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3 - Body and Beauty

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 August 2019

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Summary

APPEARANCE AND BEAUTY are key concerns of new-feminist texts. Writers of such texts are concerned with the objectification and sexualization of young female bodies. This question is linked to the availability of pornography via the Internet and to the continued growth of the sex industry. The issue of appearance has implications for women's professional and public status: slights on women's looks function as a “Shut-the-Fuck-Up-Tool,” as Jessica Valenti puts it. Female corporeality involves shame: “to be made of female flesh is to be well-schooled in the abjections and humiliations of embodiment.” Eating disorders constitute an extreme, if common, manifestation of such humiliation, as Laurie Penny contends. The questions of diet and weight raise the matter of agency: Ahmed notes that in the contemporary context, fatness is viewed as the result of a failure of will. This assumption accords with the neoliberal imperative to “succeed” at conformity with mainstream ideals. As Alison Phipps argues, in the context of neoliberalism, “success is measured by individuals’ capacity for self-care via the market, and those who do not achieve their potential are viewed as failures.”

While contemporary feminists have on the one hand challenged dominant standards of beauty, which—as Naomi Wolf has argued—serve as an imprisoning construct, there has at the same time been a defense of self-adornment and enjoyment of one's appearance—this as a reaction to the perceived ugliness and joylessness of “1970s feminists.” According to Thea Dorn, the women she interviews in her book wear lipstick without fearing that they are thereby succumbing to the patriarchy. And the authors of Wir Alpha-Mädchen assert, “Wir können Freude an Lippenstift und enthaarten Beinen haben, ohne uns deswegen als hilflose Opfer männ licher Fantasien oder einer riesigen Industrie fühlen zu müssen” (We can take pleasure in lipstick and hairless legs without having to feel that we're helpless victims of male fantasies or of a massive industry). Yet they also point to the issues of sexism and objectification, and to profitmotivated representations of bodies. They use the term “Schönheitslüge” (beauty lie) to describe dominant ideals of attractiveness. This is a matter that once again raises the questions of individualism versus collectivism, interpellation versus resistance—that is to say, the issue of will.

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Willful Girls
Gender and Agency in Contemporary Anglo-American and German Fiction
, pp. 65 - 90
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2018

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