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Having just turned 25, I’ve been reflecting a lot on my own history of trying to maintain my own beauty. As a lifelong eczema sufferer with often cracked, flaky, raw skin, I’ve often felt so self-conscious that I’ve caked on concealer and foundation to hide it, for it to only worsen afterward. I dread to think of how many hours I’ve devoted to making myself more ‘acceptable’ when I could have been kinder to myself and simply let my skin breathe.
People talk about waking up on their 25th birthday with a fully formed prefrontal cortex, which refers to the maturation of the ‘rational part of our brain’. Some have likened this transformation to a ‘computer reboot’ or have said that your brain has finally finished ‘cooking’. And, in a way, it really feels like that. With this transition, I have actively decided to stop feeling ‘less than’ or feeling shame about my appearance.
It’s interesting that scientists have attributed this part of the brain to become ‘rational’. Because it quite literally implies that all the overthinking and anxiety in your teens and early 20s was… completely irrational. I find myself having small epiphanies every day, realising that I don’t need to seek constant validation from others. It’s like gaining a new consciousness. I no longer obsess over doing make-up or preparing for hours to get ready, I’m pretty lazy about the whole process now.
This shift in perspective has led me to think about the beauty system itself and how it’s designed with women’s constant emotional and physical labour in mind. It is a demanding consumer of our time. I wonder how we can liberate ourselves from the never-ending chore of becoming ‘beautiful’? In response, I’ve been contemplating the merits of a ‘lazy’ approach to life to counteract the trappings of beauty.
The Beauty Trap: How Unrealistic Beauty Standards Steal Our Time
I watched a thought-provoking TikTok (@Ayandastod) the other day that perfectly encapsulates the unattainable beauty standards women set themselves. She discusses how beauty ‘robs us of our sense and time’. This occurs because, through beauty, we are alienated from our present selves. Instead of accepting ourselves the way we are, women and girls are taught to pursue ‘beauty aggressively’ our whole lives.
In fact, it is our ‘daily work’ to become this fabricated form of self.
Your ideal self works out more, she has a 10-step skincare regimen, wakes up earlier, eats fewer carbs, and perfected her make-up routine. This phantom self can be found lurking in the background of our thoughts, shaping our aspirations and self-perception. She runs in parallel to our lives as an aspirational yet unattainable individual. However, she remains consistently five steps ahead, requiring us to exert continuous physical effort to close the distance. Which is always a fruitless task.
A Glimpse Behind the Scenes: Preparing for the Night Out
For me, witnessing the discrepancy between men and women getting ready for a night out is a clear example of how women are expected to be their aspirational selves. Men can iron a shirt, put on some cologne, and they’re out the door. Whereas the preparation for women can often be a 2-5 hour long beauty ritual involving bathing, moisturising, shaving, exfoliating, tanning, plucking, straightening, curling, applying, concealing, contouring, manicuring, trimming, highlighting, spritzing. (I am also complicit in this ritual, and I love getting ready with my friends – with the Sugababes blasting in the background and a gin and tonic within arm’s reach).
That is not to say that engaging in any of these activities is inherently anti-feminist or a waste of time.
Getting ready together can be a cathartic and enjoyable communal experience. Outfits are debated, eyeshadow colours questioned, heels or no heels? Hair up or down? There’s a familiarity and comfort in sharing the act of ‘getting ready’ (reminiscent of school sleepovers, braiding each other’s hair, and impromptu fashion shows). Ann Cahill, in an essay on beautification, highlighted how this shared experience allows women to ‘care for each other, to delight in each other’s bodies and artistic abilities, and gain self-confidence in their appearance through their relationships.’
At the same time, it makes me question why women feel compelled to go through these time-consuming rituals whilst men are simply allowed to ‘show up’ as themselves and are deemed ‘enough’ just as they are.
Beauty and Pain
In any given society, time, or location, there are structures and ideals of beauty that women should aspire to. Beauty theorist Tracey Patton argues that the body is somewhat malleable ‘and can be altered to a form that is considered beauty in one’s culture’. Examples such as Chinese foot binding, lung-constricting corsets from the sixteenth century, and bee-stinging treatments (Gwyneth Paltrow uses this apparently) exemplify just a sampling of the macabre treatments women have put themselves through when striving for beauty. The disturbing legacy of these practices highlights the ongoing societal pressure for women to conform, often at significant personal expense.
