January means Rush Week at colleges across the country, which can be a totally exciting time for the future members of various sororities. Or it can be a complete nightmare. For example, there’s this email sent in by an anonymous tipster to Jezebel which outlines “appearance guidelines” to women hoping to rush Alpha Chi Omega at the University of Southern California.
And this isn’t like, “maybe wear a skirt and brush your hair” kind of guidelines, or “business casual attire.” This is a point-by-point primer on what to wear (and not to wear) in the most gruesomely stereotypical way imaginable. At their best, sororities can be places where communities of women are empowered and strengthened, and where girls can go to be accepted no matter who they are or what they look like. These rules feel so retrograde and insulting, it’s incredible.
For example, Spanx are strongly encouraged:
“I cannot stress how important Spanx are to make you look your best. Even if you are very thin, Spanx will give you a better “line” when you wear clothes (no awkward bumps!) Plus you don’t have to worry about sucking in all the time or being bloated!”
Yikes. Other recommendations? Bust out those tweezers:
“Bad eyebrows will make you look less beautiful than you actually are!”
“For recruitment, your hair has to be curly or straight. No waves.”
Makeup, by the way, is not optional.
“If you are not wearing the required makeup, I will stop you and apply it myself. I don’t care if you’re late for class. I don’t care if you’re a sophomore or a super senior. I will stop you. “
Oh, and do you wear glasses? That’s too bad.
“[We] strongly encourage wearing contacts over glasses. Poking your eyes is worth it just this once, promise!”
If this email is for real, it’s not just hostile and weird, it’s doing women a major disservice. And maybe what’s most depressing of all is that these forceful beauty standards aren’t unfamiliar: Look in the pages of many women’s magazines and you’ll find not-so-subtle instructions on how to conform to certain gendered physical expectations. As if that weren’t enough, some companies still offer unsolicited beauty advice for women. If things are going to change, it needs to start with a new generation of women—especially, college-aged women—setting new standards of self-expression and acceptance.
It’s upsetting to think that a female community, a so-called “sisterhood,” is reinforcing these oppressive ideals, rather than challenging them. We should be encouraging our friends to express their individuality, to wear what makes them feel awesome, and to feel beautiful because of who they are, not because of how they pluck their eyebrows.