Saving Face: Girls Girls Girls (and everyone else)

The first question I asked last week when I started the Saving Face project was about gender inequality in the skin care industry. Things might be a bit different for children and preteens now, but here is a brief summary of how I understood things in primary school:

Girls wore products and makeup as a rite of passage in our teens even if it pissed off our conservative parents and even if we were much more interested in spending time and money on things we actually gave a shit about. If we didn’t, we were tomboys and/or lesbians. If we wore a lot of visible products when we were young, we were slappers. Boys shouldn’t wear make up because it’s effeminate, so if they did they were gay. They should, however, take pride in their masculinity and buy products to look like a proper dude.

Aside: did anyone else have the playground rumour that boys having a pierced ear on a certain side made them gay?

Thank God for rock ‘n’ roll… and exposure to the Internet. Men can use products. Women don’t have to. The gender binary is actually a spectrum, and cosmetics shouldn’t be gender-specific because a man will not morph into his wife if he borrows her face cream, and a straight woman will not turn gay if she starts using men’s razors (she will, however, save a lot of money. More on that in the next post).

I’m less inclined to buy into early-2000s school gate ignorance now, but my biggest issue with cosmetics has lasted for years, and I’m not sure if it’s a gender equality issue or just me. Remember when Ellen and Isobel gave me a makeover? It was a lot of fun, but I resented hints that I should always straighten my hair, or wear make up more regularly. The way compliments about how I look get phrased always seems to be “you look great with that make up/hairstyle/clothes on, you should wear it all the time!” Wait, so I don’t already look great? I’m way too stubborn to cave into those implications (especially when it’s from friends and family who are paying me compliments that I might just be incapable of receiving) but pressure from friends and family can have a detrimental effect. Maybe it’s not just me, because someone’s even made a video about it:

This post was nearly done, but then I went on the ‘natural hair’ Tumblr tag and found this (along with some brilliant examples of afro hair):

BLACK shesgotsomuchsoul.tumblr.com

It made me sad, because it’s true. We are all taught to be dissatisfied with what we have so we’ll pay to change it. Women seem to be targeted more, and at risk of sounding like a disenchanted radical, I reckon it harks back to that pesky opinion that men are naturally perfect and women naturally inferior. But it’s evolved into a race inequality issue, because the companies selling products need to make us all feel as though there is something wrong with our natural aesthetic, so we’ll be willing to pay for something new. We’re made to want what everyone else has while despising what we have.

The funniest part is, we can dye our hair or wear a product to express ourselves, to tell a story, to make us feel more confident. If you’ve got acne that you dislike or hair somewhere that makes you shy or insecure, you can buy concealer or get hair removal. But what they don’t tell us is that you should do it because you want to look good for you. Not for a boyfriend who wants you to shave your bikini line, not because an advert has implied you’ve got the wrong hair type or skin colour, not because friends of family have hinted they prefer one ‘look’ over another. The writers over at Rookie are doing an amazing job of explaining and demonstrating that cosmetics are a brilliant way to help you be yourself, but that attitude seems pretty limited to the Internet.

I feel like I’ve asked more questions than I’ve answered. Why aren’t all women of all races, or backgrounds, or hair types or whatever, telling the media and social opinion to go fuck itself and concentrating on complimenting each other’s natural look?  Am I overreacting to people’s compliments when I do my hair differently? Are men targeted by the cosmetic industries as much as women? I can only speak from experience as a cisgender girl (told you I read up on the spectrum!). I kind of feel like companies use consumers’ ignorance (and maybe indifference, actually) to sell products we don’t need, and it’s fueling social inequality.

The Ten O’Clock News: ‘The Cruelty of Children’, and Teens, and Adults

I have no idea what the age range of readership for Indifferent Ignorance is (and I’m not looking to find out because that would be creepy) but this Rookie article caught my attention just now.

It got me thinking about school, children/teenagers and the whole ‘social aspect’ of western education. As in, for ten per cent of people it’s great and for the other ninety, at some point or another, it’s shit. It’s also hard to write about a topic like bullying in a general sense because one person’s being teased is another person’s friendly joke, etc. – so I’m wondering: what was your social-school experience like? Was there a particular age that was hard for everyone? Do you reach a point when exams matter more than who’s bitching about whom?

(Yes.)

Seriously though, I’m interested. Has anyone ever run into a school bully in the high street? Were you infinitely more successful than them or were they no longer the fire-breathing tosser of your childhood? Did anyone ever get their own back on someone who was nasty to them? Does anyone have any tips about how to cope with nasty people in the classroom? Do bullies at school grow up to be bullies in the work place? If they’re a shitty adult, is it their parents’ fault for moulding them into a shitty child and letting the shitiness blossom like swine flu in a petri dish?

I’ll start: a few years ago a couple of girls threw paper in my hair over the course of a few lessons. Eventually they got bored. I sometimes wonder if I would ever have retaliated had they not stopped. They did not get back into my sixth form and I doubt anyone misses them particularly.

Now it’s your turn!

The Six O’Clock News: Back to School

Since this is most readers’ first week back at school (shout if you’re in another country though, or not a student!) I thought I’d do something on school, new terms, starting afresh etcetera.

Back to work: 10 Worst Things About Post-Holiday Blues

I love how sarcastic this Sean Coughlan guy is. One of my favourite least-favourite things about coming home from abroad is how strange the locals seem. I kind of forget what a smartphone is and think that it’s totally normal to wander around in the equivalent of my underwear, waving to people I only know vaguely. Not in Essex. (Well, maybe the first one for some people.)

Back to Reality

This essay was written for the girls’ online magazine Rookie in January, but I’ve always thought it useful for general ‘starting over’ so I’ve included it.

Welcome Back to School, Girls. And Mind Those Breasts!

I sometimes struggle with The Guardian, because it sometimes comes out with some bullshit, but this piece about an LA school’s uniform code is interesting. One student’s mother noticed that the new rules were completely based around what girls were wearing (or weren’t wearing) and wasn’t impressed about how they might impact girls’ self confidence. I spent five years wearing a uniform – more three-quarter blouses and tartan than “uncomfortable Harry Potteresque” – that basically didn’t suit everyone equally, so we all looked okay. There wasn’t really much to objectify even when woolly tights became knee-highs (I never wore knee-highs, for the record. They tend to suit people with long legs, but those of us who did wear them didn’t have particularly visible legs because of the hemline thing). Now I’m in the sixth form, the rules are pretty much “don’t dress like you’re going to the beach and/or clubbing.” It’s okay, actually, because I can tell people apart without getting the motts.

Anyway, this parent is irritated that teachers are spending more time telling off pupils for their clothing and reckons that all uniform codes should be abolished. Hmm.

‘Sexy Mandarin’ School Recruits Semi-Naked Models To Teach Foreigners Chinese (PICTURES)

I’m not sure what the LA school would think about SexyMandarin, an online school whose teachers all wear lingerie. It’s quite successful apparently – surprise! – but this has upset a few feminists. I’d be quite distracted by hot models talking to me actually, but if it works…

How has your first week back been? Any funny school stories to share?