Emma Watson, a role model to young girls (and boys) who watch her films, has lamented the huge pressure she feels to look perfect. At the weekend she commented: “With airbrushing and digital manipulation, fashion can project an unobtainable image that’s dangerously unhealthy. I’m excited about the ageing process. I’m more interested in women who aren’t perfect. They’re more compelling”. She also tweeted “I did NOT wake up like this” and posted a picture of the expensive products it took to make her look perfect.
Many of us know the pressure to conform to idealised notions of beauty; to feel we have to wear makeup – and the more expensive the better. Some women even see the transition from the cheaper Rimmel or 17 to Lancome and YSL as part of the growing up process, as well as one they can use to chart their own rising esteem – the more one earns, the more one can afford premium products. Because we’re worth it.
Whether we dye our hair, pluck, shave or laser it away; whether we stop at a line of kohl or a dusting of bronzer, we all negotiate the ideals that confront us from every newsstand, website, and cinema screen. The promotional tactics change to keep us from looking too closely at the inherent ugliness of how it works and to help us feel we will never match up. While our own notions of beauty change, they are still being dictated to us via a carousel of the latest talent who, first and foremost, are abundant in social capital; a social capital borne in no small part from the products they promote, which in turn helps their success. It’s dizzying.
That’s the nature of capitalism and there’s nothing evolutionary about it. It favours the fickle revolution of trend that sees your favourite mascara discontinued abruptly and replaced by a more expensive and innovative “Lash xxxtreme”, because the natural look that we worked so hard to achieve for a while is suddenly superseded by the “falsies” effect that started with a wand and progressed to the hard stuff: countless spiderish fake eyelashes and millions of tiny tubes of glue. And yet we find the time and money to keep it going because anything less and we feel naked, or as though we are letting ourselves go.
Social capital can be the speculation to the accumulation. And Watson currently has as much social capital as she has pounds in the bank. Yet it’s not enough for an actress to do her job; one also models – whether it’s the free dress for the endless circuit of ceremonies, or for the toxic glossy magazine covers and adverts where one also plays ambassador for high-end cosmetics houses. In fact, in the case of Watson’s remarks the words seemed inconsequential; the wooden horse of a very well-timed exercise in product placement around the premiere of her latest film. These cries of protestation from some of the main pushers are also subsumed, like all protest eventually is. Commodified into a new range, of course. Or the concerns of real women colonised by some of the friendlier ranges, such as Dove.
How do we get off this carousel of crazy standards and obscene expense? The few words made by figures like Watson, who also represent the desired notions of beauty, signify the interdependence of the media industries. It is no longer possible for the big players in one part of the media to not be seen in another part of it; music feeds fashion feeds film feeds glossy magazines, with makeup as the glue. The bigger the media industry the more it will seek cross-territory presence to maximise the message; monsters feeding off each other. They will subsume anything and everything each needs to stay alive. Women’s doubts, insecurities and downright self-loathing will always be the most potent fuel.