I had a pedicure yesterday. I had the beginnings of the cold so it was probably not the best time for a pedicure but I also was home slightly earlier than normal so it was too much of an opportunity to pass up. And I ended up feeling much better after the pedicure.

It made me think about the beauty regimens we undertake as women.

I love the way my nails look when they are painted – like little coloured jewels. I also like the way my feet feel and look. I hadn’t had a pedicure for ages and I could the dead skin was making my toes curl (metaphorically, not literally).

But as a feminist, I have to ask: is this conditioning? Am I partaking of the Evil Ploy to reduce women to nothing more than objects of beauty, ceaselessly striving to perfect their looks?*

And I have to conclude that, in this instance, no. It is conditioning in the sense that I was brought to this process (of getting a pedicure) more easily than a boy would have been (so in a sense I have an advantage here; more on that later.)

I must mention that getting a pedicure was a special tradition among my uncles and we had this pedicure guy who would come home and do pedicures for everyone, men and women, old and not-very-young alike. In China too, pedicures for men are not out of the ordinary and focus on removing dead skin. The nail polish part, alas, is not part of a Shanghai pedicure and the proper scrubbing is not a part of the Hong Kong pedicure. The Indian female pedicure, which covers both these and includes a massage, at no extra cost, wins legs down for me.

Facials are a little more of a grey area. I don’t see that many men getting facials. Then again, more men are beginning to. V is a spa enthusiast and has tried facials until he came to the conclusion that lying around with a mask on one’s face is a waste of time. He does like putting a mask on at home though and tries to use my expensive products also. He also feels that men are discriminated against in facials because the facialist doesn’t  seem to do as much work on men’s faces as they do on women’s.

A couple of weeks ago I got a facial after ages and had tears running down my cheeks because the facialist took blackhead removal very seriously indeed. This is ever my dilemma in facials – I am torn between wanting them to be really pleasurable and wanting them to get all the gunk out. If only a method could be found to get the blackheads out in a really pleasurable way. Anyway, while bearing the excruciating pain (heh, just realised where the cruciatus curse came from) of someone squeezing blackheads off my nose, I began to think – why do we (women) do this to ourselves?

And I said this to V when I got home, and he said: “And you call yourself a feminist?” But the thing is, I liked my clean and shiny nose. And I would like V’s nose better if it were blackhead free. He has actually used a strip, which I bought for myself and never used. And he has never told me to get the blackheads removed. And vice versa. But when the blackheads aren’t there, it seems everyone seems to prefer it. So maybe it’s not un-feminist after all, though maybe a little beauty obsessed.

Similarly, with shaped eyebrows. I believe this really sharpen the features in women at least. I find men with shaped eyebrows a bit odd looking, and this could well be conditioning. I don’t cringe or anything at women who have unshaped eyebrows but when I’m attracted to a face, more often than not, I realise the eyebrows have been done. I like my own face better with a slightly arched brow.

So where does conditioning end and choice begin (granted that completely free choice never will)? For me, it’s when you have critically examined your actions and then gone ahead with them.

In fact, this is one area in which I am beginning to think men are disadvantaged. Okay, they have escaped the pressure to conform to a certain standard of beauty in a sense. But they are under pressure to conform to a standard of manhood that does not involve doing girly things like dress up (which ask any toddler, can be great fun). One might argue that we should go the way of less meaningless activities related to beauty but it seems like throughout history, human beings have enjoyed expressing themselves through their clothes and their appearance and why not really?**

So, I think I’ll just enjoy my coloured toenails for now on.

* Significantly, last night, I was listening by default to this comedian (V plays this comedy radio channel to fall asleep) and he mentioned how we seem to have a guilt complex today. And it struck me as so true.

I cannot eat anything without feeling slightly guilty about it. I cannot buy anything without feeling slightly guilty one multiple levels – damage to the environment, exploited labour, and, of course, the rudimentary cost. I cannot undertake something frivolous like shopping, beauty treatments, without a slight flicker of guilt. Having thrown off religion, we have found new ways to make ourselves feel bad. This is not to say that we should not care about the environment and the exploitation of people but given that we go the way of convenience more often than not, should we just give up the guilt? Or maybe the guilt what keeps us slightly good?

** This does not mean I condone pushing only one standard of beauty or pressurising women to look like sticks.