In reading the article by Sandra Lee Bartky this week, I was struck by my own identification with so many of the practices that she enumerated which, in their own ways, produce a disciplined female body. I could see myself in these actions, these requirements to give so much attention to the body to create an appearance and bearing that are acceptable and pleasing to an Other (male, or even general). Without a doubt, my own routines and rituals that focus on primping and preparing my body for the view of the outside world constrain my time and take attention and energy that could be expended elsewhere, but I also take pleasure in this self-focused attention and my feminine/feminized persona. How do I, as a feminist and young academic, reconcile these realities in my own life? Is the answer to shun the expressions of femininity that I have cultivated from adolescence, or is this even possible? And while I take some amount of pleasure in these pursuits, at what level am I being disciplined and my time regimented through the ever-present knowledge of some hypothetical male gaze?
In pondering these tensions, I take an inventory of an average morning for me – what actions or activities consume my time and attention that are aimed at reaching this ever-unattainable “feminine ideal”?
I wake up. Stumble to the bathroom and turn on the shower. The hot water pouring over my skin is both jarring and comforting, slowly bringing me into this new day.
I reach for my shampoo – this is a new brand, bought specially to manage my long hair and keep from getting dreaded “split ends.” I follow with conditioner, special face wash (to avoid adult acne), and perfumed body wash.
After I step out, towel off, inspect myself in the mirror, I begin my daily ritual of applying products. Toners, lotions, creams for my face and body. Conditioners, potions, serums for my hair. Immediately after washing off the previous day’s residue, I cover my body with products bought to correct different imperfections or perfect that which is already “good.”
Out comes the makeup. Tickly little brushes apply concealer, foundation, powder, blush. If I’m feeling particularly sassy, mascara, eyeliner, and eyeshadow are applied as if to say “Look at me, I dare you.” I assess myself in the mirror and, pleased with the results, go off to face the day.
While these activities take up a small portion of my day – less than an hour – I am still left wondering why I really do them. Would it be such a travesty if I left the house without any makeup? Obviously not (as mornings when I am particularly sleep-deprived prove). As I’m considering myself in the mirror and choosing how to present myself each day, am I thinking about how the men I encounter in my life (or “society” as a whole, whatever that means to me) will react in approval or disapproval? No, but isn’t invisibility the mark of hegemony? The amount of beauty products on my side of the bathroom versus my partner’s is laughable, and although I use less than half of them on a regular basis, isn’t their presence (or necessity) in my life cause for concern?
I struggle with the tensions between societal expectations and theoretical approaches to my femininity, and I do not expect this confusion will resolve itself easily or quickly (if, indeed, ever). But at least I am aware of it.