This is a guest post from Cami, our Community Plug.
Images of beauty are used against you, against me, and against all women. Unrealistic images of women are used to punish our physical shortcomings and should be seen as a psychological attack. All women should read The Beauty Myth. It WILL change your life. It’s gonna suck and if you’re like me, you’ll cry. But awareness is the first step.
Wolf’s basic thesis states that there is a relationship between female liberation and female beauty:
“The more legal and material hindrances women have broken through, the more strictly and heavily and cruelly images of female beauty have come to weigh upon us…During the past decade women branched the power structure; meanwhile, eating disorders rose exponentially and cosmetic surgery became the fastest-growing specialty…pornography became the main media category, ahead of legitimate films and records combined, and 30,000 American women told researchers that they would rather lose 10lbs than achieve any other goal. More women have more money and power and scope and legal recognition than we have ever had before; but in terms of how we feel about ourselves physically, we may actually be worse off than our unliberated grandmothers.”
The Beauty Myth is the most dangerous of a long line of lies concerning the “rules” of feminine attributes and behavior and the reason why it is the most dangerous is because it has succeeded in affecting women’s internal sense of themselves. It attacks the tangible being of a woman and attacks the identity of women. This beauty myth has set the bar for femininity and beauty so impossibly high, that women are acting obsessively in the hopes and attempts to measure up to these impossible standards. The reason why this is so dangerous and problematic for women, men, and society as a whole is because the energy and money that could be used to achieve personal goals, is being used to measure up and look like the images of women that we know are impossible, but still choose to pursue.
Wolf contends that the beauty myth is really not about women, it is about men’s institutions and power. Beauty is about behavior, not appearance. The qualities labelled “beautiful” in women in any given time period are no more than symbols of female behavior considered desirable at that time. Besides weakening women psychologically, the beauty myth feeds a multibillion-dollar cosmetics industry, and keeps women from rising too high in the workplace by offering a way around antidiscrimination laws.
During the 1960’s, the second wave of feminism began to make itself felt. Women stepped out of the domestic sphere and left their homes to enter the workforce. This was very problematic for women’s magazines and “the women’s movement nearly succeeded in toppling the economics of the magazine’s’ version of femininity…”
Women began to lose interest in women’s magazines because they were no longer real since women were now working. Like every other thing in this world, magazines are about making money. They are a business. Prior to 1968, Vogue focused on the clothes and the fashion upheavals. But in 1969, Vogue made the breakthrough that has evolved into the cast-iron Beauty Myth of today. “Vogue began to focus on the body as much as the clothes, in part because there was little they could dictate with anarchic styles. In a stunning move, an entire replacement culture was developed by naming a ‘problem’ where it had scarcely existed before, centering it on the woman’s natural state, and elevating it to the existential female dilemma. The number of diet-related articles rose 70% from 1968 to 1972.”
Over the course of history, beauty ideals for women have changed drastically to represent societal views. During slavery, race and skin color were the main factors for being considered beautiful. White women and women with fair skin were seen as the ideal body further segregating women into subgroups and justifying the unfair treatment of black women and women of color.
In the early 1900s, the ideal female body type changed to represent the pale complexion, cinched-waist ideal; freckles, sun spots, and/or skin imperfections led to scrutiny by others. In 1920, women with a thinner frame and small bust were seen as beautiful, the desperation to reach such a standard led to an increase in eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. The ideal body time we have today of full-chested and hourglass figures began in the early 1950s and has since led to a spike in plastic surgery and eating disorders.
As illustrated by the aforementioned changes, beauty standards are shifting socially constructed ideas imposed on women. The Beauty Myth standard of weight is especially interesting to explore. If you watch a movie before 1970 you will understand what I mean. Women in mainstream media and movies actually had curves and looked like real women! The attitudes portrayed by the media in the 80’s and 90’s “includes an individualist, can-do tone says that you should be your best and nothing should get in your way.”
This attitude contributes to the women’s guilt about their bodies by making them go to extreme lengths to fit into the body norms.Don’t look as thin as the fashion models? Cut or starve the fat away. Got lines on your face? Burn them off. Small breasts? Cut yourself open and stuff some chemicals inside.
And now, with the evolution of technology, majority of the images that you see have been fabricated and altered behind the scenes.
Do not let the media change the way you view yourself. Ladies you are beautiful. Tall, short, small, big, light or dark. You were made perfect the way you are!
Happy Women’s History month!