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.