The Guardian • Issue #2084


Cutesy power?

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2084
Half the Sky column logo

As our society moves further into late-stage capitalism, we continue to see liberal ideologies adapt to serve the capitalist mode of production. This trend has existed in liberal feminism for many decades and is continually being repurposed to seem new. One of the ways this is currently manifesting is in media that drives women to consume more and more, with a particular focus on beauty, while simultaneously presenting this consumption as empowering. 

For many young women, confidence is something that’s manufactured and sold to them in the form of a never-ending cycle of beauty products, cosmetic procedures, accessories, and expensive clothes. Viral trends, often made by grown women, describing the idea of ‘girlhood’ show clips of  cutesy makeup products, fashionable clothes, and overpriced coffee. Many women make a living off social media content creation that reproduces these trends. While this may seem harmless in some ways, in reality it is creating an environment where presentations of womanhood are both trivialised and inherently linked to consumerism.

To most of the women these trends are aimed at, they would be considered normal. Any criticism of this behaviour and the overall conceptualisation of womanhood being presented can be rebuffed by the particular type of liberal feminism known as ‘choice feminism.’ In choice feminism, the focus is moved away from what is empowering for women collectively, in real material terms like wage equality or freedom from sexual violence. Instead, the spotlight is on what feels empowering for an isolated individual woman, regardless of the broader effects of their choices or behaviour on other women.

In some ways, these trends feel like old propaganda recycled to feel new again. This über-consumerism targeted specifically at women, in a way that’s meant to seem empowering, isn’t essentially different to magazine ads in the 1950’s and 1960’s that told women all their problems could be solved with a new washing machine. The messaging now is more subtle, but what it boils down to is the idea that purchasing new makeup or clothes or undergoing a new cosmetic procedure will make us happy.

We would never look back at the ads from the 1950’s and consider that the underlying message that women only belonged in the home is empowering for women collectively. When will we realise that the message that woman must be beautiful and must have the newest products in order to be happy is equally disempowering?

Despite what the beauty conglomerates, plastic surgeons, and influencers would like the average woman to think, empowerment and confidence cannot be bought with the newest trending product. Our real empowerment can only come with the end of capitalism.

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