The Truth About Beauty by Amy Alkon is the name of the article and here are a few key parts:
"There are certain realities of existence that most of us accept. If you want to catch a bear, you don't load the trap with a copy of Catch-22...Yet, if you're a woman who wants to land a man, there's this notion that you should be able to go around looking like Ernest Borgnine: If you're 'beautiful on the inside,' that's all that should count...
...It just doesn't seem fair to us that some people come into life with certain advantages--whether it's a movie star chin or a multimillion-dollar shipbuilding inheritance..."
Men are drawn to beautiful women, no surprise there, and women are drawn to men with resources and status, which also makes evolutionary sense.
The article later continues...
"Just like women who aren't very attractive, men who make very little money or are chronically out of work tend to have a really hard time finding partners. There is some male grumbling about this. Yet, while feminist journalists deforest North America publishing articles urging women to bow out of the beauty arms race and 'Learn to love that woman in the mirror!', nobody gets into the ridiculous position of advertising men to 'Learn to love that unemployed guy sprawled on the couch!'"
Interesting point. Is there a difference? I'm not sure. Giving the message that women don't need to take care of their appearance at all seems like a bad idea, yet we have to find the balance of not killing ourselves trying to reach a standard that's impossible or feeling terrible about ourselves when we are not the most beautiful girl in the room.
The next part of the article gets a little bit into the idea that women who take care of their appearance are not smart:
"Take The Beauty Myth author Naomi Wolf: She contends that standards of beauty are a plot to keep women politically, economically, and sexually subjugated to men--apparently by keeping them too busy curling their eyelashes to have time for political action and too weak from dieting to stand up for what they want in bed. Wolf and her feminist sob sisters bleat about the horror of women being pushed to conform to 'Western standards of beauty'--as if eyebrow plucking and getting highlights are the real hardships compared to the walk in the park of footbinding and clitoridectomy. Most insultingly, Wolf paints women who look after their looks as the dim, passive dupes of Madison Avenue and the magazine editors. Apparently, women need only open a page of Vogue and they're under its spell..."
It's true that I hate when people think that just because I enjoy reading Vogue, that is makes me a slave to the beauty industry.
"...We consider it admirable when people strive to better themselves intellectually; we don't say, 'Hey, you weren't born a genius, so why ever bother reading a book?' Why should we treat physical appearance any differently?"
"...Unfortunately, because Americans are so conflicted and dishonest about the power of beauty, we approach it like novices. At one end of the spectrum are the 'Love me as I am!' types, like the woman who asked me why she was having such a terrible time meeting men...while dressed in a way that advertised not 'I want a boyfriend' but 'I'm just the girl to clean out your sewer line!' At the other extreme are women who go around resembling porn-ready painted dolls."
The article also talks about studies showing that there are universal standards of beauty around the world. Some things are different, but some are the same. Ideal weight seems to be directly related to availability of food, so in places where food is plentiful men prefer thin women and in places where food is scarce, men prefer large women. However, they all like to see a woman's waist, regardless of her size.
There are also some articles in this issue about the differences on the other side, how male beauty is very different and not the trait to cultivate when looking for a woman.
I'm curious to see what the backlash to this article will be.
To speak on this issue from my own personal life:
I have been caught in a beauty trap all my life. I grew up in an area with a lot of hippies who emphasized that inner beauty was the most important thing. Hearing that so much, I felt confused when I was expected to put an effort into looking beautiful. On the one hand, my mother has never worn makeup and told me that I was being vain when I was staring at myself in the mirror at eight years old; on the other hand, she took me to get electrolysis treatments for hair removal when I was twelve (in case you don't know, electrolysis is a very painful treatment involving shooting electric currents into the skin. I had it done on the most sensitive parts of my face for years).
My female cousins in the South are brilliant at clothes and makeup and hair. They know how to use a flat iron and how to apply the most tasteful eye color (neither of which I know how to do). The culture in the Northeast seemed to suggest that women who care about their appearance are shallow and dim-witted and just plain stupid. I discovered just how untrue that is when my beautiful cousin went into engineering in college! Just as the movie Legally Blonde charmingly illustrates, a woman can be both smart and beautiful, can care equally for school and for fashion.
I was interested in makeup as a teenager, but I was the only one of my friends in high school experimenting with it and if I wore it to school I got teased by my own friends, or given looks that suggested they thought I was from another planet.
Every time I start feeling good about how I look, I bash myself back down again with negativity in my mind. I feel guilty for caring, feel shallow for loving clothes, feel vain for loving my hair.
I'm the kind of person who always wants to make everyone else feel good and be happy. I'm afraid to go for my true beauty potential in case I make other women feel inadequate. Which is odd, because I really do believe that 99% of women are gorgeous. And imperfections are so easy to hide, there are thousands of little tricks out there so that we can all look and feel like the models in the magazines. I have yet to see an ugly woman. They all have at least one feature that is achingly beautiful.
The other thing this article briefly brought up is that we trick ourselves into thinking that the quest for beauty is a Western thing, when of course it is a human thing. Every culture has a standard of beauty, and there are actually some universals, like an hourglass figure, which is said to be a visual cue of fertility to men. As the last post showed, while in America we strive for tanned skin to give a "healthy glow", in many parts of the world extreme measures are taken to look paler. I think there does need to be a certain amount of loving what we have. We need to see that there is beauty in a wide variety of natural human appearances.
You can probably tell from this blog that I have a hard time doing things without evidence and support from others. That's something else I am still working on understanding and exploring. It isnt' enough for me to believe something, I seem to need support from others.
It's hard for me to make the decision to enjoy my quest for beauty without backup from a magazine article that has studies in it. I want to show it to people who tell me that I shouldn't pay attention to my own appearance or to the appearances of the people I date and say, "See? Appearances do matter. And they should. It doesn't make the world a bad place that appearances matter."
I do have a suspicion that, despite where I started out, I could be quite beautiful with a little effort. I have some cousins who have the same coloring as I do and are very beautiful. I think it wouldn't be too hard to look like them. I am also encouraged by the website Before You Were Hot, which shows people's ugliest awkward teenage years picture along with how lovely they look now. It makes me smile to know that I'm not the only one trying to go from sweatpants and a uni-brow to head-turningly beautiful!
Okay, sorry for the aside! The talk about skin color and beauty from the last post got me going in this direction and this blog is mostly a self-analysis, so I found it very useful to explore and think about these things in writing.
What do you all think about beauty?