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The Beastly Business of Beauty

January 21, 1986|CAROLYN SEE

Beauty Bound by Rita Freedman (Lexington Books: $16.95)

"This is not an anti-beauty book," Dr. Freedman assures the reader in the first pages of this volume, but when she hits her stride, she delivers a different message in a different tone: "What does it mean to be a member of the fair sex? . . . Faces are toned, moisturized, massaged, masked, peeled, lifted, and plastered with foundation, powder, base and blush. Ears are pierced, pinned back. Brows are tweezed, penciled, dyed. Lashes are curled, and dressed with mascara. Lids are lined, shadowed, and surgically 'done.' Lips are glossed, frosted, plumped. Nose and chin are implanted, reduced, turned up or down. Hair is permed, rinsed, straightened, curled, dyed, teased, sprayed, whigged (sic), greased, gelled.

Removal of Teeth

"Teeth are capped, and removed to accent cheekbones. Nails are manicured, polished, wrapped. Body hair is removed by depilatories, waxing, tweezing, shaving, of the upper lip, chin, brows, underarms and legs. Breasts are augmented, reduced, lifted, padded. Torsos are corsetted and girdled. Rumps are plumped. Tummies are tucked. Hips and thighs are firmed, reduced. Cellulite is 'dissolved.' Feet are reshaped by high-heeled, pointed shoes, and toes are amputated to fit them. To this partial list add a plethora of diet and exercise programs and a variety of fashions that constrict or inhibit movement."

No, this is not an anti-beauty book! And Dr. Freedman is a feminist, who proclaims her sisterhood with young women in terms like these: "College women often have trouble understanding what the beauty myth is all about (or what feminism is about for that matter), since they already enjoy the high status characteristic of a chimp in heat."

Rita Freedman is as objective about "beauty" as Jeane Kirkpatrick would be about politics at a convention of the Peace and Freedom Party. Freedman is upset, terribly upset--at a series of phenomena that may be occurring largely in her mind: how many of us know women who have had their lips "plumped," their hair "whigged," or their toes amputated, or their teeth pulled out--not as part of orthodontics, but to emphasize their cheekbones?

It is Freedman's contention that men do and women are; that even in the middle '80s men have the power and the jobs, and "ogle" women in the street, while women have been "bound" (as in the title, and as in Chinese foot-binding), since birth, to be pink, pretty, pouty, darling, babyish, ingratiating, and sit (in the '80s?) with their legs crossed at the ankle. Women, still, according to Freedman, are bound to ideas of beauty that are adolescent, infantile.

Women's natural fat is seen as repulsive (according, again, to Freedman), and natural aging is seen as witchlike. Even fitness--which should work to women's advantage, from a feminist point of view, since it increases strength--"peddled as an imperative . . . is simply another insidious beauty oppression."

In what time scheme, or for what time scheme, was this book written? Aren't men today as tormented by lacks in their personal appearance as women ever were? Studies may not show it, but what about the anecdotal evidence? Do women still sit with their ankles crossed? Has any woman reading this review really hacked off her toes to wear pointy shoes?

Another thing: Is it more oppressed to sit under the hair dryer than to sit bound to the tube for "Monday Night Football"? Is it more or less dehumanizing to query, "How about them Dodgers?" than to grab your bangs and say, "What am I doing to do about these ?" Freedman advises women to have compassion for their hips, but forgets entirely that the "un-fair" sex is as much at the mercy of a difficult society as we are.

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