weddings, marriage, & divorce

The Social Construction of Desire

I have a confession: I am getting my makeup done professionally for the wedding. Well, let me qualify that confession: A close friend of one of my best friends is a makeup artist and has offered to come to my parents’ house to do my makeup and the moms’ makeup. I am really happy to be supporting a friend (financially), and I am really touched that she wants to be a part of this process. However, I am still letting her paint my face.

I went back and forth with this decision for a while. I had a very explicit conversation with one of my best friends in which she told me that getting professional makeup was completely optional, that I could choose to do my own makeup the simple way in which I do it before I go to work or before I go to a party. I could choose not to wear any makeup, but I probably wouldn’t, since I do enjoy wearing some simple makeup items (especially eyeshadow). So I knew I had a choice. And my friend-in-common with this makeup artist brought me over for a trial run, and I actually thought it was pleasant enough and that my face still looked natural enough with makeup on. And, as yet another friend pointed out, it will be one more thing that someone else will take care of on the day of the wedding, I will not be in charge of my own makeup. I will have support in that task as I will in many others, and this support is something I have deeply cherished throughout the process of this wedding.

I am sharing this story not because I think my makeup is that important, but rather because it illustrates the clashing and crashing of so many different desires, some that come from my feminist values, some that come from my aesthetic preferences, and some that I know are socially constructed from my two and a half decades of living and breathing in a materialist patriarchy. This clashing and crashing has been incessant throughout the planning process. The kicker is, all of the desires are real, they are all strong emotions that I experience and with which I need to cope. I cannot have everything I want because so many of the things I want conflict with other things I want.

I want to not care about how I look. I want my appearance to be a mere detail in the exciting and spiritual proceedings of the day. I want to not have to edit, adjust, and cover up my natural physical states in order to show that I can rise to the occasion.

But I also want to look good. I want to feel pretty, I want to be happy with how I look in the pictures, and I really want my mother to be happy with how I look in the pictures. And I want to express physically the glowing joy and ecstasy I feel emotionally about the commitment and partnership that this day is meant to celebrate.

Mostly, I want to not feel self-conscious. I want to not be wondering if others are judging me for different choices I have made about my appearance. But that’s not an option. Just as it’s not an option for me to make a decision that I myself won’t have a way to judge, it’s not possible for me to make a decision that others won’t be able to judge.

I need to ask for acceptance, and I need to ask for forgiveness. I need to ask for these things from myself, and from my partner, my friends and my family. I need acceptance of my strong, complex and often-conflicting desires. I was, am and will be inconsistent, but passionately so.

Published by Mimi Arbeit

applied developmental scientist, antifascist community organizer, sexuality educator

2 thoughts on “The Social Construction of Desire”

  1. Danie says:

    There is nothing wrong with wanting to feel pretty. You need not ask for forgiveness, Mimi.. you are making a choice that you're comfortable living with. Enjoying feeling pretty does not make us less intelligent, less strong, or less relevant. There's nothing wrong with a little polish, to accentuate your natural beauty, and make you look perfect.

    In my opinion (and it's cool if no one agrees) real feminists … they can be as feminine or not feminine as they want. They're honest. I hope we've gotten to a place where we can wear high heels, and still be respected for our spiritual and intellectual strength. I don't believe one negates the other

  2. Hannah says:

    before i left for peace corps a friend of a friend who had served in burkina faso gave me some packing advice. "you should pack something that makes you feel pretty – a nice top, jewelery, some fancy scented soap, or nail polish for a pedicure" she said. it's stuck with me and has been a piece of advice i've passed onto other women thinking about their own packing process. and, for some reason this post made me think of that. even in my most independent and hardcore moments there was something to be said for feeling frivolous or like i was taking care of myself and spoiling myself. and there was something special to the way that being clean with a nice pair of earrings on in zambia was different from the norm. i think it's ok to want to your wedding to feel different from the norm in some ways – special. making it ALSO feel comfortable may be the complex part. i've loved reading your blogs so far! you're incredible. 🙂

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