Beauty Secrets: Women and the Politics of Appearance

Beauty Secrets: Women and the Politics of Appearance

Beauty Secrets: Women and the Politics of Appearance

Beauty Secrets: Women and the Politics of Appearance


A provocative exploration of the links between appearance, gender and sexuality. Discusses beauty and ugliness, racism and beauty standards, and the role of class in shaping images of beauty.


"Mommy, why do you have a moustache?" asks the child in the Removatron Hair Removal ad. "Because sometimes even nature makes mistakes...unwanted facial hair can be embarrassing...put an end to those embarrassing'll be glad you did".

The moustached woman -- like all women who fail to conform -- is not only Other she is Error; flawed both in her failure to be a normal male and in her inability to appear as a normal female. Though this judgement is intrinsically impersonal, it is rarely experienced that way. Each woman is somehow made to feel an intensely private shame for her "personal failure." She is alone in the crowd pushing toward the cosmetics counter, the plastic surgeon, the beauty specialist. "Epilator 2700" reminds those in the industry how lucrative this belief can be:

Hair removal is no doubt one of the fastest growing profit specialities in the beauty world today. It is estimated that 85% to 90% of all women have unwanted facial or body hair. Many of these people go to great lengths to solve this often embarrassing beauty problem.

We are like foreigners attempting to assimilate into a hostile culture, our bodies continually threatening to betray our difference. Each of us who seeks the rights of citizenship through acceptable femininity shares a secret with all who attempt to pass: my undisguised self is unacceptable, I am not what I seem. To successfully pass is to be momentarily wrapped in the protective cover of conformity. To fail is to experience the vulnerability of the outsider.

Despite the fact that each woman knows her own belabored transformation from female to feminine is artificial, she harbors the secret conviction that it should be effortless. A "real woman" would be naturally feminine while she is only in disguise. To the uninitiatedmen -- the image must maintain its mystery, hence the tools of . . .

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