“Good” corporate beauty messages, and their limitations

A spoof cosmetics add: a tub of skin cream with a label that says "No beauty product, ever." The ad text reads: "You're amazing! Buy our moisturising skin cream. Or don't. Either way, we just think you're so awesome!"

Dove kicked up a flurry of controversy in the feminist blogosphere recently with their advertising campaign, which showed that women tend to judge themselves less attractive, than a stranger would judge them. Some women appreciated this message, while others (myself included) reacted more cynically.

The hidden damage caused by the dominant beauty standard is huge. Many women suffer from eating disorders, and some even die. Even those of us who appear to get off scott-free still have to put energy into overcoming toxic beauty ideals, and this is energy that we don’t get to put into other things.

But as Imran Siddiquee showed in her excellent article Women are not their own worst beauty critics, the toxic and hateful beauty standard was not created by you or me, and it does not arise from ordinary women’s lived day-to-day experiences. The beauty ideals that harm so many of us are manufactured by (male-dominated) corporations and delivered in a non-stop onslaught by the (male-dominated) media – an onslaught that Dove is of course part of.

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Women’s history: some links and a word of encouragement

I’ve noticed that at a few FAC events we’ve got talking about women’s history. At the Women’s Work fundraising event at least three of the performances drew on feminist history. I’d thought I’d share some relevant interesting things I’ve come across recently.

Firstly, the Bishopgate Institute has recently digitised the ephemera collection of the Feminist Library, which is made up of things like posters and leaflets from the Women’s Liberation Movement.

Secondly, the British Library has recently put online  lots and lots of interviews with second-wave feminists, along with other resources like biographies and an interactive timeline. Set aside lots of time to look through properly. (There are also links to various other oral history projects on activism around the UK and the world.)

I also really love this segment on Women’s Hour about birth control pioneers with Dr Clare Debenham and Rebecca Findlay. This is my particular area of interest, and I’m glad to see Dr Debenham’s research getting a wider audience.

And something local – Shape East has put together a “Walking with Women” tour to celebrate women’s history in Cambridge. It can be done as a self-guided tour, or booked as a guided tour from £10 per person.

There are also plenty of offline resources in Cambridge – the Cambridge Women’s Resources Centre has a collection of the zine Spare Rib, as well as various books on women’s history and feminist politics. The Cambridge Central Library is free to join and has some good books on women’s history, for example Alison Oram’s wonderful “Her husband was a woman!”, and the archives have various materials on women’s organisations.

I know history can sometimes seem like something you have to study in an academic context to understand, but that’s really not the case. History is for everyone.