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What defines beauty for you?

March 26, 2011

I can say with confidence that every woman (and man!) out there that is reading this is beautiful. Every person on this Earth possesses some quality that we can all find pleasing to the senses or mind. But if you pick up a Vogue or Marie Claire I would have to be a liar. Fashion industries have this ideal of beauty that is pushed into our culture daily, and have infiltrated our view of ourselves.
When I asked my class, mostly young black women, what society considers beautiful the first thing that was said was being white. In the fashion industry there is a crisis with black women as models. They are prejudiced against and the darker the skin the less they are seen on the covers of Vogue. No matter how equal we are as a society we do not see women of color as beautiful as a white woman. How are these beautiful young women supposed to see themselves as the beauty that they are when they are a beautiful chocolate brown with beautiful kinky afros and the closest thing to themselves in magazines is Tyra Banks with her perfectly straight smooth hair and her skin only shades darker than some white women. No wonder these young women feel that the only way to be beautiful is to be white! An important woman to remember in all of this is one brought up by The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that of Alex Wek. (“Cocorioko Press”) She is a beautiful young woman that gets modeling jobs but was almost entirely rejected by the modeling community for her compaction and looks. She still gets jobs but they are rare.
The most important thing they said, though, was that you couldn’t be pretty unless you were skinny and tall. They really strongly believe that they have to be tall and thin to be beautiful! There is something inherently wrong with the belief that something determined by genetic markers (weight and height!) is what truly makes someone beautiful. Fashion magazines do not just say that you have to be thin through their articles on healthy food (less than 100 calorie meals!) and twenty-minute abs every day, but this is withheld just by the poses that these women hold. The cover of this month’s Vogue was a particularly emaciated looking picture of Lady Gaga in a truly sickening hair color (below) her pose is one to be thought over. You can see this pose over and over in magazines (below) Honestly I’m not sure that rakish is the image of beauty that I desire to possess. By moving your elbows in front of your body you make your body straighter and narrower showing these 100-pound girls look like starving children. It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s a Vogue or a Teen Vogue (targeted to 13-17 year olds!) the same pose is found in BOTH.
The most important part of the equation is that these women are even photo shopped afterward to be thinner and even more beautiful!  We’ve used photoshop to help us achieve the unattainable. We see advertisements, like that of Ralph Lauren, and we wonder where they are coming from. Filippa Hamilton was fired from Ralph Lauren for being overweight as 5’11” and 120lbs (Masnick). Because she was so over weight Ralph Lauren responded with this. That is apparently how thin they meant when they said she needed to be thin. In any case this standard was impossible to live up to before now it really is impossible because the women are not real.

The last major thing that all of the girls said and agreed on was that long hair was the only way to be beautiful. This is the most evident in America’s Next Top Model. The Craziest episodes to watch are the “make-over” ones. Some of these young women bawl and scream that their hair is going to be cut off. This is most evident in Cassandra who was told her hair was going to be cut-off so she LEFT THE SHOW (Kural). Her opportunity of a lifetime she gave up over hair. HAIR. There was no other reason for this. She gave up an entire competition rather than get a Mia Farrow cut. With an attitude like that over a collection of dead cells on your head it’s not surprising that you have to have long hair to be beautiful.
Because of all of this is it really all the surprising that body image is one of the things that women struggle the most with? Between BDD, to anorexia, to bulimia we address the symptoms but not the cause. Why are these disorders higher than they have ever been? All of these girls are taught by health instructors how to spot them but do any of them really know what causes them? Despite eating disorders onset beginning, on average, in adolescence, when polling the girls I teach very few even knew what one was (Eduguide). We should worry what garbage that magazines and advertisements are filling teens with and focus on how to stop them from being detrimental.

“In a survey of working-class fifth to twelfth grade suburban girls, sixty-nine percent reported that magazine pictures influence their idea of the perfect body shape; forty-seven percent reported wanting to lose weight because of magazine pictures.” (Eduguide)

These feelings are stemming from the pressure that is put upon young women to be prettier and more beautiful. The standard of beauty that women uphold for themselves is unrealistic and unsustainable. As we see by statistics and various other indicators we can tell that these problems are bigger than the girls themselves.

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