I’ve been wanting to write about this for such a long time, but I find myself unable to organize my thoughts. It’s like I can’t combine my experiences as an LGBT person with beauty – which I think might be what the problem is all about. Whenever I talk about LGBT issues it tends to be broader, more political and more than anything, impersonal. I don’t talk about my own personal situation because it’s something I have no energy to cover. I’d love to do more here. I’d love to be more ambitious, more real, more radical. But that power isn’t in me right now. So I’m gonna start small. Let’s talk about consuming beauty as an LGBT person – specifically, a gay woman.
Heteronormativity is a hell of a drug. It’s a kind of brainwashing and propaganda that permeates every facet of society, and that includes commerce and beauty culture. Let’s go back to the birth of the modern beauty industry – the turn of the century. Beauty products were juuuuuuust inching their way out of hussy territory and becoming acceptable for respectable women to wear. To counteract the tainted image of beauty products, much of the marketing material during this time pushed the idea of being the perfect wife and mother – remain youthful for your husband, look energized for your children. The heterosexual family dynamic was the ideal – it’s what all women were supposed to want.
Fast forward to the emancipation of women – products were now advertised as tools of liberation, to help you look dynamic and interesting when you were out partying, drinking, driving and flirting – with men, who else. And so it goes. It’s always about men in some way. Rinse and repeat for the coming decades – patriotic duty to your soldier sweetheart in the 40s, the good housewife in the 50s, the ingenue on a romantic adventure in the 60s, and on and on it goes.
Right now, we’re in a phase where heterosexual beauty ideals are both stronger than ever yet strangely unmentionable. Hypersexualized and extreme visions of femininity dominate beauty culture online, especially on social media platforms. A man is still in the picture, and the presumed heterosexual woman consumer supposedly knows better than to adapt to his preferences, even as she does exactly that.
Consider, for instance, the trend of youtube videos where a beauty vlogger’s boyfriend is invited to purchase, use, choose or otherwise interact with beauty products. While women aren’t building their entire performance of femininity for a male partner’s gaze (…right?) men and the pursuit of them is still a titillating facet of beauty culture. If not overtly, it is at least implied.
Ultimately, as a gay woman, it feels pretty alienating. Not caring about men’s attention at all is anomalous, and can even be provocative – I’ve been criticised for acting “superior” when I am only expressing my discomfort with how present heteronormativity really is in beauty. I can’t stress enough how absolutely sucky it feels to attend an event where you’re the only girl who isn’t in on the joke about clueless boyfriends, or having sales staff assume things about your “guy”. Surrounded by women who I share an interest and a kinship with, women who are smart, funny and interesting, I still feel like an outsider.