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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The myth of ‘just a little more effort’

It is a modern myth, constructed through magazines, television and films. Shows like What not to wear, magazine features on makeup and hairstyles, films like the Princess Diaries, Miss Congenialiy, Never been kissed, and every other teen movie about a geek girl turned hottie. The myth of ‘just a little more effort’ is just that. It spins a yarn in which girls and women, if they would just try a little harder, could be more beautiful and attractive than they ever dared dream.

The myth of ‘just a little more effort’ rears it’s ugly head in every makeover show you’ve ever seen. Take one ‘confused’ woman, she has no idea what ‘suits’ her, no ‘confidence in her appearance’ and does not fit the cookie cutter sex-pot mould. Find her the perfect clothes, at considerable expense, slather her face in product and makeup, at yet even more expense and finally drastically alter her hair through dyeing, cutting, styling, more and more costly to maintain. The end result is often unrecognisable.

With ‘just a little more effort’ this women has gone from ‘frumpy’ to ‘fabulous’. She has style, confidence and more importantly, sex appeal. It is an interesting feature of such make over shows that they use very overt male gaze camera shots to display the post-transformation women in their sexy new glory.

Films may use the myth in a slightly different way. They take a geek girl, and ugly girl, a loner and through a cruel joke (teen movie standard), or an order (Miss Congeniality) she is tricked, coerced and forced to make the drastic change. Perhaps it is from co-worker respected for her intelligence but not attractive to nearby men to co-worker hollered and drooled over by bosses and colleagues. Perhaps it is from quite shy girl who works hard to latest fad/popular girl at a school full of shallow peers wasting time before their graduation.

It does not matter what the story is about, the core message is the same – make just a little more effort and you will be beautiful, popular and more successful than before. The same core message of the makeover shows and the magazines. Beauty and success is not measured in achievement, intelligence, skill or monetary worth but almost exclusively in the eyes of men, in women’s perceived attractiveness and ability to find a partner.

This myth goes on to create a belief in society that women who apply just a little more effort will become more beautiful and successful. It ensures the beauty industry continues to grow and grow, that women will buy into the latest product that claims to re-sculpt or refine their skin and figure.

The problem though, is that films, television and magazines are not reality. Even if that is exactly what they claim to be. Everyone one has their unique characteristics, flaws. Ultimately these cannot be covered by makeup and clothes. Maybe cosmetic surgery has developed as another facet of the beauty industry in an attempt to finally 'fix', remove and hide these flaws for good. However I think it is these flaws that should be celebrated; the unique failures to fit in, a women’s lack of interest in fashion and cosmetics, her bad taste and garish dress sense.

The myth of ‘just a little bit more effort’ supports the beauty industry because it denies the value of these idiosyncrasies. It turns scornfully on our ‘flaws’. It reinforces over and over that with just a little bit more effort each and every one of us can achieve the ideal. We could be the focus of the male gaze reveal on the latest make over show. It undermines our competencies as people, urging us constantly to criticise our reality and to buy that extra top, product, haircut, magazine feature on weight loss because our perpetual little bit more effort might finally mean we too may reach the mythic ideal.


Joel said...

It's related to the belief that you are responsible for your own oppression or your own mental illness.

F*ck 'em!

yclepta said...

Y'know I quite like What not to Wear but I really don't like how they insist all women must wear push up bras and loads of make-up.
If I went on it they would probably insist I shaved my pits too..... I have often thought it would be great to see someone on there who they manage to work with who is hairy, braless and naturally make up free...Who am I kidding? As you so rightly point out - this could never happen as the whole point of the programme is to reinforce the beauty myth.

TP said...

Yclepta, I still enjoy what not to wear for some reason too. I think maybe it's because they make an attempt to find out what the women need from their clothes, and if they can maintain the look with their lifestyle, rather than just dress them up as clones.

Still - make up and push up bras are a staple - it's all about being a sexpot.

Joel, that's an interesting point - I guess the belief that giving a little bit more effort will make all the difference fits into a lot of different situations. I know formal education plays on that kind of insecurity.