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Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about THE NEGOTIATION OF BEAUTY.
Like… the standard of physical beauty is not one static image of “perfection” but rather, a range of “acceptable” features — a set of parameters, right? And beauty culture conditions us to believe that if we don’t have THIS, we at least have to have THAT. So we negotiate; we account for the real (our own faces/bodies) with the hyperreal (our aesthetic modifications).
This thought popped into my head the other night as I was preparing for a date by applying a Crest Whitestrip (lol). I guess I feel like I need my smile to be as bright as possible because my bottom teeth are crooked, and if I can’t have straight teeth, I at least need white teeth. I’ve made similar negotiations with my skin/body in the past, too. Because I had such reactive skin, I was obsessed with staying thin — an “if I can’t have socially acceptable skin, I at least need a socially acceptable body” kind of thing.
Heather Widdows writes about this in Perfect Me: Beauty As An Ethical Ideal:
“In some contexts so much value is placed on skin tone that the failure to meet other features is negated: ‘fair skin makes up for other bodily flaws.’ In other contexts the opposite is true. For instance, skin color may be irrelevant as long as other features — for example thinness — are met. … That some features matter less in some contexts does not shake the dominance of the ideal as some of the key features are always required, in some or other combination. For example, it is possible to be bigger, if you are also firm, smooth, and young. It is less likely you will be considered beautiful, or just good enough, if you are bigger and hairy and have cellulite and jowls. The emerging global beauty ideal promotes thinness, firmness, smoothness, and youth — collectively or in combination.”
I don’t think this is limited to the physical realm, though! For instance, one might negotiate an internal sense of worthlessness by adopting external markers of worth (beauty).
If you feel comfortable sharing: What are your beauty negotiations? Or what were they in the past? Any other thoughts you have on the topic are welcome, too!
(TO NOTE: Obviously, I am not endorsing this practice! No one should ever feel the need to negotiate their existence! This is why we need to dismantle beauty culture!!)
(Also, I’m done with Crest Whitestrips.)