Simone de Beauvoir:
“The feminine body is asked to be flesh, but with discretion; it is to be slender and not loaded with fat; muscular, supple, strong, it is bound to suggest transcendence; it must not be pale like a too shaded hothouse plant, but preferably tanned like a workman’s torso from being bared to the open sun. Woman’s dress in becoming practical need not make her appear sexless: on the contrary, short skirts made the most of legs and thighs as never before. There is no reason why working should take away woman’s sex appeal” (1272).
Though a bit lengthy, this quote embodies anxieties about the female body that still play an alarmingly high role in culture today. The female body has always served as a source of unease; for so long women were property that, in a lingering form, their bodies still do not belong to them. Clothes, body image, every facet of appearance, desirability, sex appeal and even ideal personality qualities are all specifically dictated: the current woman is not, nor will ever be ‘perfect.’ Women are told, not asked, to be a variety of elements and appearances, all compressed together into one, radiant, flawless being. The myth Beauvoir speaks about still holds a firm grip on culture today, and while it may seem that progressive steps have been taken, anxieties about female appearance, emanating from the female myth, still comprise a prevalent part of cultural ideology. The irony, though, is that the same restrictions, rules, and expectations do not apply – at least not in the same facet – to men. Women’s bodies are (arguably) not their own – and what has been viewed as empowerment is truly more debilitating, more restrictive, only under the façade of ‘progress.’ It’s disconcerting. And it’s startling how a piece published in 1949 still bears an uncanny amount of truth to the current social circumstance.