Over the last year, there’s been a lot of talk about shaming. (In fact, Jezebel called 2013 “The Year of Shaming.”) Fat-shaming, slut-shaming: It seems like we can’t get enough of classifying people’s ill-will toward others.
And, to be fair, barring the examples above (I think they’re totally legit), I didn’t really buy into the idea that every instance of disagreement or rudeness was an example of “shaming.” Sometimes people are just assholes.
But then I experienced something that I guess was tantamount to—what?—body shaming. (Maybe?) It was really only a part of my body. My eyebrows. My bushy, never-been-waxed, kind-of-in-style-now eyebrows.
Last year, I went to the Bluemercury in University City to pick up concealer. I found it, took a few obligatory spritzes of perfume and went to pay. At the register, a female staffer told me that the esthetician was in and that she could wax my eyebrows. Which was weird because I hadn’t asked about their eyebrow services. The woman had taken one look at my eyebrows, projected a beauty ideal that I didn’t (nor did I want to) adhere to, and then assumed I would be on board. I wasn’t.
I equated it to a backhanded compliment. I, the customer, had gone into a beauty store that also had waxing services, and she, the employee, was offering me said services. It’s up-selling, but such a specific upsell—so personally targeted to you—that it can’t be anything but offensive. How did she expect me to interpret that statement? “Oh, thank goodness. I just remembered I’ve never waxed my eyebrows before in my life. THANK YOU FOR REMINDING ME. I will do it now.”
I like to think she didn’t mean it maliciously, and that the esthetician was just sitting in the back twiddling her thumbs, waiting for clients. But it was rude and I felt like shit afterward. Then, just last week Into the Gloss published a post about the author feeling judged for having thin eyebrows. Is our self-worth really being subjected to these arbitrary opinions?
I had to know if these were isolated instances. Have we really segued into beauty-shaming? The untouched geography of shaming? Is this something that actually happens on a regular basis?
“Lots of times when I go to get my eyebrows waxed they ask me if I want my face waxed, too. My whole face. There’s definitely something I’m not seeing,” my colleague said when I brought up the topic. (I work with this woman and I can attest to the fact that her whole face does not need to be waxed. And more importantly, what does that even entail? Dripping hot wax onto your face? It seems to me that, as mammals, body hair is something we’re allowed to have. Because science.)
And it didn’t stop there. One of my male colleagues said it’s happened to his wife, who is from India. Through emails, she described past trips to India, where, when getting her hair oiled, she was asked, “Madam, can we make you pretty?” After a perplexed ‘Excuse me?’, the person doing her hair would explain: “Make you pretty, like this” and point to a very fair, North Indian model’s face on the cover of India’s People magazine.
After initially answering, “No thanks, I already think I’m pretty” and then dealing with the subsequent confused expressions, she just started explaining that, no, really, she liked being ugly. On what planet is that something a woman should have to say?
A distinctly Irish coworker shared a similar experience: “I’ve had a facialist—not one in Philly, actually—offer to work on fixing my ‘sun damage’: my freckles. So … what’s that? Skin-bleaching? I don’t think freckles are considered to really be sun damage, and furthermore, they’re mine! I’ve had them since I was a tiny little girl.”
I suppose what’s most infuriating about these anecdotes is that the shaming is happening in response to natural features. Had the manager at Bluemercury suggested I wear a different shade of foundation or a new makeup technique, I wouldn’t have minded, because, well, it’s her job. Making offhand remarks about the way someone does their makeup or hair is rude, but the idea that we exist in a society where a woman can be not only asked but expected to change something so quintessentially “them” is revolting.
So, here’s the deal. I can get past the audience-shaming and Instagram-filter-shaming, but I’m really not okay with women feeling pressured and expected to alter their appearance based on what we’ve continued to see as an unattainable beauty standard. If that makes it beauty-shaming, then so be it. Just don’t shame-shame me for thinking it.