I started to write a comment to Shub’s query which turned out too long, so here it is as a post instead! In my opinion traditional ideas of beauty all have their roots in reinforcing the social roles. For example:
1. Long, lustrous, silky hair: Ask any woman (who’s had such tresses that is!) how she manages it. You just might get to hear of hour-long shampoos, frequent head massages, a set of combs, brushes, grips, clips that can rival a spare parts mechanic’s toolkit, not to mention the sheer fortune spent in conditioners, volumizers, dryers, serum potions, colourants, oils etc.
Flash back to some decades ago when the phrase ‘hair-sculpting’ was unheard of. Remember long hours spent in washing that headful, treating it with home remedies to ensure lustre and body, drying it, copiously untangling it, keeping it free of lice etc? What better way to keep the woman occupied by giving her a workload to care for a pile of…dead cells?????!!!!
2. Long, flowing garments: The woman, the homemaker. The woman, the mother. The woman, the hostess. The woman, the cook. The woman, the cleaner, washer, sweeper, duster etc. And all of these, in sarees or lehengas or some version of long, trailing garments. So dress her in impractical garments, put her in the midst of hot, dusty conditions and fire hazards and potential ‘honour-threatening’ situations (what a hullaballo if the dupatta or palluv should slip!) to wear her down. Obviously the same holds true for skirts, tight dresses and gowns. Reminds me of the times prisoners were put in chains attached to chunks of metal to slow them down.
A guy once had the audacity to tell me, “What’s the big fuss? You should wear sarees more often.” I challenged him to spend 6 hours (inside his own house to preserve his delicate male ego) wearing a saree and to talk to me after that. I’m still waiting to hear of his experience.
3. Uncomfortable footwear: How many men like a girl in boots, flat shoes or sneakers? (I can hear the XY-crowd booing softly) How many men wear this stuff themselves? Its a funny thing that men should accuse women of being impractical but make such a big thing about the ‘sexy stiletto’. I, for one would really love to design a men’s shoe with a knife-edge under the heel and the front too tight to be comfortable. I’d prescribe a pedicure and then a day in open-toed sandals, walking on dusty roads and getting into crowded trains…I’d like to see how they look and feel at the end of the day. I am sure the supressed groans will sound just as sexy to me.
4. Jewellery: One very wise man (yes they exist…and are in the danger of being extinct!) told me that making a hole in the lobe of the ear is believed to suppress aggressive tendencies. This could be a myth of course, considering Indian women have had their ears pierced since time immemorial and it hasn’t succeeded in entirely wiping out aggression from them. Its worth thinking about though.
I personally hate gold jewellery. Apart from the fact that I think yellow is a perfectly horrible colour, I also feel like those jewellery holders you see in advertisements and shop-windows (yeah the black, bald ones with sharp features and no eyes). Of course I suppose its a real boost to the male ego to have to ‘protect the fine lady’.
I think the best jewellery I ever wore was a bicycle chain around my neck….it had its uses 😉
5. The package: And finally the whole notion of beauty is so restricting, so confining. Flawless skin, perfect figures, crip and well-fitted clothes….all of these take a good deal of maintainence.
Ever notice, that in any section of society anywhere, most women take care of their looks and attire (as their social and economic conditions may permit). Also a larger number of women do this than the men. Even in today’s day and age, in a big city, where ‘metrosexual’ is the latest buzzword from the marketing gurus stables, I see well-attired, groomed women and flabby, shabby slobs (FSS). Makes me quite see red (and I certainly don’t mean it as a colour of lust!).
Having said all that I confess to spending some part of the day grooming myself and ‘putting on a face’. What the hell, when in Rome…