During the 1960s, the counterculture movement and the sexual revolution had spread throughout much of the Western world. As the 1960s progressed, socially progressive values began to become popular, especially the increasing political awareness and liberty of women. Additionally, influenced and inspired by the Civil Rights Movement, the second-wave of feminism began. Women were no longer isolated from society with household duties as their primary purpose. As an American writer, Betty Friedan said, ‘No woman gets an orgasm from shining the kitchen floor.’ Women started to fight for their equality in the family, workplace and society.
Since 1960s, many women have raised their voices to empower women. Author Helen Gurley Brown encouraged women to be financially independent and to be sexually active before marriage. Journalist and political activist Gloria Steinem said, ‘A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.’ Traditional beauty was also challenged by the Miss American protest: one of the protest organisers, Robin Morgan, disagreed that women had been selected by the body over brains in the beauty pageant, ‘on youth rather than maturity, and on commercialism rather than humanity.’
Thanks for those bold and conscious feminist leaders, the image of women had been changed. Women started to discuss their social values besides being just a mother or a wife. They can be anything they want to be! The music and film industry were also influenced by the second wave-feminism: Australian singer Helen Raddy explained her song I Am Woman: ‘it is a song of pride about being a woman.’ Movies like Girlfriends (1978) and Desperately Seeking Susan (1985) were both encouraging the women’s self-awareness.
(Left) The movie Girlfriends in 1978 and (Right) the movie Desperately Seeking Susan in 1985.
Second-wave feminism was incomplete. In 1990s, a group of female punk bands in Olympia, Washington started the Riot Grrrl movement, which led to the rise of third-wave feminism. The philosophies of the Riot Grrrl movement were against commercialism, capitalist culture, mainstream standards of beauty, and violence against women.
In LOVE magazine’s 10th Anniversary issue, which is full of ‘angel’ faces and size 0 models, it was pleasing to see Beth Ditto: she’s a popular punk music artists. In her music, you can tell there are some things that have grown out of the Riot Grrrl Movement. In response to femininity, Beth says she likes the early punk influencers like Siouxie Sioux and Patti Smith, they have such radically different ways of embodying femininity, but they are both amazing punk women. ‘The true heart of feminism isn’t about meeting other people’s expectations around your body or your gender’. After a decade, Beth Ditto once again won the fashion industry’s heart. In the magazine issue mentioned above, she is naked, holding her breasts in a very similar pose as Samantha Fox, who is a topless model in 1980s. However, the message from Beth has no seduction, just empowerment. Under photographer Tim Walker’s camera, she looks like a doll with a pearl necklace, lemon coloured negligee, and the bold jungle-green eyeshadow under a pair of thin eyebrows.
(Left) Beth Ditto covers The 2018 Issue for The 10th Anniversary LOVE Magazine, by photographer Tim Walker. (Right) Samantha Fox covers The March 1985 Issue for Penthouse Magazine.
Those ultra-skinny eyebrows remind me of the 1930s movie star Greta Garbo and the recent British Vogue’s September 2018 cover, starring Rihanna. ‘Thin eyebrow are just beautiful, very ladylike … but it’s still punk.’, Rihanna explained. In 1960s and 1970s, the thin eyebrow style was commonly used among the south-central California Latina girl gangs, they called it ‘Chola’. In the fashion industry, Chola makeup is commonly seen as thin eyebrows, darkly outlined lips and dark eyeliners which represents feminine fierceness. Oakland-based modern-day Chola Mayra Ramirez said, ‘A Chola is the epitome of beauty, style, and pride with a badass, take-no-shit, ‘look at me but don’t fuck with me’ attitude. She is a strong and proud woman who holds it down for her family and hood.’
(Left) Rihanna covers The September 2018 Issue of British Vogue, by photographer Nick Knight. (Middle) Greta Garbo covers The January Issue 1928 of LIFE magazine, by photographer Edward Steichen. (Right) Chola Shoot in Los Angeles, by photographer Miguel.
In the late 1960s, the radical feminist Valerie Solanas attempted to murder Andy Warhol. Soon the issue of ‘man-hating’ had drawn public attention. Somehow, the images of feminists had become negative. In the early 1990s, Susan Faludi’s book Backlash argued that the mass media had a negative impact on the women’s liberation movement. In 1994, the Spice Girls took the concept of girl power to the mainstream. Their debut single Wannabe spread like a beautiful virus and changed peoples’ stereotype towards feminism. In their music, they celebrated non-competitive female friendships and the freedom of sexuality. The similar messages also could be found from the 1998’s American television series Sex and the City.
(Left) Spice Girls covers The September 1997 Issue of ELLE Magazine UK, by photographer Mark Abrahams. (Right) Sex and the City TV series cover.
However, the media continually manipulated the image of women. The traditional beauty standard had not been challenged, which is that a woman must be thin. Susie Orbach’s book Fat is a Feminist Issue stated, ‘the media present women either in a sexual content or within the family, reflecting a woman’s two prescribed roles, first as a sex object, and then as a mother.’ In the book The Beauty Myth, author Naomi Wolf wrote, ‘A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about beauty, but an obsession about female obedience.’ Victoria’s Secret fashion shows have been popular for more than two decades all over the world. No matter where you are from, the Universe-approved beauty standard is to be skinny. Many women struggled with starvation, eating disorders, binge-eating and body dysmorphia. Body positivity soon came to the feminist movement. Plus-size models such as Ashley Granham, Paloma Elsesser and Tess Holliday used social media to support body positivity and body-acceptance. Author Susie Orbach wrote, ‘fat expresses a rebellion against the powerlessness of the women, against the pressure to look and act in a certain way,’ and her book Fat is a Feminist Issue also stated, ‘for many women being fat have become one way to avoid being marketed or seen as the ideal woman.’ Some argued that the normalisation of plus size is problematic for addressing obesity issues. However, is normalising ‘size 0’ healthy for women? The whole point of body positivity is not just about fat acceptance, is more about celebrating all body types. Since gender discrimination, age discrimination and race discrimination have been outlawed, why not body-size discrimination?
Beauty has no certain standards, no matter if your size is 0 or 20; your hair is blonde or black; your skin is yellow or brown; your height is 140cm or 180cm, we should all be proud of ourselves without feeling ashamed. Why not celebrate the new diversity beauty era?