Kim Kardashian’s new skincare line is not, according to her, “for those who give up.” Going against the grain of the Body Positive movement—which applauds the nature of each body—ads and headlines that push consume beautification routines and, along the way, turn the body into a battlefield. A quick glance at the web is enough. A magazine takes note “of the routine fitness to attack the most critical areas” and another announces “hard routines to burn fat”. A cream has been formulated “to improve acne-prone skin (and is) ideal for combating blackhead breakouts,” and one sports center exclaims: “Effective on our stubborn areas!”
Beautification is a war. This is the conclusion reached by the philologist María D. López Maestre after analyzing a series of texts on-line of publishers and cosmetic firms tracked in 2018. Women are described as warriors and beauty is the spoils. The enemies, according to the also philologist María Márquez —who had already analyzed in 2007 the use of war metaphors in the advertising texts of the beauty industry—, are free radicals, pollution, the stress of modern life or “ elements that in other times were symbols of life and beauty” such as the sun, sea water and wind. They can also be internal, such as hormones, fluid retention, or the passage of time. in the imaginary marketinianthese hostile beings create an emergency situation that can only be remedied with activities and treatments: allies and weapons that are worth buying.
The language of war has been used in many fields since time immemorial. They are, in fact, especially frequent in the field of health, where the sick go from being people to heroines and champions who have struggled to recover. The linguist Elena Samino, professor at the University of Lancaster, has analyzed more than 1.5 million words extracted from the Web about cancer and has concluded that the most used are those that have to do with violence: “battle, fight ”. Experts and associations against cancer ask that these analogies not be used because, they warn, they put pressure on patients. Patients may feel that if they are unable to overcome an illness it is because they have not fought hard enough and have failed.
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War is an element traditionally associated with masculinity, so a priori it might seem strange that it is used by an industry that mainly targets the other half of the population. In the beauty Myth, the feminist essayist Naomi Wolf addresses the contradiction between the social power that women have gained and the pressure to achieve unrealistic canons of beauty, and locates the beginnings of the fight of women against their bodies —induced by the media— in the eighties . Women’s liberation in the domestic sphere, Wolf said, meant enslavement to their physical appearance: “The closer women come to power, the more physical self-awareness and sacrifice is required of them.” Michelle Lazar, a linguist specializing in critical discourse analysis, points out that the concept of women as warriors appears with the rise of post-feminist discourse and “fits with the traditional problem-solving approach that salespeople have used for a long time. They describe a problem that needs to be worked on in terms of combat, as well as a solution that is the warriors who act on their own or the weapons offered by the brands, ”she explains from the University of Singapore.
The consequences are multiple. For López Maestre there is no “bad intention or manipulation or Machiavellianism on the part of those who use these metaphors.” However, he notes, “this way of thinking can have consequences, some positive, such as strength, courage, and determination, but also others that can be negative when conceptualized in terms of conflict and confrontation.”
Military language is effective because it gives agency to women, who had been passive objects for centuries, and blurs the vision of an oppressive society. Nobody forces it on me. I do it because I want to. Because I am a warrior. “The pressure is now me. When I work on my body, I’m telling you something about myself: I have self-discipline, I’m in control, I’ve worked on myself,” Lazar explains. Then, like an echo, the words of Kim Kardashian resonate in her interview with The New York Times: “If you told me that I literally have to eat poop every day and that it would make me look younger, maybe (I would). Maybe yes”.
Beyond reaching the ideal of beauty, the cult of the body —which requires sacrifice, strategies and weapons— has become the new mantra. It is not worth reaching the goal, just as important is having made an effort to reach it. Almudena Castells, a psychologist specializing in eating disorders, explains that this relationship between beauty and success “is not based solely on how you are, but on what you do to achieve it.” The influencers They don’t just show the results of their treatments —the skin without blemishes, the hard ass, the perfect eye line—, they also show how they apply their creams every night in a disciplined manner.
While the classical concept of beauty was linked to that of “harmony with nature”, the current premise is that the body is defective and that is why a battle is waged over it: “Advertising shows a rejection (with few exceptions) of the natural that translates into an idea of beauty as a fight against nature (time, natural physiological conditions or vital external agents)”, says Márquez, for whom the constant confrontation with external agents explains the presence of these terms of war.
On the one hand, with treatments that promise to reduce fat or localized imperfections, as if it were an attack, the body seems divided. One ceases to be a whole to be a set of layers or pieces: hair, skin, fat. This exaggerated fixation on a specific area distorts the body schema that one has of oneself, explains Castells: “There may end up being a dissonance between you and your body, as if you did not identify with it, as if your ass did not belong to you.”
On the other hand, the aggressive and disciplinary messages — under which lies a “you have to do this to save yourself” — generate fear and an attitude of constant alert to the pimple, stretch mark or cellulite that can appear at any time. According to Castells, “these are very radical messages, in which what is good and bad is very polarized, and they provoke a feeling of guilt, failure and frustration.” If one is unable to strictly follow the anti-blemish treatment guidelines, one deserves that dark speck on the face.
Unlike real conflicts, this is a never-ending war. When it’s not cellulite, it’s fat, if not wrinkles or acne. There will always be a danger because, inevitably, the passage of time and its wrinkles will always remain on the horizon. And as in any conflict, the great victim is the idiosyncrasies of the place. “To remove the age from a woman’s face,” Wolf said, “is to erase her identity, her power, and her history.”
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