I overheard my oldest daughter Sammie the other day say she wanted fake eyelashes. She’s only 15. What follows is my best recollection of the conversation that followed. Some of what I said I wish I could change. There are a few statements I wish were more nuanced and sensitive. I recognize the irony of a man having this discussion with a female but there is no one else in my daughter’s life to do it.
Let me say upfront that my purpose in sharing this conversation is to draw attention to certain issues and not to judge those who get caught up in the tyranny of modern beauty standards.
Sammie talking to my wife- I think I want to get eyelash extensions. Mine are too short.
Me– What the hell are you talking about? Who told you your eyelashes are too short? (I’m angry and frustrated because we’ve discussed male established standards of beauty many times before.)
Sammie- My eyelashes are short Dad. Lydia (sister) has long eyelashes but mine are short and ugly and mascara doesn’t help.
Me – That wasn’t my question. Who told you long eyelashes are better than short ones?
S- I don’t know.
Me- What do you mean you don’t know. We’ve talked about this a million times. You’re ignoring the question because you know the answer.
S- Men! All right Dad. Men set the standard. Sometimes women reinforce it but it’s mostly men who make it. You’ve told me this before.
Me- Exactly. You know what? I think it’s a good idea to go top to bottom and identify some of the insane lengths women go to in chasing this unattainable standard of beauty.
Me- Who told women they should color their hair? Some blond women want caramel highlights. Brown haired women want blond highlights. Some women want straight black hair. Women with black hair break their necks trying to die their hair platinum. Why? The issue isn’t dying your hair it’s that no one is ever satisfied. It’s never ending.
Me- Men say long eyelashes are better so you clamor to please them. Next you’re gonna tell me something is wrong with your eyebrows…oh wait, you think there is. You pluck and tweeze them for some bizarre reason.
Me- Women want to have zero wrinkles around the eyes. They actually inject a bacterial toxin called botulin in order to paralyze their face…. ON PURPOSE!!!
S- I get it. I understand.
Me- I thought you did too but apparently you don’t.
Me- Lips. Women have in the past injected COW COLLAGEN into their lips to make them fuller. Cow junk into their lips!!! More recently they’ve injected cadaver tissue into their lips to achieve the same effect. Can you believe that? Do you think any woman independent of any external influence would cut open their face and inject cows and dead bodies into it? It’s ludicrous to think they would.
Me – Face. In order to remove wrinkles on their face women cut off part of their face skin and then redrape (stretch) it over their scalps. Why? Wrinkles are normal. It’s part of life and aging. There’s nothing wrong with aging. You know what happens when women hit 40 and get wrinkles and don’t have babies? Society considers them worthless. Look at the representation of women in leading roles in movies. It’s outrageous.
Me – Boobs. Breast augmentation is a huge problem. There are legitimate reasons to have surgery on your breasts but I’m not talking about that. Women with big boobs feel pressure to reduce them. Women with small boobs want to enlarge them. Women with tear drop shaped boobs want round ones. Women with round ones want boobs that hang more “naturally”. Breast enlargement is typically achieved by slicing open your boobs and shoving jelly filled pouches into them. Sometimes the nipple is cut off or open and the pouches of jelly is shoved in which can affect the sensitivity of the nipple. The breast then becomes a very real object for the satisfaction of men. There is no sexual stimulation for the female anymore and the breast serves only the male. These women participate fully in the objectification of their own bodies through self mutilation. Is that healthy?
S- I guess not.
Me- Do you think a woman born alone in the wilderness with no external influence would slice open her boobs and stuff silicone into them?
Me- Right. It’s self mutilation to satisfy men. You know what the kicker is?
Me- It’s never enough. It doesn’t satisfy the male and as a result it never satisfies the female. The pursuit of better boobs never ends.
Me- What about stomachs? Liposuction is when a doctor sucks out fat with a vacuum and a straw. What’s sad is that there is only so much fat that can be sucked out at a time so women usually go through several fat sucking sessions! It’s painful. It’s invasive and it’s ludicrous that women would do this to be “skinny”. Who says skinny is attractive?
Me – How about your vagina? You better believe that vaginas are part of the self mutilation women participate in. Men have somehow convinced women that their labia aren’t perfect unless they are trimmed and symmetrical. So women show up at the surgeon and get their labia cut off, trimmed, and it’s all for a man. What the hell?
Me – And you know this!
Me – It’s the same self-mutilation for butts. In the past tight flat butts were sexy. However, when J- Lo and Kim Kardashian burst on the scene the media said that big round butts were desirable. So what did women do? Cut open their ass and shove implants into them.
Sammie– I get it.
