A Wellington school has canceled a class for girls on “how to look good”. 17-year-old Lisa Tweedie explains why, for young women, the idea is not just outdated – it’s damaging.
‘Glitz and Glamour for Girls’ was one of the electives offered to 11 and 12-year-olds at Wellington’s Evans Bay Intermediate School this term - that was until Tuesday, when the class was canceled after critics described it as outdated and sexist. Here 17-year-old Lisa Tweedie, Coalition Leader for Girl Up New Zealand, explains why classes for girls on “how to look good” belong in the past.
Upon first hearing of the elective class coined "Glitz and Glamour for Girls," I was thrilled that students could access an often overlooked creative outlet in the safety of their classroom.
It was offered to students alongside language, sport, writing, technology, and creative subjects. I pictured enthusiastic young people with a blending brush and sparkly blue eyeshadow in hand, and a teacher at the front of the classroom, relishing in the simple joy that is applying makeup. I was abruptly brought back to earth when I learned that the class proclaimed to pivot itself around the fundamentals of "looking good."
Glitz and Glamour is a great idea in principle. Its purpose, however, is sorely contorted by the expectations that have been burdened on women since the beginning of time - that we will only ever be valued for our beauty. The vulnerability of intermediate-aged girls makes it deliciously easy to digest perceived ideas about a woman’s place in society.
Our worth is defined by how many people we please and, alas, our self-esteem on everyone’s opinions but our own. We depend on being physically attractive to be liked and to be respected, and nothing satisfies this obsession like the gigantic consumerist trap that is the makeup industry. Experimenting with makeup is completely harmless - until it prematurely exposes girls to a system that thrives on making them feel inadequate.
The elective was also criticised for gender exclusivity, as demonstrated in the name, “Glitz and Glamour for Girls.” If you think teaching young girls how to conform to social constructs is a thing of the past, wait ’til you find out people still think women and cosmetics are mutually exclusive. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that men are instrumental in the continued success of the beauty industry. Patrick Simondac, better known by his online name, Patrick Starrr, is a beauty blogger with over three million followers on YouTube, who has recently released a cosmetics line with the iconic brand, MAC. His tagline: “Makeup is a “one size fits all.'”
Call it “PC gone wild,” but denying boys a seat at the table when it comes to exploring typically “feminine” activities is exactly the type of behaviour that contributes to the shameful suicide rates in this country. Suffocating young men with harmful stereotypes about what it is and what it isn’t to be a “man” alienates them when they realise they don’t fulfill that expectation.
Let me be clear, makeup is not the devil in this situation. Teaching children how to “look good”, regardless of what material item is used to exemplify it, is. ‘Glitz and Glamour’ crystalises the oppressive culture surrounding the modern woman and our struggle to coexist with our male counterparts.
Makeup is an empowering, fun and artistic pursuit, and we have the ability to separate it from its merciless economic incentives in order to make it safer for children to explore. The bottom line is that we shouldn’t be capitalising off of the vulnerability of young people, especially girls. We can all do better.