IT is a truth universally acknowledged that women are more concerned about their looks than men. It is equally fair to say that women are more predisposed to be vain, more so than men. Put the blame on their physiological makeup: they have breasts, they can’t not have hair (unlike men), they are a gender that gives them more options to accessorize—from hair ornaments to hair extensions, necklaces to earrings, and the infinite possibilities of nail art and even more extensions. Women, in short, are fussy and high-maintenance.
It doesn’t help that women are subjected to higher social expectations to look good. Consider Boon Huat, a first year junior college student. He has an acne problem. His classmate, Mei Mei, has exactly the same problem, with a near equal number of pimples on her face and forehead. One would tend to close an eye on Boon Huat’s misfortune, but as for Mei Mei, she would be judged as that oily-faced girl, not pretty, and even sloppy. Why doesn’t she keep a decent diet, sleep better, and maintain a more rigorous facial care regime?
Consider also the story of Angelina Jolie. Think of Jolie, you think of curves at all the right places. In 2013, Jolie went through a double mastectomy on account of what she called a “faulty” gene, the BRCA1, which sharply increases her risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Her doctors estimated that she had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer.
In her Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, she wrote about the surgical procedure, the scars, and then the implant process. “I do not feel any less of a woman,” she shared. “I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity.”
This all sounds noble and good, but the point was that her mastectomy would not have been complete without the implant. How else could she have reclaimed her femininity? In any case, she’s got to. She’s a Hollywood star. She’s expected to look good, glamorous, all those Tinseltown traits. Why the story became such big news also has to do with how women tend to cringe from facing the realities of losing their breasts, and hence, their womanhood.
Among the entire suite of services available in a cosmetic surgery clinic, more than three-quarters of them pertain to the aesthetic enhancement for women rather than men. For the breasts alone, we have procedures with different names, but the same objective: breast lift, breast implants, breast fillers, breast augmentation. Looks do count, and it’s not just with Hollywood stars.
Looks do account, also, for eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa. Interestingly, such conditions tend to manifest themselves in women, more so than men. Statistics from the French Health Ministry in 2015 revealed that 40,000 people suffer from anorexia and 90 percent of them are women. High profile anorexia-related deaths somehow point to women: the eating disorder claimed the lives of Brazilian-born model Ana Carolina Reston in 2006 and French model Isabelle Caro in 2010. Caro had weighed only 60 pounds when she posed for an ad campaign in 2007. In the United States, even though men are afflicted with the problem, the issue is less glaring given how anorexia is mostly considered as a woman’s disease.
Looks and the whole routine of tending to it is still very much a woman’s domain. President Obama once commented that Hillary Clinton, during her grueling months campaigning, had to wake up earlier than he would have on account of having to look to her hair and make-up. It’s precisely because of this that the cosmetic industry is thriving. Women are the reason for their being.
For the face alone, a cosmetic company could sell mascara, eye-brow pencil, eye-shadow, eye-liner, lip-liner, lipstick, contour palette, blusher, primer, foundation, highlights, concealer, bronzer, and the works. It’s hard to come up with a list longer than that for men.
No matter how hard men try, they cannot conceivably be fussier about their looks than women. Besides, diamonds are women’s best friends. We’ve never ever heard anything to the contrary.
Lim Zhi Yi, Secondary Four
For more essays by Zhi Yi, visit Zhi Yi Writes.
This essay was written in response to the question:
Do women fuss over their looks more than men?”