Are You a Thing?
plus, a fresh take on duck lips
Welcome, welcome to the many new readers who are joining HNTFUYF’s gorgeous menagerie. How delighted we are to see you! Tapping the little ❤️ above lets us know the feeling is mutual. To get better acquainted, you might want to check out this introductory post.
I refer to self-objectification a lot and I sometimes worry that my repetitiveness will bore or drive you away. But I keep coming back to it because it is foundational to the way we (women) learn to see ourselves; because it is so damaging to our self-esteem; and because its effects are often unconscious and insidious.
In her illuminating new book, Mirror Meditation: The Power of Neuroscience and Self-Reflection to Overcome Self-Criticism, Gain Confidence, and See Yourself with Compassion, Tara Well, PhD, cites a research project that verifies a common-sense but still unsettling conclusion. The project, “Objects Don’t Object: Evidence that Self-Objectification Disrupts Women’s Social Activism,” shows that self-objectification—which encourages women to focus on their appearance—leads us to adhere to more traditional gender roles (for example, that of a sex object), “garnering…participation in the very system that maintains [our] disadvantaged status.” Another study showed that when women were asked to recall a time when they felt sexually objectified, they were less likely to support women’s issues and more likely to support the status quo. So, if you think like a thing, you’ll act like a thing?
Bottom-line: It’s no surprise that self-objectification can be disempowering in the political arena as well as the personal. And geez, don’t we want to be acutely aware—especially now—of all the ways we may be discouraged or distracted from enshrining our civil rights? If you answered “Yes!” to that question, here’s something to throw into your activist tote.
Though my back problems have unfortunately limited my participation in street life here in Tokyo, there is one striking beauty-related custom I’ve noticed (even from my apartment window). We’ve been gurgling through the rainy season, so recent days have been a long, somewhat tedious slog of overcast skies and drizzle. But even when the sun breaks through just enough to cast a weak shadow, I see women holding umbrellas. At first I thought, Sun showers? But no: These umbrellas are often silver, constructed from UVA/UVB protective materials. Women here also often wear wide-brimmed sun hats or visors and cotton gloves to cover their arms and hands. (Oh, and always masks.) No one, except me, rudely, gives them a second look.
Skin cancer rates here suggest that women are more assiduous about sun protection than men. And though rates are rising because of the aging population, they’re far lower than in the U.S. overall. The drugstores are filled with sunscreens of all kinds. The desire for sun protection is also largely driven by the cultural preference for light skin, because of its associations with purity, youth, and socioeconomic success. As I’ve mentioned before, “saving face” has many meanings in Asian cultures; asserting control over one’s complexion is surely an important element in that domain. In the case of sun protection, there are at least health benefits (in addition to the potentially detrimental classist, racist, and sexist ramifications).
Speaking of unpleasant ramifications, a story in Real Self by the terrific reporter Jolene Edgar caught my eye recently. It’s about the corner lip lift, a newish surgery that can give the mouth a “pleasing” upturn. While it’s true that the corners of the mouth can turn down as we age, making us look stern even when we’re not, the idea of younger women choosing a procedure that permanently fixes the mouth into a subtle rictus of pleasant submission is pretty creepy. I mean, The Stepford Wives vibe is hard to shake.
But if you’re intent on giving yourself an agreeable expression, you could try this ducky Japanese drugstore device called Smiley Exercise, which claims that a “cute girl’s corners of the mouth go up!”
Oy. Or as my friend P said, Grrrrr. Makes me so mad I want to bite the ass off a bear.
So here’s something more…palatable to elevate the corners of your mouth (and maybe, in these dark days, your mood, as well).
Book Club News, Your Responses
Though I’ve been a latecomer to audiobooks, once I discovered them I couldn’t get enough. I borrow them from the public library, but as I’ve mentioned before, sometimes the library snatches them back before I can finish. So I'm happy to share I'm partnering with Chirp to launch an audiobook club of biographies and memoirs called Unfiltered Women. It’s free to subscribe and Chirp offers great deals. Plus, you obviously get to keep the book to listen to at your leisure.
Full transparency: At this point, I’m choosing not to receive payback for sign-ups, but I do hope to get the benefit of introducing HNTFUYF to Chirp subscribers.
Here’s how it works. Every other month I’ll announce a new book club pick that we’ll listen to together. You’ll have a chance to share your thoughts on the book a few weeks later and hear what other readers thought, too. It was fun to read your thoughts on my first Chirp pick, Blood, Bones & Butter! The book reminded one reader of the way preparing food brought her family together: “[My] mother and grandmother did not get along well but on those nights [before holidays], while we chopped, stirred, baked, steamed, etc., the white flag was waved and there was peace in the valley.” Another reader taught me that your diets are far more…interesting than my own, as she enjoyed “fresh-caught squirrel, skinned, fried and served with biscuits." You can see the full recap here—and if you haven't already joined, be sure to follow my book club for free at chirpbooks.com/val. I'll be announcing my next pick—which I’m now completely immersed in for the second time—in next week's newsletter.
Val Asks You
Don’t be shy! What’s your most vexing or intractable appearance issue? Send your beauty-related questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. If I don’t have a good answer, I’ll find someone who does.
HNTFUYF, a Payola-Free Zone
Readers, a few of you have wondered aloud to me if I get a cut from sales when I mention a product. I do not. I only mention products I’d like to buy myself, and therefore think you might like, too. I share this so you know my recommendations are offered without obligation. The only financial contributions I receive from these posts are from those of you—thank you!—who have generously subscribed. All posts and the archive are free; there’s no paywall.