Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Are the Gods of Fashion able to determine right and wrong?

I keep thinking about judgment - what is it exactly?

I know it when I feel it coming towards me - a sense of disapproval, of being "less than", of not measuring up, a sense that I've failed someone somehow.  I don't like being judged.

Unless it's in a competition like an art show or in school because there I'm setting myself up to be judged, I've done my best to prepare, and I'm fairly confident I'll be judged favorably.  Those sorts of judgments have been familiar to me and mostly comfortable since I learned about how school works.

Then there's judgment associated with religion.  Thank God (pun intended) I didn't have to deal with that - my father, an Episcopal minister, taught us that God is LOVE and that's all that we need to know.  The rest is just nice stories and man-made structures.  So I didn't get any of the harsh judgmental fundamentalist Biblical training which teaches that God would punish me harshly if I did anything the Church Fathers perceived of as wrong.  How does the phrase go?  He's an all-forgiving, loving God, but he will damn me to eternal hell if I do anything wrong.  Uh, yeah, right.  No thanks.

Societal judgment - the courts have judges who are meant to impartially decide whether we have done something illegal/wrong or not and what our punishment should be.  The judges sit up high behind an imposing desk.  We are told to stand when they enter, to give them respect.  Quite literally, their Word is Law.  Period.

The court system is not always fair.  There's a huge discrepancy between how rich and poor are treated.  If you have a very good lawyer who knows the system, you will not be judged as harshly as if you have a poor one.  Black men are virtually presumed guilty until found innocent.

It's an imperfect system, but at least it is an attempt at providing impartial judgment based on the facts and compared to a Code of Law which has been developed and tempered over the course of centuries.  In our society, a person has a sense of the rules, and can learn them quite precisely with a bit of research and can know the scope of possible punishments for breaking them.  In that sense, it's not too hard to stay ont he right side of the law.

On the other hand, the Laws of Beauty are quite fickle. There is no one Code of Beauty which a woman can read up on and follow to stay on the right side of the Law.  Instead, it is ever-changing, set by a fashion and beauty industry whose raison d'etre is to make money.  And they make more money when people buy their products (i.e. buy into their version of right and wrong).  It's good for them if the version of right and wrong changes frequently so women have to keep up by buying more - following fickle fashion trends to the letter.  Their other tactic is fear - if you don't follow our rules, you'll...
be a pariah
be ugly
be judged
be fat
be unsuccessful
lose friends
never attract a sexy mate
The punishments are harsh, unforgiving and horrible.  They're also capricious and biased towards wealth.

Wealthy women have a better chance of fitting into the system because they can hire people to help them - personal trainers, beauticians, make-up artists, interior designers, etc., etc., etc.  They have the money to buy the "right" clothes each season, to get their hair done weekly, to buy all the beauty products.   If they were born "ugly", they can get surgery to correct the unflattering aspects of themselves.

Poor people, on the other hand, can't live up to the Code of Beauty without great sacrifice.  Chris Rock's movie Good Hair shows the economic insanity that black women put themselves through to achieve their ideal of Good Hair.  Some spend upwards of $500/month to have their hair done, but they have trouble keeping food on their table.  They will have their daughter's hair done starting at age 2 or 3 - horrible chemicals to straighten or soften their hair.  Harsh judgments against "black hair" cause these women to undertake these Herculean efforts to tame nature.

The problem with judgments about beauty is that they are arbitrary and capricious and ever-changing.  And not everyone can measure up to them.  "Good judgment" I believe would be more like our legal system which virtually all but the criminally insane can live within.

In the Chinese culture, women had to bind their feet to the point of becoming crippled to meet exacting standards to beauty.  Choosing not to follow those rules condemned a woman to a lifetime of harsh condemantion, judgment, and being a social outcast who simply could not live in good society.

