Her discourse struck a chord with me. Even an individual, setting out not to wear make-up, or not to use a filter with a photo, becomes an investment of time and emotional energy comparable, or more so, to those who stay within the current. Examining the beauty standard does not rest on the individual, but on the society as a whole to examine why this ephemeral idea of beauty and of youth is so intrinsically skewed to inherent value. Reading her work, I found another reminder to check my own values and weigh them against why exactly “a bad hair day” seems to strike such a dismal mood so quickly. Why I am willing to pay x amount of money for a manicure or a pedicure before a big event? Why do so many young women ask for, and receive from their guardians, cosmetic procedures on their 18 birthdays? Why do women who struggle to pay for rent, food, still fork over money for hair dye? Why do I shave my legs? The answer is simple, cultural norms tell me (and them) it is expected. Not participating results in its own tagline. Letting yourself go. Not being the best you.
As Widdows puts it, this cultural trap of not participating means not believing in betterment, not believing that getting better by the careful mascara wand would result in stagnation. Truthfully, I rarely wear makeup and am often envious of those around me able to wield their tools with mastery for the perfect look. But, I am also aware of the way it can hinder, and can trap time, effort, and mental and physical health and spiral talented women downward by not keeping up.
This is not, perhaps a new revelation (though the increasing number of cosmetic procedures was), but Widdows provides a new frame to my thinking as she shows how common practices, increasingly complex ones, begin to be woven into the fabric of everyday care and how women continually police themselves and others. This is not really about finding that heterosexual relationship. This is about the normative practice (encouraged by patriarchy and capitalized on by a global market) that slowly increases to fulfill and ever growing need to meet a standard that is not achievable. A standard linked to the idea of worth.
Widdows helps answer the question of why culture tell us to tie our self-worth, our public personas, to masks, to the future person that is ten pounds lighter, and hair the perfect shade, and our skin without wrinkles. What I wonder though is how best we start untangling the idea of value from the mirror.