Me– I don’t think you do.
Me– When calves are too small they get implants too. Legs must be curvy but not too curvy. Therefore there must be liposuction for thighs. It’s all a load of horse sh*t.
Me- Small feet are desirable to many men. In China women used to have their feet bound to achieve a smaller and more narrow foot. To do this men broke the toes of women and bent them backwards into the sole of the foot. All for the pleasure of men! Women sure as hell didn’t come up with the idea.
S- Gross. I would never do that.
Me – Really? You’re willing to glue fake/synthetic lashes to your face. Your short lashes keep the dust out just fine. Why do you want long ones? Answer honestly.
Me– Women in the media are portrayed as things and objects today. In advertising they appear as game consoles, automobiles, and beer bottles. They are things to be used. Women regularly appear without faces. This is the ultimate objectification. They are legs. They are boobs. They are vaginas. They aren’t humans with feelings and emotions, they are things to be acted upon.
Me- This happens at Church. You know what I’m talking about; ridiculous standards of modesty set by the Brethren. These are all created and dictated by men!
Me- You have to stop and re-evaluate. You have to open your eyes and challenge these things. Challenge them Sammie.
Me- I’m sorry I’m so emotional. I’m frustrated. I’m heartbroken for you. I hate that you feel you’re not beautiful just the way you are. (I’m in tears now.) When girls are 8 years old some of them want to be President of the United States and feel great about the way they look. When they are 13 very few want to be President anymore and almost none of them have the same self confidence they did when they were younger. Why? Look what we are doing to our young women?
Me– I love you. You’re lovely. You’re smart. You’re funny. You’re sensitive. You’re thoughtful. You can be moody and surly but you’re also lighthearted and playful. You’re a whole person. I wish you could see yourself through my eyes. You don’t have to accept your “flaws” because there are none. You are who you were born to be and that is perfection.
Me- Dictate your own standard of beauty Sammie. Face life on your own terms. You are in charge. You don’t need to be empowered, you need only exercise the power that has been yours from the beginning.
Sammie- OK Dad. I get it. It’s hard though.
Me- I know it is. I know women have it harder, but men struggle similarly. I have struggled with bigarexia and body dysmorphia for as long as I can remember
I’ve spent years in the gym trying to sculpt a body that is desirable. Big chest, round biceps, flat stomach, big quads and calves. Unfortunately for me I build muscle quickly and soon all of those body parts are too big- which makes me ugly, bulky, stupid and dumb to society. Skinny guys are seen as weak. Bald guys are emasculated and impotent. And so it goes, men chase the unattainable standard of beauty portrayed in the media as well. We spend billions of dollars with the hope that we will be desirable and accepted by society, only to find out it’s never good enough.
It’s never good enough for men or women. We chase the unattainable.
My daughter and I spent the next hour discussing how we can be more responsible media consumers. We talked about how to filter messages at Church, in the movies, on T.V., and in the music we listen to. We hugged. We laughed that I said labia so many times. We promised each other to be more aware and more accepting of our own personal standard of beauty.
We still struggle but we keep trying over and over to meet our own standard of beauty. Wash, rinse, repeat is what they say so it must be true.
Thanks for the rant that gives me a preemptive conversation with my soon to be 11 year old daughter.
This is a tough conversation. Part of me knows all of this and more about the standards of beauty that we rely on. The other part of me feels pretty when I have my hair curled and my toes painted.
In the end, I think the best place for a woman to be is happy with herself, no matter what condition she is in. And then let her dress herself up as she likes.
I get what you are saying here, but I also think that women do a lot of this to other women. Don’t just lay this all at the feet of men. Women in the church are just as hard on each other and the world is even worse. Fashion magazines, “women’s” magazines, etc. tend to be run by women.
Women are involved in the judgement and practice of beauty standards… women do not create them. What is labeled as beautiful is done so by men.
I don’t buy that completely. I do not buy that this is an all male problem. Might it be 80% male 20% female? Women label things as beautiful just as much. Even in the area of physical attractiveness and sexual desire it is not all men creating this narrative.
I think that humans are drawn to symmetry (aesthetics) and youth (fear of death, innately drawn to who is deemed most healthy and strong), so I don’t think this is completely created by men either.
I think if you check out Allison’s comment below, she nailed what I was trying to say. A world in which women play a role in the establishment of beauty would be more comfortable to live in, but I can’t pretend that is the way it is just so that I can live more comfortably.
This makes me feel tons better for the weird looks I got Saturday after having taken my 13 year old shopping for some clothes. We were leaving, and she told me that she had decided to start “working out”. I asked her why. She told me it was because she was fat. My immediate, gut response was to very loudly say, “YOU ARE NOT FAT. You are beautiful the way you are and you are NOT working out to lose weight. NOT ON MY WATCH.” I got some looks. I didn’t care.
