No, “Looking Great” Is Not a Matter of Feminism
I found this article in an old issue of Harpers Bazaar. It was written by Elizabeth Wurtzel, a woman (and prolific writer) who, self-described, is 45 but looks half her age. And she has not pulled off this remarkable feat without work. She looks that good because she works for it. Her routine is impressive, but that’s not the point of the article. The point of the article is that, to her, “self-improvement is a matter of self-respect” because she wishes for a world where “the impossible standard of female beauty [is] a daily chore for all…because looking great is a matter of feminism.”
There’s been a lot of talk about feminism in the media lately. Katy Perry and Marissa Mayer aren’t into it, Sheryl Sandberg sort-of is, etc. But the concept that looking good is an integral piece of achieving complete gender equality (call me old-fashioned, but “feminism”, to me, means thinking that women and men deserve equal opportunity, equal pay, and equal rights and access) seems ridiculous.
Elizabeth Wurtzel, who is shockingly successful, strives to look great. Not to further her career, or have a family, or save the world, but to look great. This desire is what her article talks about, as if her gym routine and diet regime and skin-care regimen are the things to be proud of, rather than her writing credentials (impressive) or her alma mater (not mentioned) or how nice she is to others (not very, based on the article). She talks about how her mother wouldn’t even go to the laundromat without lipstick and high heels and how this has given her this great, fresh take that looking good translates to feeling good. And, to an extent, I can understand that. The effect of a new shirt or my favorite pair of boots on a shitty day is incredible, but that’s personal and specific to me. Not so for Ms. Wurtzel. She universalizes this phenomenon. Her article implies that all women love clothes and all women should care about looking good. If she, at 45, can look this good, we, at 20-something, have no excuse for looking like crap.
“I simply believe it is common decency to be presentable,” she says, after listing the skin cream and lip balm she always wears, no matter how late she is or how hungover or how anything. She equates sloppiness to a “wounded world”. Because forgetting real problems for a moment, nothing embodies the vagaries of living in Manhattan so much as 20-something girls who have “given up” by looking “sloppy”.
Wurtzel puts looking good on par with academic excellence, athletic prowess, and workplace performance. And, for some, I’m sure, it truly is. But when Wurtzel says that “not everyone is born beautiful but absolutely everybody can become so,” I think she is missing the point. My singular goal in life is not, actually, to become “beautiful”. Nor is that the goal of any of my friends. We are graduating college in three weeks. We want to be OBGYNs in developing countries. We want to be civil engineers. We want to be the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. We want to change the landscape of public health. We want to be writers. We want to be lawyers. We want to run advertising firms. We want to be teachers. We want to be actresses. We want to build rocket ships. We want to be politicians. We want to fix public education in America. We want so much more than to just be beautiful.
Written by Samantha Jaffe