Saturday, July 26, 2008

Beauty Privilege -or- How the "feminists aren't all hairy and ugly!" reassurance actually hurts us all

Apparently I have one bone left to pick with Valenti over one of her choices in Full Frontal Feminism. That is, her numerous reassurances that "not all feminists are fat, ugly, hairy, lesbians." Yah ok Jessica, but how about those of us who ARE? Or those of us who maybe aren't all of those things, but maybe, say, one of them? I've been picking at this sore for a while and Feminist Gal's post on beauty privilege over at Oh, You're a FEMINIST?! finally tipped me over the edge to post about it.

Now first of all, you should totally read that post, because it's good. But what it brought up for me was consciousness of my own beauty privilege, which I have more or less recognized myself to have before those words were put on it. Being in possession of beauty privilege has certainly worked in my favor in life, and I've taken full advantage of it. It makes my explorations of topics such as the hair on my body more easily accessible than it must be for others. I can afford to buck the system, because I can, if I choose to, assimilate very easily into it. And I have had an uneasy relationship with that fact, at turns choosing to conform and not to conform.

As Valenti said in her book, few things sting women worse than being branded "ugly" and I have, in fact, had my fair share of that. It is harsh, it is lasting, and feminism did help me work against the affects of it. So I understood why she brought it up, and I think I understood her goal in doing so. However, the repeated assertion that "we're not all like that!" only serves, imo, to distance ourselves from these notions of ugly, instead of stomping them into the ground. It was incredibly alienating, as someone who chooses to be hairy most of the time, to read a fellow feminist defining something of herself through what she was not, and what I am.

For most of us, reclaiming our bodies as our own, is going to involve bucking the system in some way. Coming to have the authentic relationships with our bodies that Valenti stressed the import of, is going to involve accepting pieces of ourselves that others have branded ugly. For me, that's involved my body hair. For Valenti herself this involved her nose and those who branded it when she was she was young, as well as the whole stupid "boob-gate" thing. This stuff is vital to feminism, there is a reason why second wavers paid so much attention to it. There is a reason why hippies went hairy, and why bush was in, in the '70's. It was good work, promptly and thoroughly thwarted by "the ugly stick." And until we can get that shit training out of our souls, our choices are not based on our own desires. And if they're not based on OUR desires, whose are they based in...whose standards are we reinforcing?

This reclamation always has, and always will, be rooted in our ability to stand together, not in defining ourselves against each other.


  1. Two and a half from four. I got a pass mark! Boo yah!

    In all seriousness, that was a great post. Serving the beauty norm may get you more points in the short term, but it screws us over in the long term.

  2. Oh! Quick response time!

    Thanks Hell. :D

  3. "It was incredibly alienating, as someone who chooses to be hairy most of the time, to read a fellow feminist defining something of herself through what she was not, and what I am."

    I completely agree, i think Jessica missed the point entirely. Her focus should have been on personal choice and that hair or no hair does not make a feminist; that feminists come in all forms, shapes, sizes, looks, etc... not alienate feminist women who do fit any form of the non-conventional beauty norms...

    With that said, i think hair goes far beyond personal choice, at least for me. I used to have a not so progressive partner who "preferred" me completely shaven. I didn't think much about it back then (this is before i identified with feminism). Later i realized that my partner's preference was also a preference to keep me looking prepubescent. And there's a whole dominance/power conversation to be had there. I am with someone now who doesn't care whether or not i shave because my partner realizes it's a personal choice that i will make about my own body. And i prefer me unshaven, because i feel more like a woman than a 8 year old girl...


  4. sorry to write my name/link in the comment, my blogger is all messed up so i didn't know if you'd know who the comment was from :) sorry about that!! <3

  5. Right on!

    Actually, I have let myself get quite hairy, and guess what? I still think I'm beautiful. SO THERE.

    My own getting-hairy journey has been interesting. My husband doesn't mind, except if some of my stray pubes peek out from my bikini when we go to the pool. I really need to work on figuring out why that bothered him so I can help him understand that it's not a big deal.

  6. FG, I completely agree. In my post about my own relationship with body hair I talk about just that. I had a partner who preferred the shaved look, so I tried it a few times but it was incredibly uncomfortable (physically) for me and the way I looked rather freaked me out a bit. The whole thing definitely goes beyond personal choice to a whole host of other issues.

    EGR, now that's sort of funny, because actually that annoys me too! I'm not sure why, but even with hairy legs I would have to trim back my pubes so they don't peek out. But then I mean mine, really, really, peek out. >.>

  7. Found this post at the carnival of feminists. You make some excellent points. Wow, thanks.


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