As women, we’re constantly bombarded by society to look younger, stay slim, have blemish free skin and frizz free hair.
Social media hasn’t helped us out at all – fashion bloggers are constantly reminding us we need to have our eye lashes filled, our eyebrows microbladed, our skin freshly spray tanned and that last week’s top we bought from the clearance rack is already out of style.
Superficiality is consuming western society and in The Beauty Suit, Lauren Shields argues that women are being told that our worth is defined by our looks and even though the measurement of our hemline is supposed to liberate us, it actually can stifle our path to empowerment.
So she set out to do an experiment – for nine months out of her life, she was shedding “The Suit” as she calls it, and dressing modestly. No make-up, no heals and no blow-outs – Sheilds decided to take inspiration from American Muslim women who wear a hijab for feminist reasons and see how dressing modestly affected her life and how people treated her.
This was a fascinating read and one that most women will relate to. The first time Sheilds goes out in public without make-up, she’s mortified to show her bare face in public. Will someone ask her if she feels alright? Are people noticing the blemishes on her face? What women who wears make-up on a daily basis hasn’t felt that way?
She noticed that men stopped paying attention to her when she’d go out with her friends, preferring someone who looked like they “made an effort.” People asked her if she was a nun. As she documented her experiment for Salon, fellow feminists criticized her saying she was trying to dictate how other women dressed.
Her entire experiment is coupled with the way religion views modesty, so there is quite a bit of historical context throughout as well as a lot of feminist exploration of the patriarchy, toxic masculinity, slut shaming and victim blaming.
However, Shields focuses so much on how women do all these things to please men, but she never really addresses the idea that women put on a full face of make-up for other women. I would have to agree that at first, women try to look their best to catch a mate, but once our significant other has seen us barefaced and naked, we don’t care so much about always looking attractive for them. Instead, we put on “The Suit” because we’re constantly scrutinizing – and judging – how other women look and we know they’re doing the same to us.
(If you’re a woman and you’re reading this saying “I’d never do that” then I’d have to call B.S. on you because ALL women have done this at least once in their life.)
I personally would have liked a little more about what she was feeling and how people were reacting to her experiment versus the heavy focus on feminism and religion but overall, this is an intriguing read and a challenge to women to look past the materialistic facets of our lives and start embracing that “life’s too short to keep cramming ourselves into a costume that tells us we’re secondary in the world.”