Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Why I Love Beauty Products

In yesterday's post, I reviewed Jean Godfrey-June's "Free Gift With Purchase" and talked about some of the deeper issues behind our collective love for beauty products that the book addresses. Today I'm going to continue that discussion, and provide my own theories about why this relationship exists, and whether it's a positive thing overall.

As someone who also loves beauty products, "Free Gift With Purchase" led me to ponder some of the larger issues surrounding the relationship between women and beauty products, and my own relationship to cosmetics.

Why do beauty products hold so much power over women?

What leads someone to pay $100 an ounce for a face cream that carries no guarantee of working?

What do products do to create strong feelings (good and bad) toward them?

Are we all vain? Insecure? Are we victims of the messages we receive from the media about what makes a woman desirable? Do we do it to impress men or because we're simply brainwashed? And finally, is this relationship a good or bad thing?

I don't know the answers to all of these questions, but I can at least speak for myself and the women I know. I believe that women are led to buy beauty products at least once in their lives for all of the reasons I've mentioned. Sure, we've all run out to buy an eyelash curler because Allure says it's God's gift to women, or a firming gel because we're insecure about cellulite, but I don't think these situations are the norm. I tend to agree with Godfrey-June that the real reason that women love their products is because they feel empowered through the application of beauty products. Whether it's using a lavender-scented soap to unwind after a long day or using makeup to transform into a better-looking version of yourself, products simply make you feel good. And when you feel good, you're more confident, and confidence breeds success.

I think of my mother, a woman who comes from a family of builders and is most comfortable working with her hands, building houses for Habitat for Humanity or planting bulbs in our backyard garden, clad in dirt-smeared sweats that she bought in the 80's. But no matter what she's wearing, where she's going or who she's seeing, my mom never fails to swipe lipstick onto her lips before she answers the door or exits her car. I'll wonder why she cares about her lips when she's covered head to toe in sawdust, but I don't have to ask. It's an act that gives her confidence, making her feel prettier and more put together, no matter what else she's wearing.

I think that as women we should allow ourselves to feel wasteful for spending money on the occasional manicure, or vain for wanting to look our best when we can. And while marketing and the media certainly play a big role in shaping women's views of themselves, I believe that most adult women are capable of making decisions based on what they want, and not what someone tells them they need. I'm not ashamed that I love beauty products, and I don't feel that Jean Godfrey-June should feel guilty for writing about them. But I do think that the relationship between women and beauty products deserves further discussion, and I'd love to hear what other people have to say about the matter. I've invited some other beauty bloggers to post their own reactions to my questions, and I look forward to sharing their answers with you in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, I'd love to hear your answers to these questions. Why do you love or hate beauty products? Do you agree or disagree with my thesis about the potential for empowerment? Am I looking way too far into this whole subject? Considering that my most popular post to date (based on reader comments) was my scathing review of Maybelline Great Lash, I hope that readers are willing to share in this dialogue.


Anonymous said...

I think it has to do with the aspirational effect. We always aspire to be something else, to be prettier, younger, more put-together.Beauty products, even more than clothing, promise to "make us over" into a different person. I think no matter how much every woman knows that she won't look like the women in makeup campaign ads, on some superficial level she just never fully believers it and keeps thinking, "maybe if I just get this product, I'll achieve the perfect look."
As for why so many women put on makeup every day, I think it's sort of expected in society; it's part of dressing up. I think that if showed up at work without any makeup on it would be akin to coming to work dressed in a sweatsuit-not very professional.

Rebecca said...

I think it's because we are a work of art. But as to why people put on makeup, sometimes that can just be a peer pressure thing.

I, for one, look dreadful in lipstick. That doesn't save me from the incessant nagging of mother figures to put some on!

maggie said...

I have a love-hate relationship with beauty products. I adore playing with color, that process of transformation and potential, the tactile pleasure of smoothing on a cream or a mask and the soft skin that results. I love taking baths in fragrant water, using cookie-batter-textures scrubs, applying perfume and lip gloss and feeling so intensely feminine. Is it empowering? I don't know how empowering it can be when the definition of beauty is a negotiated term, and what choices I make are partly a reflection of what my society expects and demands. But it FEELS good indulging in it, so maybe that is empowerment of a sort.

On the other hand, I feel very guilty about the money spent on such pure indulgence, and all the various health risks posed by ingredients in these products.


Meg said...

Anonymous: I definitely think you're on to something with the aspirational effect. I also think that when women feel like they can control one aspect of their lives- how they look- they feel that they can take on and improve other aspects of their lives. That "different person" we become isn't just a more beautiful one, she's smarter, more successful, stronger, etc.

Rebecca: I think part of it is peer pressure, definitely. Just as in fashion, where women dress for women, we all know that other women are judging us based on our hair and makeup.

Maggie: Excellent comment, you bring up a lot of interesting points. Products are fun, relaxing, enjoyable to use, etc, and the confidence we gain from them is certainly directed by societal expectations. I think the best and healthiest way to approach this is to acknowledge that those expectations and demands exist, and try not to let our own self-worth and confidence about our looks be determined by them.