well, I'm late, again. I'm sorry I wasn't able to post a new Feminism Friday piece this past week. I had a bit of a tough week, and my energy was way down and then blogger was acting up and I had to finish a paper and all I really wanted to do was drink wine and sleep it off, which helped enormously. Things are getting back on track this week, and I'm feeling more like posting, but I think I'll save a Fem Friday post for this Friday. While this post has a gendered bent to it, it's mostly about me and my struggle with reconciling my studies and my beliefs with this little thing called a career. My work is in conflict with my heart.So, here's my big confession: I work in the beauty industry. I have done so for the past 11 years. I am an aesthetician and makeup artist, and right now, I am working in a plastic surgery clinic. I hate it.
I actually like a lot about my job. I enjoy my coworkers, I have an easy atmosphere, and my bosses are kind and respect what I do. The problem I have is ideological. I am a feminist, and I am complicit in perpetuating the beauty myth. I am a puppet of patriarchy.
It all started out innocently enough. when I was 19, I decided to leave university because I hated it and instead took a course in aesthetics. It was, I thought at the time, a nice career where I would be helping people feel good about themselves, physically feel good, and help reduce stress. So, for years I worked in spas, and took a holistic approach to skin and body care. Then makeup called, and I loved the creativity I was finally able to display in my work. Finally, I realized that if I was to continue doing what I was doing, I would have to concentrate on the growing skin care market in order to make money and not ruin my body. (Pedicures and waxing are really hard on the body, you have no idea.) So, I learned advanced techniques in skin care for lightening sun damage and reducing ageing in the skin.
Which eventually led me to this job. I had wanted a job like this for as long as I could remember. Working in this clinic has been a dream in so many ways, because I am not stuck doing all the things I had grown to hate about aesthetics – pedicures, waxing, manicures. I only do skin care treatments now, and that is something I had wanted for a long time. And plus, the job pays really well. It has allowed me to work part-time and attend classses full-time, which is what I want. Sounds great, right? So what's the problem?
I am at the pinnacle of my participation in the patriarchal beauty machine. I work with patients who are – for the most part – succumbing to the pressures of patriarchy to be and look a certain way: young, thin, nubile, sexy. But these women CHOOSE to undergo plastic surgery, right? Well, when female sexuality has been commodified so extensively, and everywhere you turn you are being shown what the perfect female form is, and you don't have that kind of body or face, and your husband is having an affair with a younger thinner woman, or you find nobody looks you in the eye anymore, or your breasts disappear because you breastfed your children, or your stomach won't shrink down to the size it was pre-pregnancy no matter how many situps you do, and even Jennifer Aniston can't keep her husband from straying… is it a choice?
Plastic surgery is, in my view, coercive in most cases. Now, in some cases, it can be really wonderful, for reconstructing a missing breast post-mastectomy, or correcting genetic anomalies such as tuberous breasts, or reconstructing faces post-accident, or correcting disfigurements after burn trauma. This is not what I'm talking about, although the case can be made for a more radical acceptance of ALL kinds of bodies and faces. If society was more welcoming to these types of "problems" there would be no need for plastic surgery. However, what I'm most worried about is plastic surgery's role in perpetuating the oppression of women through femininity. Why should women have to change their bodies and faces through surgery just to live up to the patriarchal definition of "woman" or "feminine"? That seems really harsh to me, considering these are not small procedures: risk of infection, allergy to anesthesia, hemorrhaging, sepsis, scarring, permanent loss of sensation, capsular contracture (this is where the tissue contracts around a breast implant and squeezes it until it becomes hard – this is very painful), etc. are all real concerns.
It isn't women who should have to change. It is societal expectations for women to be and look a certain way that should have to change.
I find it hard most days to go into work. I struggle with it all the time, because I feel so hypocritical! Here I am reading, writing, studying, and advocating feminist theory, yet I am contributing to patriarchal femininity by working at this job. My biggest dilemma is that I can't afford to take a different job. I have bills that need to be paid, including tuition, and I just can't afford to take a different job. Because my skill set is very unique and specific, there's not that much transferrance of skills to a different type of job. I feel trapped. If I left this job and took a job working at a job that doesn't require much in terms of skill, I would have to work three times as many hours to make what I make now, which would leave me no room for studying. My job is making it possible for me to study what I am studying.
Anyway, I hate to be a complainer, but I am really kind of torn about this issue. I don't feel like I have much choice in staying at my job, and I can't possibly see a different way of looking at it so that it wouldn't make me feel so bad about contributing to the oppression of women. But, at least it's only one more year, and even though I'm colluding with patriarchy, it is enabling me to be doing this very thing: sitting at my computer, thinking and writing about feminist issues and how to make it better for women all over the world.