In our world in the United States, white skin, good well-coifed hair, expensive fashionable clothes, and thinness allow a woman entree into society in the same way severely bound feet did in earlier Chinese society.
The rules are harsh for the initiated:

get a manicure and pedicure frequently
go to the hair salon every 4 weeks
wax/shave your legs
wave/shave your underarms
wax/clean up your pubic hair by shaving, plucking, cutting, waxing
get rid of "ugly" hair anywhere on the body
apply make-up "just so"
pluck your eyebrows - what's the right shape?  How does one know?
apply creams for
         lighter skin
         a "natural-looking" tan
avoid dryness in skin and hair
don't wear glasses (get lasik surgery)
straighten your teeth (get braces)
whiten your teeth
wear deodorant so no body odor is every evident
wear perfume to create the correct smell (one that will attract the sexy hunk)
wear high heels to give a certain allure to your calf muscles and in order to create the look of helplessness which apparently attracts sexy hunks)
be thin (get a personal trainer, join a gym, diet, go to a nutritionist)
have the right size breasts -
         older women seem to want them smaller
         younger women seem to be enhancing theirs
labia must be beautiful and just so (get plastic surgery if they hang low or are otherwise "disgusting")
thighs must not touch
stomachs must be flat (get a tummy tuck if not)
butts now must be rounded yet firm (since J Lo has come on the scene.  They used to have to be flat and firm.  Thankfully, Victoria's Secret has begun selling panties with pads to help women out.)
lips should be full (get a botox treatment if they aren't)
do not wrinkle
do not age
white is right (use skin-lightening creams and chemicals if you're brown or black, a la Michael Jackson)
wear the latest fashions - but not too slavishly - make sure you have your own, slightly eclectic style

There are a LOT of people who can make a LOT of money from all the treatments necessary to make a woman fit these rigid standards of beauty.

And there's no way to attain perfection.  42 plastic surgeries, and a woman in Argentina is still ready for more. (If I read the Portuguese correctly, now she wants to have a surgery to make her a virgin again.)

There is always someone who will judge what's right or not right about a person.  If a woman doesn't have a strong sense of what is right for her, she can drown in societal expectations.

When I asked one of my heavier models how she managed to love and be comfortable with her body, she told me she was never "in the game" so she simply didn't have to worry about it.  I feel the same way.  I choose not to play.  I don't want to spend the hours upon hours it would take to "groom" myself "just so" in order to fit someone else's version of how I should look.  That's not to say I don't enjoy dressing up and looking nice.  That makes me feel good too.  It's just I don't want to wear high heels, for example, simply because that's a societal expectation for "dressing up".  They cause my feet enormous pain.  It would be unwise for me to wear the heels to satisfy society and hurt myself thereby.

Who decides that eyebrows of a certain shape are beautiful?  How do these "rules" help the species evolve more successfully?  How does following them make me a healthier, more fulfilled, richer human being?  Does it enrich my spiritual health?  My viability as a breeder?  Will it help continue the species?  Or keep the planet healthier?

Some would argue that more beautiful women are chosen more often as partners and thereby beauty products do help us do what we're here for - reproduce.  Perhaps that is true to a certain extent, but since the standards of beauty change constantly, how does that work?

Couldn't we use our time and energy more effectively and in better ways than by obsessing over our bodies and clothes?

Fashion and Beauty are industries.  The point of their existence is to make money.  To keep corporations viable.  It is NOT about right  or wrong.  Or good or bad.  A person is not good or bad based on his/her appearance.  A person's goodness or badness is based on behavior which isn't predicated upon appearance unless a person is so maligned for his/her looks that he/she does heinous acts to relieve the pressure from the shame.

Judgment about looks, then, is arbitrary, changeable, determined by the "Gods of fashion", not by some infallable standard of right and wrong.  The standards have changed over the years and will continue to change.  What else in human history is as fickle as fashion?  How do you choose to life your life?  Trying to hit an ever-moving target?  or focusing on your inner beauty which can be enhanced forever?

No comments:

Post a Comment