Monday, March 07, 2005

What is Beauty?

So, I have a friend here at work who is one of those people that things just seem to happen to. When we first started working together, she couldn't stand me. Once I understood her, I was able to get her to appreciate me. Now, I'm her confidante. Part of the reason she seems to always be at the center of chaos is her personality, part of it is her strong and sometimes outlandish points of view, and the rest seems to be bad karma. In fact, I think for blogging purposes, I'll call her Karma. This is one of her stories...

Karma really works too many hours. She is in almost every weekend. So it was no great surprise that she stopped in on a day she had scheduled as vacation time. She had planned to sneak and and sneak out without being seen as she had not made her normal preparations. Of course, she arrived in the middle of the afternoon and encountered several people near her cube. A couple of them noticed she was not wearing makeup, and commented that she looked good without it. She got extremely offended. She launched into a rant about how rude it was. Apparently, she spends a good deal of time getting ready each morning.

I should point out at this point that, to me, she uses too much makeup. Her excess is not in the Tammy Faye Baker mold. It's more that she uses too much base. It gives her skin a tone that does not match her neck and gives her face an unnatural quality. In fairness, I also need to point out that I am not a fan of makeup.

The next morning, she ranted to me about it in her cube. I didn't witness the events, so I had to settle for recaps from the various participants. One coworker went a little far in telling Karma that she looked better without the makeup. This may be what pushed her over the edge and caused her to feel that all the commenters were rude. She felt that they had no place to criticize her appearance as "all of them could use some help" as well. You can only criticize another's looks if you look perfect yourself. Or, if not perfect, at least better than they do. Now, I really didn't think any of them intended to imply that she looks bad normally. Her defensive and paranoid nature led down that path. Still, she felt compelled to tell one woman that she really ought to consider wearing makeup. Apparently, commenting is also allowed in retaliation. Either that, or Karma thinks she looks better than the peanut gallery.

I had hoped that venting about it to me would be the end of it, but she couldn't seem to let it go. "Women are supposed to wear makeup!" she informed me. She felt she needed to prove that to everyone else. She sent around a link to a court case where a casino bartender was fired for refusing to wear makeup. I though for sure it would be struck down by the courts, but an appeals court upheld it. "See!" she said, distorting the content of the article, "Women can get fired for not wearing makeup. So, it clearly is a requirement."

Nobody was particularly impressed by the article. It certainly didn't prove anything beyond that the court felt the bar's dress code was not discriminatory. It's a stretch from that to say that all women, everywhere, are supposed to wear makeup. Further, her persistence on the matter made it fun for them to keep harping on the issue.

She couldn't understand where they were coming from and why they wouldn't just admit she was right. She pulled me aside for an impromptu opinion poll. She would make a good pollster. Or maybe a lawyer. The question was framed in such a way that it was obvious how I was supposed to answer. "Wouldn't you say that more than 90% of women wear makeup?" I didn't hesitate in my answer. "Nope. Probably over 50%, but no way 90." She was shocked. "How can you say that? Until I came to work here, every woman I knew wore makeup. Well, except for one, but she was a lesbian!" It didn't seem worth it to me to point out her prejudice or the fact that it was unlikely that she knew a representative sample of the population.

"Well, most of the women I know don't don't wear makeup." She was stunned. "How can that be? Look at all the women when you go to that mall. They all have makeup on." This time, I did call her on it. "Women you encounter in the mall are not an accurate representation of the population." She was unconvinced. "Sure they are. Everyone goes to the mall." "Not really. There are many people who avoid malls for a variety of reasons. People who hate the crass commercialism of malls for example." She considered this for a moment but couldn't let go of her point of view. Wearing makeup makes women beatiful. "I talked to my male friends from Texas and I asked them if they thought women should wear makeup. They all said yes. One of them said he wouldn't look at a woman who didn't wear it." The problem everyone here was suffering from was that they were Californians. "They have only one standard of beauty out here, theirs. They need to learn that different parts of the country have different standards."

At this point I gave up and started nodding. There were plenty of responses to her point. Why should you expect them to respect your view of beauty when clearly you don't respect theirs? Are you really trying to tell me that Hollywood has the same standard of beauty as, say, Berkeley? What does it say about a man who expects women to alter their appearance to please them? What does it say about a woman who buys into that system? By that point, I realized that I was going to get nowhere and I had plenty of work to do. We wrapped up with her suggesting I poll my friends. So, in a separate post, I will have the first ever BriWise poll!