While today’s beauty practices have evolved and are less overtly dangerous, modern standards still profoundly affect our self-perception and well-being.
Feminist writer Sandra Bartky argues that adhering to the standards of feminine beauty places women on a strict schedule, similar to that of a schoolchild or prisoner, requiring planning, effort, and scheduling. This preparation for femininity occupies mental space, subjecting women to constant internal questioning and self-surveillance. A fantastic article discusses the concept of how ‘time is gendered’ and explains how women’s time is already stretched thin due to our many rhythms and cycles.
Beauty, I argue, adds another layer of control as the beauty industry thrives on our insecurities: selling products that promise self-improvement while capitalising on our perpetual self-comparison, dissatisfaction, and self-rejection.
Shifting Beauty Standards
Beauty standards in society are in a constant state of flux, with trends and body ideals coming and going constantly. The 2010s were dominated by full-coverage makeup and overt plastic surgery procedures like BBLs, boob jobs, and lip fillers. However, in 2023, there’s a call for ‘natural beauty,’ placing a premium on appearing bright and youthful with minimal effort.
These constantly evolving beauty ideals highlight a deeper issue – women have historically been treated as objects to be altered and decorated rather than equals. These standards also don’t exist in a vacuum. Women only value beauty so much because these ‘arbitrary’ trends are deeply entwined with pretty privilege and give women access to a world with ‘social advantages, opportunities, and better treatment’.
Paradoxically, as women age, societal pressures encourage them to yearn for their ‘younger’ bodies while stigmatising the natural process of ageing.
In the words of Bartky, this entire construct is ‘a set-up,’ demanding radical and extensive bodily transformations that virtually guarantee some degree of failure for any woman who subscribes to it.
Drawing from another Lazy Woman article on beauty standards: this leaves women in an impossible situation where we are ‘locked in the realm of the private sphere [whether] that is the bathroom, salon, gym or plastic surgeon’ – to reach our desired level of ‘beautiful’.
Challenging Conventions: The “Lazy Woman” Stigma
But what do we do if we reject these prescriptive guidelines? If we adopt a lazy attitude to beauty? On the surface, beauty and laziness are contradictory concepts: as our culture shames and stigmatises the image of a ‘lazy woman’. The lazy woman is framed as a cautionary tale of what one should not become. Expressions like ‘she let herself go’ in our language exemplify this view, perpetuating the notion that beauty is inseparable from rigorous effort and labour.
Perhaps it’s time to reconsider our perception of beauty and embrace laziness.
In a world saturated with images of unattainable, photoshopped bodies, the Lazy Woman’s rebellion lies in her refusal to conform to these unrealistic standards. She challenges the idea that beauty should equate to constant effort and labour, and that our worth should be tied to our pursuit of idealised womanhood.
The ‘girl dinner’ trend on TikTok echoes this feminist consciousness, subverting the gendered labour and expectations imposed on women. These dinners are often a haphazard mix of fridge findings, assembled tapas-style. They represent a conscious choice to opt out of the tyranny of cooking and doing the dishes. By using the adjective ‘girl,’ we symbolise resistance against patriarchal expectations that historically placed women in the role of homemaker, burdening them with the manual labour of cooking. ‘Girl Dinner’ instead embodies a messy, chaotic, lazy, yet resourceful approach to feeding oneself.
Reclaiming the present
When writing this article, I realised that it is a radical notion to love ourselves the way we are. In embracing laziness, we reclaim what the patriarchy deems to be shameful, which is our own self-confidence. This takes a concerted effort and I’ve actively worked on untraining my brain from some of the habits that occupied my time and mental headspace when I was a teenager.
Embracing a bit of ‘laziness’ can be an antidote to the oppressive beauty norms that bombard us daily. It’s a call to be present within ourselves and a reminder to accept our bodies as they are, breaking free from the cycle of relentless self-improvement.
Written by Isabel Fumpston.
Isabel is a feminist writer living in the South Coast of England. She has an MA in Gender, Society, and Representation and an English and Film degree. Alongside writing, she loves listening to the podcast Woman’s Hour, watching horror films with strong female leads, and walking her black labrador Monty.
Illustrated by Nuriya Serikbayeva.