From the chaste Taylor Swift to the raunchy Katy Perry, the idea that feminism is no longer necessary is one that has been advanced by many of society’s most beautiful and fetishized female celebrities. It’s not that these women don’t recognize the strides that feminism has made over the past century, but they simply don’t believe that it is relevant anymore.
Yet there’s no denying that their looks are essential to their success. Whether or not they (and the thousands of women who look up to them) want to acknowledge it, their images are vital in perpetuating the narrative that women today have been told since childhood: women should be beautiful.
This concept has been explored in many ways and famously so in Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth. Wolf contends that the notion that women should be beautiful is a construct determined by a political climate of patriarchy – and indeed that is a difficult conclusion for many to accept.
But the smiling, impossibly perfect plastic dolls that young girls are given is evidence that this message starts early. The many occupations that exist for women, based strictly on looks, shows that beauty is often treated as currency. And any woman who has ever been told by an unfamiliar man to “smile”, can tell you that their beauty and agreeableness is often an expectation.
Still, this message, while all too familiar, is not what today’s woman wants to be told. Today’s woman doesn’t want to hear that she’s not good enough, and she won’t accept the backward and outdated commandments of 1950s advertisements. So, the message changed.
Instead of telling women how they need to be, the message of 2014 is defiant, with a wink-wink and a let’s get real tone. From the many Dove “Real Beauty” marketing campaigns that show women that wow! – they really are beautiful, to the viral Facebook “Raw Beauty” trend of sharing a makeup-less selfie, there is now an ostensible backlash to the media messages of old.
But what’s really left behind is a confusing message that allows many to believe progress has been achieved, hence no more need for feminism, while still feeding the mass anxiety to be beautiful.
“Women are supposed to feel beautiful,” says Kaitie Mackenzie, Women’s Studies major at the University of British Columbia. “But not worry about looking beautiful.”
Big business has simply figured out how to sell a new generation on beauty. That’s what all of these media “crusades” and edgy commercials are really about: it’s commerce masquerading as movement. The words have been tweaked and the images look different, but the message remains to reinforce beauty as a worthwhile achievement and an important standard.
The myth that we are now propagating is that the “beauty myth” is over. And as long as women believe that, they may just keep buying into it.