Our thanks to Nigel for this. He writes:
It is a matter of constant amazement to me that while all around us on every possible media there is a constant presence of the many and huge industries devoted to feeding female vanity, somehow all manner of “problems” are discussed as if there is some mystery about them. Two centuries ago Mary Wollstonecraft observed that the amount of time taken by her contemporaries fussing about their appearance was itself a problem let alone the fact that such concentration on the superficial and ephemeral got in the way of education and “building character”. It would seem inevitable that living in a belief that it is possible to be forever young and “gorgeous” will generate a shedload of disappointment and resentments.
Now way back in the 70s there were feminists still taking pops at the beauty and fashion industries. However these days they are more likely to demand the “right” to have painted nails and this season’s “must haves”. In the flurry of articles about the evils of the Taliban the BBC had one on the terrible effect on fashion and beauty industries in Kabul. Closing nail bars and cosmetic surgeries it seems being a sign of barbarism. It seemed to the writer that all the panoply of fashion and beauty was a measure of “human rights”.
There was no hint of the irony that this was describing part of the lifestyle of a tiny wealthy elite in a country “one of the poorest in the world” almost exclusively of subsistence farmers who must look at such things as we do the excesses of Arab princes and Russian plutocrats in London! Quite without the religious puritanism of the Taliban one could well see how the “government troops”, drawn from the same dirt poor villages, would be less than enthusiastic in fighting for such Marie Antoinettes.
When Mary Wollstonecraft was writing her audience was the comparatively small proportion of the population who had the time and money (and literacy) to understand her. Today the advances in the “west” are such that almost every woman can indulge herself in the ways Mary railed against. And there are multi-billion £ industries to prove they do. To the extent that fashion and beauty has become a human right.
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