Modifying Ourselves into Attractiveness
Earlier I wrestled with the issue of hair removal. Hair removal as a body modification seems both relatively practical (no major problems introduced by this mod) and societally acceptable, so why not, right? Hair removal makes one smoother and seemingly more naked. However it is also problematic in the both physical and symbolic vulnerability that it brings. Hair removal takes away cushioning that protects sensitive areas. Hair also can protect the skin against bacteria. Most problematic, though, may be the symbolic result. Hair indicates physical maturity, adulthood. To lose body hair is to return to childhood. This is somewhat blurred by the perception that body hair is tied up in masculinity. Still, to be hairless is a return to childhood.
Another far more temporary body modification is the high heeled shoe. High heeled shoes simulate longer legs and long legs are a sign of physical maturity. Generally, physical maturity is attractive in a sexual partner, so various things may be done to exaggerate the appearance of maturity.
Yet while you may refer to a pair of high heeled shoes as fuck-me pumps, they do not indicate arousal in the way that makeup can. Lipstick, with the rare exception of colors like black lipstick, simulates the increased blood flow to the lips and its accompanying reddening. Blush or rouge does the same thing for the cheeks. Lipstick and blush allow one to appear aroused when one may feel nothing of the sort. Herein comes a sort of emotional lie that can make the dance between potential sexual partners even more confusing than it already is.
To whom, though are you lying? Are you lying to potential partners? Are you lying to yourself? Arousal does not come through conscious choice. Arousal requires trust and knowing if you are aroused can take listening to deep within yourself (both literally and figuratively). Neither is arousal be something that can be imposed by society. Just because it would make other people happy if you were aroused by them does not, in fact, make you aroused. Covering over these truths with faked arousal makes it more difficult for others to understand us and makes it more difficult for us to understand ourselves.
Another key sign of arousal is enlarged pupils. While makeup can emphasize the eyes, without contacts even the most artful eye makeup is not going to go all the way here. Instead, people rely on candlelit meals, dark movie theaters, and sunsets to offer larger pupil size.
While cissexual women, face challenges with accepting their own bodies, the pressure from society to be perpetually “pretty” and perpetually aroused, there is yet more layers for transgender and transsexual women (trans women). Trans women already have their beauty questioned by society and are challenged as false or artificial. Trans women who transitioned late in life or have not had the social or financial resources to undertake body modification type transitioning may use makeup to promote the perception by others of their femininity.
In a society that prioritizes masculine characteristics, even a single secondary sexual characteristic identified as male such as facial hair can be a significant impediment to a trans woman being perceived as female. Close shaving helps, but is rarely sufficient particularly among those with lighter skin tones and dark hair. Electrolysis will get you there, but is quite expensive. What’s left is pancake makeup to cover that pesky five o’clock shadow. Yet, heavy foundation is generally seen as a lack of expertise in the application of makeup.
Applying additional makeup such as lipstick, blush and eye makeup can increase the perception of one as feminine. However, lipstick and blush are problematic for any female as mentioned earlier. The mere application of makeup adds a sense of formality and consciously asserted beauty. For a trans woman who is sufficiently androgynous in appearance makeup can move one from a state of being perceived as male or female varying with each person encountered to a state of asserted femininity.
Asserted femininity brings with it an additional vulnerability for trans women. Whereas in an androgynous state when one is perceived as male one may merely be seen as a peculiar male, when one is perceived as male and in a state of asserted femininity this can cause cognitive dissonance in the person encountered and in the wrong person bring out latent hostility.
Outside of makeup, there are other ways that people deceive themselves and their partners about arousal and I’m not talking about faking orgasms here. Physical activity or even fear and excitement reactions produced by roller coasters and scary movies result in the appearance of sexual arousal. There is increased heart rate and faster breathing. Going on a date that involves these activities can leave both parties confused on a subconscious level, thinking that there was more chemistry than truly evident.
So why do women allow themselves to be put in these situations? For one, it is not easy to fight against cultural expectations. First, you must be aware that they are there. Second, you have to decide that it is worth the social cost to you to stand outside or explicitly against such expectations. Another reason women allow it is because we are each a product of our culture. Our culture provides a vocabulary of symbols for concepts like femininity and attractiveness. If we do not draw on the vocabulary of our own culture then where can we find alternatives? Moreover, if one does either draw on vocabulary from other cultures or create new symbols then one has to face an increased likelihood of being misunderstood.