I AM…beautiful. As you are beautiful, as he is beautiful, as all of us, even our enemies, are beautiful. And yet, most of us spend a good portion of our everyday lives looking in the mirror, critiquing ourselves, pointing out problem areas, and generally going ugh. We compare ourselves to Kate Moss, Ricky Martin, Nicole Kidman, Brad Pitt, and Brittney Spears, all of whom in our eyes exemplify the ultimate in beauty, sensuality, and … airbrushing. Yes, airbrushing, that oh-so-handy technique employed by magazines worldwide to make the attractive look perfect. Perfect? You call Kate Moss perfect? Every time I see her picture, I just want to force-feed her a huge piece of cheesecake!(Ethos) But her look of three-square-meals-a-year has become en vogue as women and men all over the country starve themselves in order to conform to what they perceive as society’s concept of beauty. Our appearance, this thing we call beauty, where does it come from? Can it be photographed and plastered on a 50-foot billboard or circulated on a million magazine covers? Consider for a moment that it might be something more personal. Something a little more than skin-deep. So hit me baby, one more time, fasten your seatbelts, and hold on to your cheesecake as I take you for a ride through society’s conceptions and misconceptions of beauty.
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard some healthy, attractive individual proclaim that they would do anything just to lose 15 pounds. Hello, we live in America. The land of plenty. The land of opportunity. The land of a $33 billion diet industry. People all over the world are starving and yet here we are spending ridiculous amounts of money so people can tell us not to eat. And then we get into the fad diets. Between the Cabbage Soup Diet, the Atkins Low-Carb Diet, the Grapefruit/Fruit Juice Diet, the Metabolism Diet, and the Russian Airforce Diet (it actually exists), it seems that all Americans ever do is diet. In fact, at any one time, half of all teenage girls in America are dieting. Now I prefer a different set of diet rules. I like the one that says if you eat something and no one sees you eat it, it has no calories. And then there are the rules that if you drink a diet soda with a candy bar, the calories in the candy bar are cancelled out by the diet soda. Oh, and did you know that food used for medicinal purposes NEVER count, such as hot chocolate, toast, ginger ale, and my personal favorite, Sara Lee Cheesecake. Ah, cheesecake: my #1 recommended cure for… anything! Never underestimate the healing powers of cheesecake.
Speaking of people in dire need of cheesecake, People Magazine recently did a cover story entitled Wasting Away which chronicled eating disorders among female college students. It opened by talking about an incident in 1996 in which sandwich bags disappeared in mass quantities from the kitchen of a college sorority house. Upon investigation, the sandwich bags were found hidden in a basement bathroom, filled with vomit. These popular, successful girls were making themselves sick in order to conform to the types of bodies they saw portrayed in the movies and on TV. Interestingly enough, in the very same issue, People Magazine ran a picture of Mariah Carey, with a caption discussing how Mariah scarcely squeezed into a designer dress for the Oscars. They denounce eating disorders and say that what matter is truly inside, and yet in the same breath, they denounce a celebrity for gaining a couple pounds. Now what kind of message does that send?
We must think about what kind of messages we are sending. Professor Theresa Thompson recently did a class project in her communications course at the University of Dayton in which the students studied magazines for girls ages 8 to 18. The messages? Beauty, body, and boys. In discussing the body, the magazines did not talk about health and fitness, but rather they spoke of looking good and what one could do to look better. Eating disorders were viewed as a problem, not because of their health risks, but because of their affect on your hair, skin, and nails. One quiz invited readers to discover if they were a brain or a beauty, implying that the two are mutually exclusive.
And talk about your bad messages, has anybody seen the movie She’s All That? In the film, the most popular guy in school, after being dumped by his girlfriend, makes a bet with his friend that he can turn any girl in school into the Prom Queen in six weeks. The target? Shy, self-conscious, Laney, the weirdest girl in school. Within a few weeks, Laney trades in her overalls, mousy haircut, and Pointdexter glasses for a little red dress, 4-inch platforms, a trendy hairdo, and lots of Mary Kay. She turns heads with her new look, becomes automatically happy, falls for jerk-boy, and (surprise, surprise) he falls for her. So let me get this straight. If you’re a guy, you’re not attractive unless you’re shallow and insensitive, and if you’re a girl, then it doesn’t matter what you’re like on the inside, honey, because all anybody cares about is how you look. We all know that a popular guy can come along and transform a dorky girl into the Kathy Ireland of her high school with one wave of his…magic wand. Now there’s somebody who could really use some cheesecake.
In perusing the magazine rack at Borders, you might come across articlessuch as A Better Body in 30 Days, The Easy Way to a Flat Stomach, 101 Best Clothing Tips, and Good Hair, Good Sex. It might surprise you to know that all of these articles come from men’s magazines. Tolstoy once said Nothing has such a striking impact on a man’s development as his appearance… Men fall victim to this artificial concept of beauty just as readily as women. Men spend an estimated $9.5 billion a year on cosmetics and plastic surgery. It is a proven fact that tall men earn $600 more per inch. Hello, NBA, and look at Donald Trump, Steven Seagal, the Jolly Green Giant, and everyday, men are bombarded with media images of tall, muscular manly men, when in reality, the average man is less of a Ricky Martin and more of a Rick Moranis.
Featured twice on the list of People Magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People of the Year, a plus-sized supermodel who goes simply by the name Emme states that, If we can’t see ourselves as we truly are, we can never present ourselves as we wish to be seen. How do you wish to be seen? In a study of the American ideal of beauty by Vogue columnist Charles Gandee, one female panel member proclaimed that if she could just look like actress Uma Thurman for a week, she could die happy. Another panel member said that any woman, who says that she wouldn’t like to look like Pamela Anderson, at least for a day, is lying. We live in a society that values silicone and sex over intelligence and compassion. We are so preoccupied with our appearance that we forget that true beauty isn’t something you can buy. As the Oil of Olay commercial says, It’s not about looking beautiful…it’s about feeling beautiful. Plato described beauty as an everlasting loveliness which neither comes nor goes, neither flowers nor fades…the beauties of the body are as nothing to the beauties of the soul.
Throughout history, we as a society have changed our minds a myriad of times about what we consider beautiful and we have arrived at this false, inhuman ideal of starvation and artificiality. If we want to change society’s concept of beauty to something more natural, realistic, and healthy, it has to start here. It starts with me and it starts with you. Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote Though we travel the world to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not. I urge all of us to seek true beauty in our lives. To be healthy and be beautiful, but know that true beauty truly comes from the inside. And with that, I say bring on the cheesecake!
1. Gandee, Charles. “American Ideal of Beauty”. Vogue Magazine. March 08, 1998
2. Lipton, Michael A. “Wasting Away”. People Magazine. June 3, 1996
3. Thompson, Theresa. “The impact of Advertising on Teens.” Nov., 1995