Increasingly, we are being warned that our long-held definition of feminine beauty is not merely amoral, it’s also unhealthy.
The latest piece of evidence comes from a National Institutes of Health study: Women who frequently use chemical hair straighteners, which was defined as more than four times a year, were twice as likely to develop uterine cancer than those who didn’t use the products at all. The study didn’t find that the occurrence of cancer differed by race, but it observed that Black women were more susceptible to the devastating health consequences because they’re more likely to straighten their hair and tend to begin doing so at a relatively young age. That’s a jarring warning.
Uterine cancer is relatively rare, but still, this revelation comes from the same group of researchers who linked straighteners, as well as permanent hair dye, to an increased breast and ovarian cancer risk.
In recent years, we’ve also been told of the terrible toll that fumes from lacquers and acetones in nail salons have on the human body and how damaging they can be to the men and women who steadily breathe in those toxins while working there. Exposure to those chemicals have been linked to asthma, skin disorders, miscarriages and cancer. Other beauty treatments — skin lighteners, skin tighteners, wrinkle reducers — have known side effects and complications, too.
And yet, people just can’t stop trying to look younger, thinner … better.
What does it mean to look our best? There’s a narrow definition of beauty that’s deeply ingrained in the culture and people are willing to take risks, endure discomfort and even pain, to conform to it. The good-looking — not the model, the starlet or the one-in-a-million stunner — but the person whose appearance is pleasant, familiar, likable. They’re valued.
People strive for that. Perhaps they don’t see themselves as conforming but simply aiming to be their best selves, to feel good, to silence their inner critic. It’s become almost impossible to tease out whether a person subscribes to a particular sensibility due to social pressure, personal preference or some frustratingly …….