, as it still reinforces the idea that “female” things are trivial and pointless. In other words by implicitly valuing not wearing makeup, women are suggesting that they take on the positive masculine values of intelligence, seriousness, etc. that women who wear makeup and perform the feminine do not. This still maintains the dichotomy of things coded as masculine are better than those coded feminine.

So while it’s important that we understand the purpose of the beauty norms and how they oppress us, it’s also important not to simultaneously buy into notions that therefore women who do perform these things are lesser in whatever ways.

Yes and yes. I’m tired of feminist politics around appearance being reduced to whether or not I, personally, do shit like shave my armpits. It reminds me a little bit ago of someone asking “well, if Judith Butler is all about playing with gender and deconstructing it, why doesn’t she identify as genderqueer?” I don’t know, maybe because it’s highly inappropriate to take on a label you don’t identify with to make a political point? This is more superficial business, of course, but the point still stands. Yeah, I shave my pits. Yes, I have long hair even though maintaining it is annoying. Does that mean I’m on board when people make fun of short-haired, hairy-pitted women? Fuck no. For me, a feminist approach to beauty standards doesn’t involve making changes to my personal behavior to fit in with an image that’s coded more “feminist” or “authentic” or whatever (which, as the commenter I quoted above notes, is problematic); it’s about challenging the words and behaviors that make that kind of shit compulsory. In other words, I may shave my armpits, but I don’t give a fuck if you don’t, and I will call out any asshole who thinks it’s OK to make that stuff their business. Rather than change the grooming habits of one person (me), I would rather try to change the way everyone around me perceives other people’s grooming habits.

~ by Smellen on January 22, 2010.

One Response to “uncanny valley’d!”

  1. […] and says that “femininity is unenlightened, and also dumb.” I’ve said it before and I’m going to say it again: when people denigrate the conventional trappings of femininity […]

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