What My Sloppy Sweats Say About Female Beauty

When we talk about style and fashion, we don't often discuss how women look when there's nobody watching. But the way we do (or don't) style ourselves when we're alone says a lot about the social nature of beauty.

Before I was a blogger, I got dressed and went to work every day like everyone else. I wore skirts, flats, and blouses. When we had an event, I tried to look especially nice. Now, though, I work at home. And my typical uniform is a pair of shorts from high school (my ten-year reunion is approaching) whose waistband is so worn that the elastic is exposed, paired with a t-shirt I received either free or as some sort of joke (one says, "personal watercraft: spending money in a royal style," which I find especially apt). I now wear a bra most days, but that's only because I often have to sign for deliveries and I don't want the UPS guy to see my nipples. I never wear makeup, and I keep my hair up all the time, because I've discovered that I tie it back all day, it looks better at night.

This last part is the important one: though I now have the freedom to dress like shit during my workday, and I take full advantage, I still get dressed up when I actually go out and see people. Which is not to say I put on Louboutins or anything (for one thing, I don't wear heels), but I do wear lipstick and dresses and make a minimal effort with my hair: in short, I try to look cute. And since I'm a feminist who's occasionally claimed that I get dressed up "for myself," it's a little troubling that I only try to put together a decent outfit when I'm going to see other people.

Newsweek tackles beauty in a big way this week, and in one piece, Jessica Bennett argues that we should all just embrace "the beauty bias." She writes, "If we acknowledge that we're being judged on our looks anyway — and that they're indeed crucial to our career success, as a new Newsweek survey shows — well, why wouldn't we use them, own them, empower ourselves through them?" But it's not clear how that's different from what many of us are already doing. We may not be conscious of it, but most women are trying to conform to social standards of beauty a lot of the time — and we can see it when we compare our public selves to how we look alone.

Of course, not everyone reverts to slobwear in the home office, and after doing so for a whole week, there is something intrinsically exciting about getting dolled up on the weekend. But part of that excitement often involves the fact that people will be looking — at least for me, it's not that much fun to put on nice clothes and stay in my room. And while dressing up is, absolutely, a form of self-expression, it's also a way to conform to what society wants.

There's nothing wrong with having separate public and private selves — everyone does. But where beauty is concerned, at least for me, that difference is pretty stark. And if there's a way to "own" our looks in a non-creepy way (not sleeping your way to the top or suggesting that everyone should get Botox to get ahead), maybe it's to acknowledge the difference and its causes — rather than pretending it doesn't exist.

Image via Emeraldchik/Shutterstock.com.

She Stoops To Conquer [Newsweek]