Why women feel under pressure to buy their way to perfection
Posted on: 04/14/14
From what to wear at your wedding to whether to buy a Liz Hurley baby bikini, women face a barrage of decisions – and always there is the crippling fear of getting it wrong
Behind a series of news stories lately, is a sneakier, greyer truth. And it's about women, and anxiety, and the pressure to get it right. There was one story about weddings. It repeated the research that says that today the average British wedding costs more than £18,000. There was another about New York mothers spending $99 on juice cleanses for their children. And then a third about Elizabeth Hurley's designer bikini collection for little girls. So.
The regular gasps over the sins of Bridezillas can be heard from here. These women, with their cakes and tans and dresses, have long formed the backbone of our cable channels. And subsequently the outraged reactions to their vanity and excess have become part of the story. There are the women who extend their overdrafts for the gowns made of swans, who weld half a metre of hair to their scalps and tease it into the shape of a palace, and then there are the rest of us, rolling our eyes on the internet.
Similarly, this week's juice-cleanse story was told, and met, with daggers. The women interviewed were roundly mocked for succumbing to the marketing of health-food companies' (there's one called Rawpothecary) cleanses aimed at their daughters. Mocked for their ignorance, for their neglect, their vanity, their politics.
Finally, the "backlash over Liz's bikinis for kids" was told and told again in different accents across the media. The arguments about the sexualisation of children, mixed with outrage about the price (£32.90), combined in a rush of wet fury towards the women buying them for their eight-year-old daughters.
Yeah, some of these choices are questionable. But in mocking the women's choices (and it's all women, always, forever), we are often ignoring their intentions. A million women panicking. A million women, our eyes flickering backwards and forwards over a million options, each one priced to sell. This is the thing: all these women in the news were finding control where they could. Whether they're trying to be the perfect mother by chucking cash at "health juice" or expensive swimwear, or trying to be the perfect wife by hurling it at a hairdo, underneath the ethics there is a woman very hard trying not to get everything wrong.
If you spend enough money, the thinking is, if you buy enough things, then surely, surely things will be OK. And then the more that people buy something, the more absolutely essential that thing seems, from a Brazilian wax to a Vitamix juicer. To get left behind is to fail. The more that people have big expensive weddings, the more you feel like you're getting it wrong if you don't. We have so little control, it appears, that the small things we are given control over (like that bit in Friends when they throw a surprise party for Rachel, and Monica puts Phoebe in charge of "cups and ice") we will run and run with.
We're not allowed to propose marriage, but if a wedding happens, we're allowed to get a really massive dress. The marriage itself is out of our hands – but, mate, the flowers are ours. If you become a mother, the pressures quadruple. There are so many things you can get wrong – from the birth to the toys to the clothes to the school – that many women gravitate towards the choice that costs most, because it seems to be of a higher value.
The point is to appear to be getting it right in public. The things people see should be perfect, considered, expensive, despite everyone's bank accounts weeping in private. The morality of a baby bikini feels less immediate than the quick glow of buying one. It is so easy to fling judgment from our balconies, our blogs – far harder to consider the vast, grinding industries in place to make the customers feel inadequate as mothers, as women, and then to direct their hands. To present control, expensive, ribboned, juiced.
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