I am in a shopping mall, browsing the shelves on a vendor stand lined with beauty products. I’m intrigued and fascinated by some of the products for sale. Each product I pick up seems to scream its promise at me:
Lighten Your Nipples!
Flatten Your Tummy!
Curl/Extend Your Eyelashes!
Enlarge Your Breasts!
Slim Your Face!
I note how I am absorbing this with a detachment that eluded me in the past. As I recall how in the past I would easily fall victim to such beauty standards and be made to feel inferior, I shudder at what this could do to so many other women who are still struggling with a negative body image. Being reminded that I wasn’t perfect would’ve gotten me into an obsessive loop of buying hope in bottles, tubes and jars while beating myself up for not being good enough.
My mind wanders to the role of the media in all this ….
The standard of beauty set by the media has brought a lot of harm to women’s sense of self. That kind of beauty is not only unrealistic to aspire to, it is ridiculous to say that one form of beauty is superior to another. Take a good look at what is considered to be beautiful today – how long will these remain desirable? Come next year, they may all be replaced by the opposites of what are considered to be desirable today.
Remember when rounded, gravity-defying silicon breasts were considered a beauty ideal in the early ‘90s? Nowadays, women are going for more natural-looking implants that mimic the natural movement of breasts. ‘Perfectly’ shaped breasts have given way to natural-looking breasts. Back in the ‘70s, small breasts were considered attractive, and it’s likely we will see that ideal return in the near future.
Ideals change, and it’s silly to obsess about changing your looks to fit into a current ideal. It is much better to accept what you’ve got (who knows, you may have everything that fits into next year’s ideals!). Set your own standards and ideals. See yourself as already beautiful without waiting for the rest of the world to validate it. What you have is uniquely your own beauty.
The media has such a responsibility in shaping women’s image of themselves. I don’t know if writers, editors and publishers are really aware of this. It is just as appalling to consider that they aren’t aware as that they are aware but don’t care enough to do something to change their influence.
I’m sure you have at some point come across an unflattering photo of a female celebrity featured humiliatingly in a magazine. The more unflattering the photo against the subject’s usual presentation, the more newsworthy it is (newsworthiness is partly dependent on how far a news item strays from what is usually expected). Now, this is where the media misuse their power.
Usually, the caption or headline that accompanies the photo plays up the negative aspects and paints an exaggerated picture of the randomly-shot photo. Remember, the bigger the gap between what is shown and what is usually expected of the person, the bigger the news and the more money they can make. To blow up that difference, the writer has to step into his or her lowest, most bitchy self and make the person as far from her usual attractive self as possible. That action may have destroyed one woman’s sense of self and delivered the subliminal message to maybe millions of other women that failing to fit into what we’ve been programmed to believe is beautiful is disdainful and worthy of humiliation.
Sure, on the surface, some of us may feel better knowing that the most beautiful celebrities turn out to be just like us after all – but that acknowledgment only anchors our belief that fitting into what is considered to be beautiful by the media’s standard is so important. In celebrating the humiliating news, we are being taught to judge a woman harshly for failing to fit into the ideals set by the media. A complimentary caption that celebrates unusual beauty would have a more positive effect on women’s psyche about their bodies.
Writers, editors, publishers: if a photo of a woman with unplucked eyebrows is published, do you write a complimentary or derogatory caption? Not only do you have the power to determine what will be considered to be beautiful tomorrow, you have the power to heal the collective females’ perception of themselves. Imagine that. Beyond the immediate bottom-line sales of your publication, can you find that place in you where your heart connects to your conscience and make your choice from there.
The more I think about it, the more incensed I feel about how we’ve allowed the media to dictate what is supposed to be beautiful and what is not. It triggers a sense of rebelliousness in me to break through the mass programming.
So I’m walking around with new eyes today, asking myself what is beautiful, really.
Then something strange happens: I begin to see beauty in those who are considered by society to be unattractive. The woman with a slightly bulging tummy, the schoolgirl with unplucked eyebrows and flat eye-lashes, the skinny lady with flat chests and bottom, various faces with broad noses, squinty eyes, jutty chins and toothy smiles. As I see these features as possible beauty ideals, something shifts in me. I had only judged them to be unattractive because an institution had said so. It is not the truth!
By now, I am moving through the shopping mall feeling slightly dazed yet clear and present, as if time has slowed somewhat and I’m able to perceive certain things that I wasn’t able to before.
A young woman who looks as if she’s just stepped out of a magazine cover walks past me. Instead of feeling intimidated or inferior, I see a certain cakiness about her looks, as if she’s trying too hard to fit into a set of ideals that have been imposed upon all of us and she does so with great competitiveness which unfortunately is taking a toll on her. It’s as if the glue under her mask has peeled off, raising the mask several inches above her skin. That illusion – the illusion of beauty embodied by this walking covergirl – is starting to crack.
I am struck by a realisation that my previous sense of what’s beautiful and what’s not – the way it’s all been programmed into us to judge beauty in a woman – had been so limited and even distorted. For a moment, I am unable to keep walking. The profoundness of it washes over me. I have broken through the mass programming that permeates our society, and I can perceive people without the lens constructed by the media. My vision, free from this programming, is more far-reaching, and as I see more possibilities for beauty, my world becomes filled with more beauty.