There is no limit to self-optimisation. And there is no financial cap on the self-optimisation industry. Self-help books routinely fly off shelves, fast fashion piles up in landfills, I could fly to Turkey and buy a new nose. How much was that skin cream I saw on Instagram the other day? Only €80? Perfect, sign me up. Buy, buy, buy: being beautiful is not just recommended, it’s a moral obligation.

I cannot help but feel whatever movement of feminism we are currently in (fourth, fifth wave?) is not servicing the needs of women at all. Instead it has permitted a culture of constant physical manipulation; it has encouraged women to defy their essential nature; and it has sold the lie that youth can be bought back with expensive injections and trips to Harley Street. All of this operates on the false premise that anything a woman does out of personal choice is necessarily feminist.

How did we get here? This is certainly not the first point in history that women have painfully and irreversibly modified their bodies in pursuit of an ideal: think of the women of the 16th-century French court whose insides were compressed under an impossibly tiny corset; or perhaps the women who bound their feet in late imperial China as a mode of status symbolising.

Ozempic: the reality of the ‘miracle’ weight-loss jab

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But it seems to have taken on a different, contemporary flavour. Adapting our bodies is no longer just the preserve of the upper class, it’s an aspirational pursuit sold to women as necessary for their economic advancement, as central to their role in society. Photo editors have always warped images of beautiful celebrities on magazine covers, but now we can achieve much the same effect at home on our mobile phones. Plastic surgery used to be prohibitively expensive, now women can get Botox on the way to work.

It is a shame to think that second-wave feminism liberated women to join the workforce, only to spend these newfound earnings on becoming more beautiful. In the 21 years since Botox was approved for cosmetic use, demand has increased tenfold and is skewing towards younger and younger women. In a culture where invasive injections to erase wrinkles is so normal, we might forgive women for receiving the message that aspiring to smooth skin is necessary and dutiful. The message is clear: women, you can get all the benefits of being in the workforce, but looking beautiful while you are there is necessary penance for the extra equality.

Botox may even be a little passé these days. There’s a new trend on the block – a miracle drug called Semalgitude (brand name Ozempic). It’s technically an insulin regulator for pre-diabetic patients, but some noticed a side effect: it’s a weight-loss drug. It has taken Hollywood by storm, saturating the industry, and helping the very wealthy further upgrade their “beauty”. It’s a full-time job for the great and the good in Los Angeles, after all.

Women can work and aspire to professional success… but they can never outrun the insatiable demand that they be attractive

Entertainment magazine Variety reports on the pricey drug, administered via injection: “In a matter of months, it has become the worst kept secret in Hollywood – especially given that its most enthusiastic users are not pre-diabetic and do not require the drug.” As Ozempic has soared in popularity as a weight-loss aid, it has generated shortages across the world for those who require it medically. In the endless societal demand for self-optimisation, we might consider this a low point.

A new frontier in class politics is opening up: can you afford preventive Botox on your way to work? How about $1,500 per month for the weight-loss drug? Can you pay to imitate a youthful face? These three questions trigger a horrible feeling that women can work and aspire to professional success, reaping the benefits of the second wave, but they can never outrun the insatiable demand that they be attractive. And so long as that demand for eternal youth exists, people will pay all they can for it.

It can be tawdry to blame all societal ills on social media. But it is impossible to deny the impact that it has had. It is neither healthy nor normal for teenage girls or women to have access to thousands of pictures of beautiful women on their phone every day – flicking through a suite of desirable traits (perfect skin, plump lips, defined jaws, small waists), all now purchasable for anyone with a large disposable income.

It feels rather poignant. The referendum on women in the home is upcoming. It is welcome, if perhaps a little virtue-signally (some virtues ought to be signalled!). Irish women enjoy a greater level of gender equality than most in the world – if we believe such a thing is quantifiable. The text of our Constitution should reflect that contemporary reality, not the mores of 1937.

Why, then, does it feel like a difficult time to be a woman? It might be the Rolodex of optimisation treatments available at the click of a button – a constant reminder that the woman’s body is something to be optimised. Perhaps it is being told that we can – and should – buy beauty.