In high school, I (Melanie) began taking Accutane, a very strong acne medication known for both its high rate of success and its sometimes severe side effects. I did my research and was comfortable with my decision. My acne was my greatest insecurity to the point that it was seeping into many other aspects of my everyday life. I thought I found a solution in Accutane, and I had few hang-ups about trying it. It was only when I began talking to others that I felt like I was doing some sort of a disservice to myself and my feminism. When one of my closest friends asked if my acne caused me physical pain, I answered yes (even though I knew that wasn’t the reason I was taking the medication) and only then did she accept my decision. To this day, when I talk to people about Accutane, they respond with shock and judgment. Why would I put myself through that just for cosmetic purposes?
Since the onset of feminist ideology, women have struggled to find a balance between altering their appearance and dress to fit the needs of society while still trying to fight for social equality. In the 80s, in response to women’s adopting men’s style of dress in the workforce, sociologist Jan Felshin observed a phenomenon called “the feminine apologetic” (Pham). In order to establish one’s place in the work field, women dedicated a portion of herself to the hegemonic structure of a patriarchal society by wearing a man’s suit, yet at the same time, women “apologized” for being too masculine by adding feminine pieces like ruffles and jewelry.
Generally speaking, a woman’s concern with her appearance “is part of an ongoing skirmish at the margins of gendered structures of hierarchy and difference” (Davis, 36). Pham acknowledges this tug-of-war between the “feminine apologetic” and “not being feminist enough” in her piece as well as her interview with Dr. Ford. She comments that “culturally commanding women must walk a razor’s edge between looking powerful while still appearing “appropriately feminine.” When women cross this line, often by appearing too powerful or too controversial, they are judged for it. Similarly, Ford discusses how wardrobe is used by women of color to “redefine notions of “professional” attire in their own terms,” an idea she coins as a “power wardrobe.”
The use of beauty products, medications, and other modes of altering appearances has become a controversial decision in today’s context. Only when one alters their appearance in order to relieve pain or are “abnormally ugly” to the point where it “can no longer be endured” (Davis 37) will women deem the decision acceptable. While in the past women apologized for being too masculine, nowadays women appear to apologize for being too feminine, or for caring too much about their appearance. As Davis points out, “her aguish [with her body] as well as her decision [to alter her body] would be cited as evidence of her oppression” (21-22).
When Emma Watson’s photo in Vanity Fair was published, people called her “unfeminist” for showing her breasts and called her out for criticizing Beyonce years before for being too sexual. Will it ever be okay for women to wear and do what they want with their bodies without judgement from men or women? In order to move forward as feminists, we need to be patient with people and support their decisions regarding their own bodies even if we do not personally agree with them or think they are “feminist” enough. Only then will we be able to determine whether we truly are making these decisions for ourselves or for society.
Published by: melaniekane, cynthichang, kmiles16, rmcelroy12, and marapugh
Bordo, Susan. “Introduction: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body.” Introduction. Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body. Berkeley: U of California, 1993. N. pag. Print.
Davis, Kathy (1991). Remaking the She-Devil: A Critical Look at Feminist Approaches to Beauty. Hypatia 6 (2):21 – 43.
Nguyen, Mimi Thi. “INTERVIEW: Tanisha C. Ford, Haute Couture Intellectual.” Threadbared. WordPress, 29 Aug. 2012. Web. 02 Apr. 2017 <https://iheartthreadbared.wordpress.com/tag/tanisha-ford/>.
Pham, Minh-Ha T. “If the Clothes Fit: A Feminist Takes on Fashion.” Ms. Magazine Blog. Ms., 17 Jan. 2012. Web. 02 Apr. 2017. <http://msmagazine.com/blog/2012/01/17/if-the-clothes-fit-a-feminist-takes-on-fashion/.
Wughalter, Emily. “Ruffles and Flounces: The Apologetic in Women’s Sports.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 3.1 (1978): 11. Web.