A week or two ago, Germaine Greer’s article in The Canberra Times floated around Facebook and made some murmurs. Ok, so Germaine Greer has lost some of her sheen lately for a number of reasons. Firstly, I don’t think anyone will ever forgive her for commenting on the size of Julia Gillard’s bottom. It was a stupid and sexist thing to say and super disappointing coming from Australia’s most famous feminist. Also, Greer can be a bit inarticulate. I think her writing is sometimes brilliant and always intriguing. But as a speaker, she is, frankly, hopeless. I remember watching her on Q&A once and thinking, ‘Has she lost her mind?’ She actually becomes incoherent sometimes and seems to lose the thread of the conversation.
ANYWAY, her flaws aside, I think she makes a really good point in this article. Women will not be liberated if our self-esteem is tied up with how beautiful we apparently are, or how beautiful we ‘feel’.
Basically, beauty is bullshit. It’s bullshit because it keeps women oppressed. It prevents women from spending their emotional and physical energy on more worthwhile endeavours. By being an impossible ideal that women must strive for, beauty keeps women anxious and full of self-loathing. That women must be beautiful is one of our society’s central values. As I age I feel this more and more keenly. Because old women, you see, are not beautiful. Why would there be such thing as ‘anti-aging cream’ if this were not the case? (Do men use anti-aging cream???) But being older also means being wiser and having the wisdom and freedom to eschew ideals of beauty. The tyranny of beauty is particularly unfair on and dangerous for young girls on women. We seem to live in a culture where young girls are encouraged to give into oppressive notions of beauty rather than fight against them.
I understand this in theory but even I, an ardent feminist who writes things like is, struggle with the tyranny of beauty. And more pressing for me, is the tyranny of thinness. Being thin is a crucial element of being beautiful for women. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that it’s crucial to have a particular body shape, but being fat is definitely not on. I’m living in Japan at the moment and it’s enough to make me go crazy. Not only are women incredibly thin here compared to Australian women (in general), but the pressure to be thin is intense. Japan needs a fat awareness movement asap. Women are generally lighter than they were a generation ago, and this is particularly pronounced for women in their 20s. And importantly, there’s a gender difference – Japanese men are not lighter. The only fat women on tv are comedians who are the ‘jolly fat lady’ cliche and are also happy to be the butt of fat jokes. There are also, oddly, a few obese cross dressing men. Not sure what that’s all about.
To conclude with a personal (and political) statement: I’m not beautiful and it’s ok that I’m not. I’m better than beautiful. I’m smart, funny and really good at cooking, which means I rarely eat a bad meal. Yay for me. Screw you, beauty.