My carefully curated assembly of high-end cosmetics rests daintily on top of my bookshelf. I think it's ironic sometimes that a stack of solid knowledge and controversial opinions form the base for my overpriced makeup collection.
Women of all ages face an unparalleled aesthetic scrutiny. It's not enough to be funny and interesting — a woman must also be attractive to call attention to those traits. This isn't some 21st century revelation, it's an anthropological fact of life.
To blame modern consumerism and high-fashion couture would be a gross oversimplification of beauty obsession. The standards of what constitutes beauty may shift, but the regard for those standards has remained intense and concentrated throughout human history.
If you're skeptical, think prehistorically. Even ancient Egyptian women wore eyeliner and foundation. The heavy emphasis on female beauty is not a new phenomenon, and it's not going away.
As a girl, you learn very quickly that your appearance dictates the type of interest you receive from others. To ignore that fact is silly, and to encourage young women to disregard their appearance as a counterattack on an appearance-obsessed culture is socially irresponsible.
As a woman, you should give yourself the best chance at being taken seriously. Oscar Wilde wrote, “You can never be overdressed or overeducated.”
The sad truth for women, though, is that we often feel compelled to pick one or the other: You can be beautiful, or you can be intelligent. Reconciliation of these two traits is difficult when women are often characterized in a harsh binary: the “bitch” or the “ditz.”
Think Hillary Clinton versus Sarah Palin. Hillary is almost masculine in her staid political convictions. The opening line of every Clinton-focused article describes the color of her pantsuit or makes a jab at her aging features. Palin, on the other hand, is the “silly little girl” of politics. She’s pretty, quirky and rarely taken seriously.
Clinton has pantsuits and Palin has pigtails. There are few cultural examples that better exemplify the bitch/ditz dichotomy.
To my fellow young women, I implore you to resist the pressure to choose. You don’t have to be apathetic and accommodating to be beautiful. You don’t have to completely dismiss your appearance and femininity to have opinions.
“A beautiful woman is a beautiful woman, but a beautiful woman with a brain is an absolutely lethal combination.”