When I start typing in the Finnish Google’s search bar ”Minister Urpilainen’s…” it helpfully suggests the query: “…nails”. The third auto-complete offer is “fishnet stockings”. Not Minister Urpilainen’s speeches, or opinions, or even scandals. Nails.
Much is made of the appearance of a woman in public position – and not just in politics. It would, admittedly, be wrong to claim this is true only for women. There’s no doubt we would be rather surprised to see, say, an advocate turning up in court dressed in a pullover, long dreads in a ponytail. Perhaps that sort of thing is not even allowed. But since Lenita Airisto criticized Finnish men’s tennis socks sometime in the eighties, men have been generally left in peace, as long as they have the sense to wear a suit in a situation that demands one and get their hair cut by someone not wielding garden shears.
A woman, in many professions, including that of a politician, is expected to look well-maintained. Bright red nails, such as those of Urpilainen's, might cause comment, but we’re increasingly living in a world where a woman is expected to “make an effort”. It’s just not politicians; pretty waitresses earn more.
At the same time, women’s beauty industry is a giant sham. Despite the fact that a woman who pays no attention whatever to what is expected of her, looks-wise, is sabotaging her own chances of success in many fields, the beauty industry is supposedly something that need not be taken seriously – because it’s, after all, just “girls’ stuff”. The €120 creams do really not make anyone look younger. The luxury mascara will not really make anyone’s lashes 300% thicker. This is explained away as such products being about “pampering” and “luxury” – apparently paying through the nose for products that do nothing, or going to a beautician to lie for an hour wrapped in seaweed and mud, is something that those with double-x chromosome enjoy, for no apparent reason.
Women’s glossy magazines have editorial content indistinguishable from advertising, throwing all the usual rules of journalists’ ethic out of the window –something that Julkisen sanan neuvosto (The Council for Mass Media Regulation in Finland) has taken issue with, see for example decision “Langettava 5107/AL/13” – but mostly this is explained away as the content being the kind women readers want. It is impossible to say whether women readers might want some real product information, since due to the unholy matrimony between advertisers and the magazines, there is none to be had.
It gets worse. The BBC reports that the UK authorities investigating the beauty injection industry find it to be a medical catastrophe. In Finland, Turun Sanomat reports that the Finnish Ministry of Health and Social Services feels similarly, and the spokeswoman for the Association of Cosmeticians relates cases where “beauty treatments” have landed women in the hospital with their eyes swollen shut. On the Web’s discussion boards one can find endless reports of serious fuck-ups due to incompetence or just apathy.
Due to cosmetic procedures becoming steadily more invasive, they’re able to cause far more damage. Yet, the industry of treatments that get crazier and crazier just doesn’t seem to get regulated. It might not matter much if a completely untrained beautician assures one that orange eye shadow is quite the thing. It matters more when beauticians not trained for the job are causing medical emergencies – as if injecting a poison like Botox to a person’s face could, in a sane world, be considered “wellness” or “pampering”. And let’s face it (no pun intended) – it also should matter that a small country’s GDP is spent yearly on products that do not do, and cannot do, what they’re supposed to.
We live in a world where a woman is largely able to “rise above” her femininity and do things once perceived as masculine – such as have a career. Still, concerns distinctly feminine, such as quality of beauty treatments, are still perceived as silly, illogical, and at best trivial. There is a peculiar double standard where a woman is expected to follow certain grooming norms to not handicap herself, yet simultaneously it’s pretended that the whole beauty industry is just a cute game for women where nothing needs to be true or work. Even serious medical consequences of unregulated, invasive treatments are considered trivial because they take place in a sphere of life related to “feminine vanity”, and therefore not serious even when serious. The beauty industry is thus able to continue unregulated, as if utterly false product claims, unethical journalism, and serious medical mishaps, were just some of those silly girly things.
Now, the traditional way to end a rant bemoaning the evils of the beauty industry is to exhort us all to remember that true beauty is on the inside, or, to quote an ad campaign by The Body Shop, to insist that “smile is the best facelift”. That’s not what I’m going to do here. The ad campaign is a perfect example of the double standard I’m railing against: If just sunnily smiling is the best way to appear beauteous, dear Body Shop, then why the hell is your entire business selling lotions and glitters? I like lotions and glitters. There’s nothing wrong with that. I just don’t get the idea that I should like them, buy lots of them, and insist I only really need a smile –and if they turn out to be made of unspeakable horror, I’ll be blamed even by the companies who made them for not just going with the smile.
When the scandal about horse meat in convenience food broke, people were disgusted. Nobody would have thought of stating that this was a good reminder of us to consume less pre-made food, and perhaps spend more quality time cooking with our families. Only in women’s products is the consumer, should the product be faulty, made feel guilty for purchasing the product in the first place. One might notice that “victim blaming” and “double standards” come up with other issues that women face – issues which admittedly are more serious than those caused by the beauty industry. But this is the core issue: because it’s about women, we can use irrational double standards and blame the victim. That’s why the quality of eyelash glue is a good indicator of just how far feminism still has to go.