Raw and powerful! Your daughter is blessed to have you as such an engaged and aware father. To be aware is to see and feel the pain more clearly, but better than the alternative!
So it’s bad to want to be attractive to other people?
I loved this post V! I don’t think that it is designed by men and perpetuated by women though. I think that women and men both set the design/ideal for what is found aesthetically pleasing in their own sex and in the opposite sex.
This is obnoxious. Let us do what we want with out bodies. I do or will end up doing half of the things mentioned here for myself. There isn’t anything wrong with any of it if it makes a woman feel better.
Exactly. Who is the author to tell the daughter what she should think is attractive or not? His rant is based on his own preconceived notions and completely ignores the fact that as human beings, most of us want to be attractive to other people.
I think it’s important to note that it’s not men who are doing this. It’s the patriarchy that does this. The patriarchal system is one that privileges and promotes white, upper middle class, able bodied, cis-heterosexual males. The patriarchy is the problem. Though the standards of beauty expected for women are to cater to the male gaze, everybody is complicit in its perpetuation.
I agree with the ludicrous nature of the extent to which body modification disproportionately effects women in both frequency and severity. I also think that if something as small as lash extensions/fake eyelashes would make your daughter feel that much better about herself, I don’t think she should be crucified for it. It’s not a life-changing procedure nor is it (most likely) something that people will even take much notice of but if it helps her feel whatever she feels she’s missing then I think she should do it. I do agree with you that it’s important to teach her to be accepting, loving, and kind to herself. Getting lash extensions does not have to counteract those things. Maybe it’s the small thing she needs to be able to see how wonderful she is as a person and that her worth doesn’t revolve around her physical appearance; that doesn’t mean she can’t enjoy her physical appearance and that she doesn’t get to choose what she does with her own body without being vilified for it.
These conversations are important to have in order to raise awareness of the society we live in and the damaging effects it can and does have on everyone, particularly in this case on women and their appearance; she doesn’t need to be shamed or made to feel guilty for wanting lash extensions.
There’s also a variety of reasons as to why women have body modification procedures done and I think your analysis, though poignant, was a bit reductive. Most likely that’s coming from a place of wanting to protect and educate your daughter which is totally understandable but it can get to a point where she is being shamed or guilted into doing things that other people want her to do, whether those people do want her to get lashes when she doesn’t or those people don’t want her to get lashes when she does.
My main point is that she should be able to do what she wants to with her body without being vilified for it, provided she has the information to make a well informed decision.
Fantastic comment. All very valid concerns. Well said.
Yes. This is what I was trying to say, but wasn’t smart enough to put together.
What I hope women and men can take away from this post is that we can define beauty for ourselves independent of anyone else. If that involves a boob job then that’s awesome. If that’s pretty toes and curled hair then I think that’s wonderful. Defining beauty for ourselves is the goal. I want to strive to limit my participation in a male dictated standard and be a responsible media consumer and then make healthy choices from there.
Yeah, I think beauty is fine however anyone feels they need it. But the realm of unhealthy comes when we try to be something that we aren’t. The point is, when some girl wants to get a boob job, where did that desire come from? Did it really come from her? Perhaps that is the danger, because society sets a superficial standard higher and higher and higher.
That is correct. 🙂
Sounds like a male dictating to a young woman what she can and cannot do with her body. I feel sorry for that poor girl. For a father to reduce his daughter to tears and bring up labia surgery and foot binding?? I think every 15 year old girl should have the right to voice her opinion about her eyelashes without being verbally attacked by a parent. He tells her to “think these things through” and then tears her down for thinking about something he doesn’t agree with. I hope this girl doesn’t end up with a man who talks to her this way for the rest of her life.
Have to say I’m with you on this one Sarah.
Especially this part:
Totally agree with Sarah!
The author says he wants everyone to define their own beauty, but completely destroys his daughter for thinking long eyelashes are pretty. Then he (the male) proceeds to define what are and are not acceptable beauty practices FOR her- bringing her to tears until she sees it his way???
And… As someone who has done some of these procedures in an attempt to return my body to what it was before babies destroyed it, I think your blanket reasoning behind why women choose these things falls flat.
I want to draw attention to the fact that women and men are self mutilating in order to meet a male established standard of beauty.
If you can’t see it I can’t help you. I’m not sure anyone could. Part of the problem may be that some of you are so invested in this patriarchal system that your blind to what motivates you.
