A Toronto Transformation

Beauty is in the Critical Eye of the Beholder

Whenever I hear a woman putting down her appearance  or talking about excersising or dieting or “cleansing” with the specific goal of changing the way she looks, my instinct is to model the opposite behaviour.

Suddenly I’m terrifically confident about or indifferent to my own appearance. I’ll talk about how much I love food and how I really only exercise so that I can continue to eat large amounts of it without dying, (and for the endorphins and an excuse to wear stretchy pants).

I tell my friends they’re stunning brilliant and amazing and they don’t need to worry about their looks. I genuinely mean it and I genuinely think it’s insane when any of them lament some aspect or other of their physical appearance.

And yet, I understand it too.

I understand that the cosmetics and fashion industries rely on our insecurities and dissatisfaction with ourselves, our looks or other aspects of our lives to make their money.

I understand that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, making the standards of beauty we are all supposed to strive for just totally crazy. Who decided unibrows weren’t sexy anyway?

You’d think that because I understand that, and because I understand that focusing and convincing women to focus so much on their appearance, not only undermines their acheivements, but can keep them from even trying to achieve in the first place, because I have strong, smart un-superficial role models  it would be easy for me to say no thanks, throw out all my cosmetics, buy only ethically manufactured, comfortable, durable, functional clothing and just opt right out of that system.

I want to be a stronger person, to be secure and happy with who I am, to have enough going on in my life that I’m not left with any time for trivial vanity, and often, or at least sometimes, I am that person. But sometimes I’m not.

So on top of feeling ashamed of the way I look now and then, I also feel ashamed that I care, for being so susceptible to advertising and societal pressure, for being distracted by superficial crap like how long my eyelashes look or what my waistline measures. Double the guilt! Lucky me.

But there are undeniable advantages to being considered conventionally attractive. Beyond the praise that comes along with a trim figure, a pretty smile, or carefully styled hair, studies have disturbingly shown that “good” looks can have an impact on your career, with thin, pretty women earning more and being promoted over women outside of that category.

How do we teach kids or ourselves that it’s what’s inside that counts, when the society we live in and the media we consume are so determined to convince us otherwise?

I don’t really have a solution, beyond teaching children to value kindness and intelligence, loyalty and determination, to prize deeds over looks, to worry about health over hairstyles.

We can teach them to turn the critical eye advertisers would have them view themselves and their bodies with back on to the media and the advertisers themselves.

And maybe they can teach it back to us.


8 Responses to Beauty is in the Critical Eye of the Beholder

  • Chantelle says:

    When everything is screaming beauty matters, teaching children that it’s what inside that counts is an almost insurmountable task. I’ve noticed that a lot of the praise given to children is given because of how they look. When an adult meets a female child, “Oh, you’re so cute/pretty” is a standard greeting. =/ Where I live, there’s also a rigid beauty standard and it’s hard to ignore. Many fight it–they win small victories here and there, but many more succumb to the pressure and simply purchase invasive and expensive plastic surgery operations for their kids as it’s all they think they can do to protect them from society’s overbearing judgment.

    • metamorphocity says:

      Ugh. That’s such a sad and backwards solution to the problem, but I can absolutely see how it happens.

      You make a really good point about what we focus on when we meet kids. I really try to avoid commenting on kids’ looks when I meet them. I either ask them about their toys if they happen to be carrying any, or what their plans are for the day. haha. I’m sure I’m the most boring adult many of them have the misfortune of meeting.

  • mandy says:

    Girl, this is so brilliant. I often catch myself doing the same thing when someone talks down about their looks or obsesses over their body. It serves as a reminder that artificial beauty standards don’t actually matter because I don’t think they need whatever improvements they think they need.

    I also like what Chantelle said about meeting a female child and saying “oh you’re so pretty.” I remember an article that suggested greeting little girls (and boys, of course) with “what kind of books are you reading right now?” instead of something related to their looks because it will encourage a much more productive discussion.

    • metamorphocity says:

      I love that you have the same reaction to other people taking a dig at their own looks, and I’m totally using the books question the next time I’m stuck in an awkward small-talk situation with a child.

  • Leslie says:

    It’s relentless. Just this week there was an article in the paper announcing a ‘cure’ for going grey. Honestly! So aging naturally is a disease? I say follow the industries that are making the money by exploiting these artificial images they expect women, and now men, to emulate. Then push back by ignoring them and not purchasing their products. And actively appreciate people for attributes unrelated to appearances.

    • metamorphocity says:

      Totally. I’m also really into Miss Representation’s #notbuyingit campaign, where people let companies that prey on (particularly women’s) self-esteem or that use sexism in their ads know that they will not be buying their products until these advertising tactics change.

  • Emma says:

    I have always felt incredibly blessed with a kind of overinflated self-confidence. I don’t know where it comes from but it’s great. I always feel like I am perfect and lovely in every way and I have no qualms with my looks. I know I’m not really perfect but I think I’m gorgeous (and smart and kind and funny) and I’m not ashamed to say it! No one should be ashamed to say it… part of the problem is that I think we are so conditioned to publicly criticize our looks that it feels vain or embarassing to praise your own looks instead of putting yourself down… When actually, you are setting a great example for other women by loving yourself and the way you look.

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