Consumption Compensation

There are three things you need to know about me right now. The first is that I cannot stand the bathroom in my office because it smells like red vines, Red Vinesthis hideous, overly sweet version of Twizzlers that an ex of mine used to be obssessed with. They make your mouth super dry because I think they are mostly made of wax.

Secondly, I cannot stand getting up early in the morning, even though I wish I were a morning person. I never have been an early riser, and I think if a job were to make me come in before 8am, I would have to quit.

Thirdly, I love beauty products, which you may never know looking at what I wear in the morning, which is foundation, blush and mascara. I’m thinking about this right now because of what I read at Every Woman Has an Eating Disorder¬†yesterday.

Last night, I laid on the couch desperately trying to fall asleep, thinking about writing this blog. Because it’s true. I do gorge on beauty products. I am not brand loyal, I do not buy the same thing twice, and I am completely addicted to trying out the newest product that has claimed to Make My Lashes Thicker and Longer, or the newest lotion that will Make My Skin Smooth And Firm, or the newest blush that will Make My Cheeks Peachy and Dewy.

N and I are very different in this way. N buys the same cleaners and scrubbers, the same hygiene products every time. N has not bought into the notion that products will make or break the person. I have.

I get a little bit excited thinking about the prospect of trying a new beauty product, hoping that whatever I buy will unveil a New Me. I am awaiting the day I purchase the magic potion that will transform me into something that is, well, Not Me. Because isn’t that what the New Me really is? Ultimately Not Me?

I spoke with a friend once about the prospect of Becoming A Feminist. She’s 37. I’m 30. The conversation was rather humorous to me, because I guess people do Come Out as feminists, as it is rather a dirty word to many folks. I have tossed it around in the workplace among other women in positions of power, and they have given me looks like: What are you calling yourself? Oh no. Nice women aren’t feminists. We don’t use such language. And I think: If it weren’t for women like me, women like you wouldn’t hold positions of power. So I’ll use any damn language I want.

I Came Out as a feminist at 15, which was rather unsettling to my family. My father, who adored Rush Limbaugh at the time (and perhaps still does), called me a “Feminazi.” I suppose the coming out as a feminist so young is akin to coming out as queer so young. It’s a worldview that is so entrenched in who I am, I cannot imagine seeing things through another lens, at least not comfortably for very long.

My friend, at 37, was looking at feminism for the very first time critically. We were both in the same feminist branch of wicca. She was approaching feminist wicca as a woman who had studied it her whole life, through her grandmother. I was approaching feminist wicca as a feminist. And so she asked me: Um, can feminists still wear lipstick and stuff?

And I laughed. The fourth thing you should know about me: I laugh a lot. Full fat belly laughs.

I said: “Of course we can. I have probably 4 lipsticks in my purse right now.”

And it’s true. I have a multitude of lipsticks in my purse at any given moment.

I started wearing make-up in 6th grade. My dad bought me my first adult make-up kit by Covergirl. It had green and brown eye shadow and coral lipstick, and black-brown mascara. I came to my private, Lutheran school the next day caked in color, looking like a clown, but I didn’t know it. I figured: I may be fat, but at least my face will be pretty. After all: that was the flip side of the pro-dieting arguments I had always heard for years: But you have such a pretty face … if only you’d lose some weight …

I’ve been sold on the idea that more is better when it comes to beauty products. Less weight! More Pretty! It’s been a beauty binge for me for years. I will try anything once to make my skin and face and hair look their best — anything to take away from what I think my body looks like. Anything to distract from what makes me the most visible.

I imagine the same is true for many women. We compensate for our flaws by overcompensating somewhere else, and consumption is the best compensation. This is America’s mandate. If you can’t be thin, be pretty. If you can’t be pretty, be thin. Either one you can buy — open any magazine and you’ll see that.

As both the diet industry and the beauty industry continue to explode profit-wise, women may want to ask themselves about putting their consumption of the messages and products these industries sell on a diet. How healthy is it to be constantly seeking happiness in a body and face other than your own?

Feminism embraces the right to seek happiness in whatever form we find it. That may mean wearing lipstick, but it also may mean figuring out why we bought the lipstick in the first place.



  1. fillyjonk said,

    January 18, 2008 at 1:53 am

    I would amend that a little bit — I think feminism embraces the right to seek happiness when packaged with the responsibility to act consciously. Because the specious “doesn’t feminism mean supporting any choice a woman makes?” argument gets used all the time to justify thoughtlessly antifeminist decisions.

    I’m totally the same way about cosmetics, and also cleaning products. I’m highly unstable to cleaning product ads — “oh my god, it picks up dust like a MAGNET? I must have one!”

    I’m really liking the blog, btw.

  2. KarenElhyam said,

    January 18, 2008 at 2:47 am

    Well put. I can certainly relate to the “such a pretty fact” argument, but I never found myself drawn to make-up the way my sister was. Too much time and effort, for no real reason, as far as I was concerned, because my beauty was definitely a lost cause. Not to mention the fact that I was sorta a born “feminazi” (which is what I call myself now to describe my take on feminism and life in general) and rebelled against make-up almost instinctually.

    You’re right, it’s all about choice, but an unexamined choice is the very same thing as no choice at all.

  3. thoughtracer said,

    January 18, 2008 at 6:37 pm

    Hi! Thanks! Glad you’re here.

    Yeah, I totally agree about that comment on feminism. Because it could be used to say: Well, I killed my baby because I’m a feminist and feminism gave me that choice! So that’s true.

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