The points I’ve made in this post are well supported. Let me know if any of you would like see how your wrong. I have more than a few academic studies.
Let’s leave the ad hom attacks out of this and discuss the issue at hand.
“The points I’ve made in this post are well supported. Let me know if any of you would like see how your wrong. I have more than a few academic studies.
Let’s leave the ad hom attacks out of this and discuss the issue at hand.”
You’ve posted a conversation you had with your daughter in which you appear from your own words as a brow-beating father who has little to no interest in how your daughter feels and who cares more about making a point than listening to what your daughter wants. If you wanted to avoid attacks on your parenting skills, you should have simply posted the articles you are referring to and discussed the issues. I understand that you wanted to make it more relevant by including an actual conversation between you and your daughter, but you made the decision to do that and so you shouldn’t complain when people disapprove of your overbearing parenting.
“Let me know if any of you would like to see how you’re wrong.” Could you be any more condescending? You have clearly never learned to have a respectful conversation with your family or those around you.
Finally, you should produce the studies you’ve spoken of. It means nothing to say “well I read this study and it says x, so you’re wrong.”
He didn’t come across that way to me at all. Perhaps it’s because I’ve read another article he has written about the unequal role of women. Perhaps it’s because I am a father to a daughter myself, and trying to face down my own status of male privilege to see the other side of things.
It seemed to me an emotional father, and man reacting in such a way (as imperfect as we all are as parents) because of the absolute disgust, and heartbreak of trying to raise our daughters in a society that constantly beats the crap out of their self esteem, and treats them like lesser human beings than men. In, and out of the church. I can’t put words in V’s mouth, but I can definitely relate to much of the emotional reaction. It’s just impossible, and completely undesirable to see our daughters as anything less than our equals, or even better than us in many ways because we love them so much and desperately want them to see themselves the way we see them… unfortunately, we sometimes react or overreact from a place of male privilege within us even though we are trying hard to fight it.
It’s difficult with a girl that age because she is at her most vulnerable in the way she looks. She is self conscious about her eyelashes. What she is asking for is eyelash extensions. Initial costs for extensions can run up to $200. They also need to be reapplied every 2-3 weeks that costs is up to $60 each time. Is she prepared to pay for that? Perhaps if she works for and saves some money, you can offer to go in half on some really good quality mascara that will help her eyelashes look longer. Most makeup counters in department stores will have a person that can help show her how to properly apply it without looking like it’s too much. They will also show her the proper way to remove it. It might be a good comprimise. I understand your feelings. It can also be a scary time for fathers because their daughters are growing up to be women. Letting her have some autonomy so she feels empowered to make decisions, will also allowing her to assume the responsibility of those decisions, may be a healthy approach.
“S- I get it. I understand.
Me- I thought you did too but apparently you don’t.”
“Me – Really? You’re willing to glue fake/synthetic lashes to your face. Your short lashes keep the dust out just fine. Why do you want long ones? Answer honestly.
I’m not an expert at parenting, but I don’t believe condescension is a good teaching method. Especially if you are trying to instill a positive self-image. While the world may cause her to feel inadequate because she doesn’t meet an unreachable beauty standard, you are going to make her feel inadequate if she doesn’t agree with you or live the way you think is best. Neither of which is healthy IMO.
“If you can’t see it I can’t help you. I’m not sure anyone could. Part of the problem may be that some of you are so invested in this patriarchal system that your blind to what motivates you.
The points I’ve made in this post are well supported. Let me know if any of you would like see how your wrong. I have more than a few academic studies.”
You could have just posted the studies and spared us your condescension. It would probably be more persuasive.
At 15 yrs. old I wouldn’t mind paying for her extensions if she first conceded that she’s responding to a male standard of beauty. She would have to concede that by wearing those fake lashes she has surrendered power to a the patriarchal system. We all do to some degree, I just hope she realizes this before she starts gluing sh*t to her face.
I didn’t want to waste the mouse clicks if you weren’t interested in having an adult conversation.
I’m not a perfect parent. I’m trying to navigate an entirely new worldview. Feminist thought is fairly new to me. I’m Tongan, which means I come from a patriarchal society and family unit. My outlook is clouded by male privilege. Despite all that, I’m confident the positive message I share with my four daughters will shine through even though its light is refracted through a “dark glass.”
Setting aside my poor communication skills, I don’t think there is anything that is fundamentally wrong with my message. Feel free to attack the message and leave the ad hom parenting attacks to the side.
Your message is valid, but the way you put this piece together is practically begging for ad hom parenting attacks, as you put it.
The lasting impression for a lot of readers will be around your interaction with your daughter rather than your real message. It’s a shame really.