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Beauty Myth No. 614: Manicure as ‘Basic Need’

I was so excited to see a woman on the cover of Friday’s financial section of Yediot Ahronot that I nearly spilled my nail polish all over the newspaper.

The full-page headshot of Sharon Chen-Konofny — gorgeous, fully made up, and biting on a nail-polish bottle — seemed like such a welcome change from the usual face of business in Israel. Monday’s issue of Mamon (“money”) is much more typical: There are three photos of men on the cover, 11 photos of men inside and not a single photo of a woman anywhere. Of course, of the 19 families in Israel who own the equivalent of 88% of the national budget, only one is a woman: Shari Arinson. Moreover, according to a [Knesset survey][3], men are four times more likely to be a CEO than are women, and a significant number of businesses in Israel don’t have any women on their boards or in their top leadership. So the absence of women in newspapers’ financial sections reflects a very sobering reality.

I therefore read with great earnestness the story about Chen-Konofny, entrepreneurial founder of “Laka”, a chain of inexpensive manicure stands in malls that enable women to get their nails done even in an economic downturn. “Women will always want a manicure,” she said. “We have a basic need to do this. Whether we have money or not, we like to feel that we invested in ourselves.”

Hmm … When it comes to “investing in myself,” a manicure is not at the top of my list.

[3]: http://www.businessweek.com/globalbiz/content/apr2007/gb20070430_204 117.htm

Dancing, reading, having coffee with a friend, even a massage, these are, perhaps, “basic needs” — not a manicure. I don’t fancy turning my hands into delicate extremities that can’t play piano or play with clay, any more than I fancy putting on stiletto heels and staggering. (Full disclosure: I wasn’t actually polishing my nails on Friday; I just thought it was a catchy lede.)

But I’m in a disappearing minority, according to Chen-Konofny:

It’s an evolution. My grandmother never went to the hairdresser, but my mother did and put on red nail polish on special occasions. We, the 40-something generation, show up at the hairdressers once a week and have our nails done. It’s rare to see a woman our age who is not all put together. It’s a different generation. I have 12-year-old girls coming regularly.

As I read this assertion that I’m a rarity, I started to feel terribly blue. I would like to say that the sadness merely reflected an understanding about how women have become complete slaves to the beauty industry — even worse than [Naomi Wolf[(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naomi_Wolf) described two decades ago in “The Beauty Myth.” But if I’m going to be completely honest, I would have to say it wasn’t just that. It’s that feeling of inadequacy beginning to set in — the knowledge that everyone else is just more: more beautiful, more thin, more put together, more gorgeous, more deserving, more honorable, more lovable, more normal. I wager that every woman reading this knows exactly what I’m talking about.

The list of things we are expected to keep up with as women in order to be “like everyone” is just mind-blowing and overwhelming. And those poor 12-year-old girls — the layers of female inadequacy are setting in so early. But we keep doing it. We keep giving in, spending all of our time, energy and money trying to look better so we can gain approval. It’s a terrible cycle. And while Chen-Kanofny claims not to know women who avoid the hairdresser, I bet I don’t know a single woman who does not wish that she was more beautiful.

With all due respect to Chen-Kanofny, women have to do more in this world than polish our nails. If we are ever going to change the balance of power in the world, and be truly seen and heard for who we are, we need women to take on positions of real economic and political leadership — beyond the manicure stand. We need to provide Mamon with a different image of women to put on their cover — women in technology, science, industry, media and the arts. I want to see a photo of a woman who is willing and able to change not just women’s nail color but women’s social and economic status in society. That would be a cover to celebrate.

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