I'm an idiot.
Tonight is the final of American's Next Top Model, and my friend and I - both committed feminists - will be spending it together, glued to the TV. Our children will be with us, my six year old dressed as a supermodel in honour of the event, ensuring our feeble-mindedness is transmitted to the next generation.
Watching ANTM doesn't even fulfill my own definition of harmless, aesthetic, fun beauty (versus the competitive, self-punishing type which can be so damaging to women). Part of the enjoyment of ANTM is making fun of the contestants.* And while we watch we're sure to eat a tonne of junk food, then later agonise about possible weight gain. Why do I take part in this dreadful, anti-feminist ritual?
I grew up surrounded by odd, contradictory views on what it is women should be. On one hand, girlie things were - and still are - regarded as frivolous. Make up and flashy clothes reflect the vanity and shallowness of their wearers. The only thing worse than announcing yourself as vain and shallow is not to. We've all heard derogatory comments about those women who reject beauty conventions: the bitter, childless, hairy-legged manhaters with giant and unlovely chips on their shoulders.
I think it's this damned if you do, damned if you don't situation that makes ANTM so pleasurable. You get to participate in the beauty industry (even if only as a Tim Tam gobbling spectator) and at the same time disavow it. You get to be a 'real' woman, interested in make up and clothes, while distancing yourself from the stupidity that this sort of frivolous, girlie stuff is thought to entail. It's a very small scale rebellion: a way of saying that partaking in girlie stuff does not necessarily make one stupid.
I'll spend tonight laughing at the remaining three contestants: their catfights, wardrobe malfunctions and emotional crises. But the joke may be on me. Despite thirty-two years of practice, I haven't quite worked out how to be a girl properly.
*Eg, the girls are currently in Beijing. Heather declared that Chinese was all Greek to her. I've been laughing solidly about it for a week.