Monday, December 10, 2012

Why Can't You Get What You Want?: Advanced Consumerism And The Female Beauty Industrial Complex

Rubens, Venus at her Toilet, circa 1608, via Wikimedia Commons here.
Top among questions about the Female Beauty Industrial Complex:  why does interacting with it have to suck so bad?

I mean, for all the awful things about living in an advanced consumer society, for all the way it screws with your preferences, makes you feel bad about yourself to sell crap, and destroys the environment, you'd think that at least there would be one benefit:  that you can get what you want.  You'd think that living in an advanced consumer society, you could say to someone "just a trim, please, and I don't want a blow-out," and that's what you'd get.

But no.  You can't get what you want.  What true is something more like:  you can get what you want, as long as lots of other people want the same thing. 

I don't know about you, but my interactions with the Female Beauty Industrial Complex are always awful.

And that's not because I'm against the beauty concept.  I mean, I  am reasonably into beauty, and I'm not bothered by the idea that beauty sometimes is a pain.  I don't balk at the idea that eyebrow waxing is painful, or that pretty shoes aren't good for hiking, or that you can't do yoga in a nice dress.  Like so many things, there are trade offs, and you have to choose your battles.  Lipstick?  yes.  A half hour of hair care in the morning?  No.  Heels?  Yes.  A massive shoulder bag for my computer?  No.  With respect to carrying things, I remain committed to the backpack lifestyle. 

So the problem is not that Beauty and I have issues.  Beauty and I are good.

It's the Industrial Complex part that's the problem.  When I go to any kind of salon or haircutting place or anything the main thing I get is a scolding.  Always mixed with a healthy dose of condescension and eye-rolling.  WTF?

I went to get a haircut last week.  I don't have a regular haircutter person because 1) I just want to do it when it's convenient and 2) I've never found anyone I'd actually want to go back to.  I wear my hair long and up, because it's easy and looks pretty good -- and you don't have to get it cut every five minutes.   So I just pop in wherever.  I'm not fussy. 

"I just want a trim, please."  My opening salvo.  "Ooh, when's the last time you got your haircut?"  I made the mistake of answering truthfully ("I don't know") and got a literal finger wagging along with a preliminary scolding. 

I went on to get scolded for having gone so long since the previous cut, for wearing my hair up instead of down, for not wanting a blow-out, for not wanting any styling on the given occasion, for not wanting the Big Round Style Brush That Tears Out Your Hair, and for not wearing my hair down (again). 

It was suggested that the reason I was so benighted as to wear my hair up instead of down was that I didn't know how great it could look down because I didn't really know how to style it because I didn't get it styled at the salon.  Bringing together all my defects in one coherent picture, I guess.

I used to get my eyebrows waxed and shaped.  But after the zillionth time being scolded ("You must come more often!  You can't wear them shaped that way!  What do you mean you don't use eye pencil to fill in that little gap where you have a scar!  It's the easiest thing in the world! What's wrong with you?") I gave up.  I just do the best I can at home.

I'm sure there's a complex relationship between beauty, female beauty, and the Female Beauty Industrial Complex, but I don't think you can say that the problem is just that people value female beauty in a superficial way.  Because guys also have to look a certain way sometimes.  If you're a guy in business, you definitely have to look a certain way and you definitely will be judged on how well you conform and you definitely have to pursue certain intensive grooming things as part of that.  And yet, I've never heard a guy say he was scolded by his barber.

So what's the deal?  Do women who are into the Female Beauty Industrial Complex just like it this way?  This doesn't seem impossible.  The scolding could be part of a system in which there are clear lines about what you're supposed to do and what you're not supposed to do and the scolding reminds them of that.  I guess if you're following the rules, you get a pat on the head instead of a swat on the nose.  So maybe that is part of it. 

And as so often I'm reminded of how hard it is to get what you want in an advanced consumer society if what you want is idiosyncratic.  Like, I want to ride the bus.  But I want it to be a bit more expensive, and to have better service, than it does now.  But I can't have that.  Because it's obviously not what others want. 

That's when I want to shake Advanced Consumerism by the shoulders and say, "With all your other problems, you can't even do this one thing?"  What is the deal?"

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