Friday, May 24, 2013

Beauty's tyranny

Clothing styles constantly change – especially for women – but our
collective thoughts about what constitutes a beautiful woman
remains, with a few nuances, steady:  She’s young, often blond,
slim, with breasts and buttocks men will notice.

If a woman’s physical appearance falls outside this precise
definition, she’s old, ugly, worthless, to be ostracized, perhaps
even used.

And while many a man, including me, has cracked a few jokes
about the time it takes a woman to get ready, there’s something
all men would do well to keep in mind:  Women’s looks are harshly
judged and often their inner voices are bellowing, telling them
they’re not thin enough, young enough, stylish enough, beautiful
enough, possibly even blond enough, to attract a man.

It’s in the advertising; the magazines and newspapers; on the web;
on television; it’s in the movies and it’s in the stores.  Women
are surrounded and pressured by this message.

Beauty requires monthly appointments at the hair stylist, time
for a facial, never enjoying a meal, never eating dessert, and
allotting enough minutes in the bathroom, so she can make her
hair just right and her skin youthful, so she turns a few heads,
if not from men, from her biggest critics – other women.

Compare what she endures to how the average man sees
himself:  He might be 20 – 30 pounds overweight, but Adonis
is in the mirror, even when he’s naked.

Women feel something that rarely touches any man:  The
tyranny of beauty.

For teenage girls, especially, as well as young women in
their 20s, these exacting standards are so powerful they can
make them depressed, feeling ugly, unwanted, unappreciated,
leaving, potentially, a life-lasting impact.

And yet, there’s someone rarely asked for their opinion
about what they want in a woman – a man.

Most men, some published reports say, aren’t likely going
for the woman living the Madison Avenue-developed, 
Hollywood-produced, fashion-idea of good looks.

Both Psychology Today and Everyday Fitness, a blog produced
by the Discovery Channel, report men prefer curvy, fuller
looking women than the ones presented by the fashion industry.

But ideas so rooted in our culture die hard.  Models remain thin
and many of us take our  beauty cues from those appearing in
magazine ads, across television screens, perhaps even on the web.

So it’s no wonder Jes Baker, a woman with a fuller figure, 
perhaps even – dare I say it – fat, took it upon herself to
complain about feeling ostracized by Abercrombie and Fitch
because of her size.  She deserves a medal for her work.

Apparently there’s even a statement, from seven years ago, 
attributed to the retail chain’s CEO, Mike Jeffries, saying he
doesn’t want larger people shopping his store.

But let’s face facts:  The thin model appearing in Abercrombie
and Fitch ads is no different than the one appearing in many other ads.

In fact, the last time I saw an ad featuring “real women” – that
is, those not thin as a rail – goes back maybe a decade ago
and it was for Dove soap. 

As I recall, they placed ads on television and billboards showing
real women in their underwear and, frankly, each one was beautiful.

The soap maker has continued this theme with another round
of television or online video ads, asking women to describe
themselves to an artist who never sees them but draws them
based on their descriptions.

The artist then asks people, who just met these same women,
to describe them. 

Two pictures of each woman are placed side by side and no one
should be surprised to learn that the second pictures, where the
women were described by someone else, were not only a more
accurate representation of their looks but also more beautiful.

In other words, the women failed to realize how attractive they
are.  But others – even those they’d just met – did.

And then an epiphany sets in:  Each woman learns the world
sees her as far better looking than she’s ever seen herself.

So the fashion industry and parts of the retail business, as well
as our own society, have done a fine job providing women
with an inferiority complex.

Men have suffered, too.  These exacting standards prevent 
them from searching for women with great personalities or ones 
with high intelligence – in other words, women who may not
meet beauty’s standards.

Instead, he feels compelled to look for the woman that meets
the definition but who may very well look at him with the
same cutting eyes used against her.

Men have their own beauty expectations to fill.  They’re to be
tall, dark and handsome; in other words, six feet tall, with broad

Beauty forces us into a mold.  Instead of putting our efforts toward
finding someone whose mind connects with ours, who will improve
our souls, through a loving, in-depth relationship, we’re focused
on the superficial – the butts, the boobs, the hair, the height and
the shoulders – which fails all of us no matter our gender.

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