The singer of the group The Gossip, Beth Ditto, is often lauded for her feminist beliefs and her bold, unapologetic display of herself physically. She's very heavyset in size, chooses not to shave her arm pits and dresses in tight-fitting and provocative clothes. This goes against the traditional standard of beauty and beauty etiquette applied to women. As a large and unshaved woman, she is not supposed to partake in the beauty ritual. She must adapt to other modes of expression or deny her appearance altogether as appealing since it is seen mainstream views as a handicap to her being able to assert power through beauty...as a woman.
Beth Ditto is also lesbian and after thinking for a bit, I thought perhaps she can dispossess herself of much of the pressure to fit into society's beauty ideal because of this fact. I think all humans beings want to be desirable and pleasing to others regardless of motivations of sexual orientation because at the core, it's about being accepted and liked, which all humans beings have a desire to be on some level, however, that desire to be accepted and liked is further fractured and detailed by our sexual orientation. Our desire to be liked then becomes shaped by whom we are trying to appeal to sexually, even if it is not towards a particular individual...more likely a symbolic category.
It has been expressed that female to female attraction is not based strongly on looks as much as it is between male to female and/or male to male connections and modes of courtship, because the male component is missing in the former and men are said to be more driven by visual stimulation. This doesn't mean that women aren't (either straight, bi or gay) visual or that some aren't as visual, it is just thought that men on average (either gay or straight) will place a higher premium on sexual attraction defined through looks first and foremost...at least initially. This can be a debate in itself.
Anyway, going back to Beth Ditto, I wonder if she'd be as bold and expressive in the proclamation and expression of her beauty if she was straight. There is a lot more to lose when women denounce their beauty and accept their form of beauty or define their beauty in a way that is not congruent to established and popular beauty standards. Many cannot stand alone and the desire to be liked then has to be overridden if this is to be accomplished. This means that you have to then develop a foundation of self-acceptance that isn't inspired mainly through or shaken by how others see you but at the same time, as a human being, you still need praise and positive confirmation from others in a healthy and natural context.
Again this is very difficult to do because there is much social repercussion and marginality that one can face for not adhering to social expectations...and you walk a fine line between being mostly self-defining to build self-esteem/individuality and then wondering if you are still allowing yourself to be defined by others in a destructive context.
It can be argued that heterosexual women wish to appeal to other heterosexual women, but I feel this is mainly in a competitive and social context, which further validates the ultimate target: men. Even it if can't be articulated or understood well, I think many heterosexual women intuitively understand that beauty is a source or power and a strong factor in determining how feminine they feel and appear to others (especially men) and their femininity is often tied to self-worth and essence.
So if a woman is seen as attractive to another woman in a heterosexual context, then she often inspires a mix of emotions: intimidation, envy, praise and/or respect even. This is one reason why we see more women in magazines such as Cosmopolitan (a magazine targeted to straight women generally) than men (which is the aim for straight women). However, in men's magazines, you generally see more women than men in photos to appeal to the male readers. You don't often see men on the cover of men's magazine unless it is a health, fashion or sports magazine. This is something to consider.
Many thoughts, and all of them good ones:)
I've thought about this as well, especially being a male who has often looked to the other men around him and thought that they have all had their heads up their respective asses about what is beautiful and what isn't.
I like Beth Ditto. I like that she has the confidence she does and I think in some ways she is a terrific role model. But do I think she has this confidence because she is lesbian? In part, yes. Coming out as gay or lesbian in this day and age is being seen in a number of ways: a sign of strength, a desire to cast off the shackles that the conservative world wants all to wear, and a declaration of being true to oneself no matter what some facets of society. And some part of the exuberant pride the exhibit is about saying "this is who I am and you may as well accept it". That breeds a lot of confidence and self-assuredness and, in some cases, that confidence can transfer over in to how one feels about themself on a physical level. In that respect I can definitely see the lesbian aspect playing a part.
Without a doubt, though, the male aspect on it's own plays a strong part as well. Men go through this world predominantly as visual creatures. They get off on svelte, tight blondes, car chases, giant robots tearing shit up, porn, explosions, etc. This is all visual stimuli of extremes, but that is what so many thrive on. And whether it's verbalized or not, it has become an intrinsic part of our cultural knowledge that most men want a certain body for their female counterparts. . . they don't give two shits about how they look themselves, but god forbid their girlfriend have cellulite. This kind of mindset has become largely ingrained, and the inate desire to have someone, to be with someone, drives both men and women to look a certain way in hopes of acquiring that special someone (or, as the case may be, that special someone's T and A).
And yeah, it can also be argued that heterosexual women want a certain type of body to appeal to other women, but again the roots of this can largely be traced back to confidence - they fear not being seen as worth as much in a male driven society and want to be as good as, or better than, their competition, or they want the approval of their peers who have long since succumbed to the media-focussed necessity on thin, or something along those lines. By nature we are all competetive creatures as well, and that competition is strengthened when we think that someone might be worth more than we are, and by and large that is dictated by our body type because of what the world tells us is desirable.
Women are stronger than men in this world. Men act as they do, as belittling and cruel and dominating as they want to be, because they know that women can take everything. I mean by saying this that men are weak - because they are as focussed as they are on the physical they will let themselves be taken over - walked all over by their "loved" ones or their peers because what matters to them is that they look good because if they look good then they must be successful, powerful and elite. Many women fall into despair in this sense because the male domination of so much has shoved them to the side and they may think that, because they don't measure up to the stereotypes of what beauty is, they aren't worthy to take charge. But if the confidence can be found, they can be so much more than their male counterparts because, again, men are weak and fully allow themselves to be manipulated by a tight and perky ass.