“How many industries would totally collapse if women stopped feeling ashamed about our bodies?” was the random musing that a friend posed to me in a recent email. She went on to say: “Why can’t we all have the confidence of the middle-aged men shopping for Speedos at my work yesterday?”
Considering that she works in downtown Toronto, and there are many men shopping for these minute bathing suits, her sample size may in fact be meaningful, but regardless, I can’t stop thinking about this. (No, not about the men in Speedos, but about the topic).
How many industries are based on women’s insecurities? fears? including the need to be “pretty”? young? remarkable? unique? or trendy?
Where to start? Our most recent vacation gave me time to further ruminate on the topic, and provides a grounds for comparison.
I started by comparing the different products in our toiletry kits. My guys have toothbrushes, toothpaste, antiperspirant/deodorant, and lip balm. My boy also has a comb, and my partner has shaving cream and a razor. My daughter and I have all of those, plus: eyeliner, mascara, eye shadow, lip stick, lip gloss, blush, make-up remover, make-up remover pads, acne cream, body spray, nail polish, and polish remover. Then add in shampoo, conditioner, moisturizers (face and body), hairspray, dry shampoo, and the list goes on. I also packed a hair-straightener, through in past years it might have been a curling iron.
For accessories, the guys have their watches, and sometimes surf necklaces, and maybe a paracord bracelet. The girls’ seemed to require many more adornments and sparkly trinkets, including earrings, bracelets, necklaces, and rings.
The clothing in our suitcases also differed in number and quantity. Why do women seem to be the chronic over-packers? Why do I need 20 outfits for seven days? I blame part of this on the fact that I feel conditioned to be prepared for every eventuality and every weather condition (even in the tropics). Even when I pack light, I still have an extra skirt and dress or two, and way more than my male counterpart in this experiment.
Beachwear is another area of difference. Money flies out of my wallet for swimsuits, many of which many never see the light of day and it is a devastating shopping experience because nothing fits right and I blame myself for not matching what the company expects women to look like. Worse yet, why do I buy an expensive, cute bathing suit and then need a beach cover up to put over it to travel to and from the beach? I’m quite confident that my friend has never sold to beach cover-up to a middle aged man buying a Speedo, even to the ones who need one.
Now I know I am talking to a lot of gender norms and stereotypes, but play along for fun, because no matter how much of a metrosexual male you may be, I’ve never heard of the majority of men who have closets devoted to shoes. Do men even have time-dependent shoes? Women seem to be told they need to change shoes at least three times a dayâ€¦ gym shoes, work shoes, evening shoes, and don’t even get me started on high heels.
Heading north, think of the money spent annually in hair salons. Where woman are paying to lighten, darken, highlight, curl, straighten, cut, and style some of their hair (at a much elevated price and shorter frequency then men) and then promptly paying even more to have the rest shaved, waxed, or tweezed away.
While I’ve covered many of the superficial “looking good” industries, I haven’t yet mentioned the weight loss industry including gyms, nor the food marketers and their “lite” versions of food, female vitamins, and probiotics for women. And what about all of the fitness trends targeted to women? Ever see a man using a thigh-master?
I still haven’t even scratched the surface (pun-intended) with spa treatments including abrasions, injectibles and fillers, all the way up to cosmetic surgery.
Unfortunately for women, but luckily for these industries, our currently entrenched patriarchal society all but guarantees that that women will continue to be easy targets, and that many men will continue shop shamelessly for Speedos.