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Eye of the Beholder
I see models gracing the covers of magazines. Perfect, skinny, and beautiful. It's come more into the light recently that these models aren't what we see them to be. They are airbrushed and edited so they look like the ideal human. Now people have to re-evaluate what beautiful really is. They know that models on the covers of magazines don't exist. We have to find a more realistic alternative. First, we have to define beauty. How hard could it be? With both external and internal beauty it gets more complicated. It relies more on the person's taste than a collective definition. Beauty should be perceived, however, as a mixture of both inner and external beauty according to these individual tastes.
According to Paul Valéry, we suffer from a “three body problem” (Etcoff). He defines each “body” as the body we live in, the public facade, and the third as the physical body. Etcoff goes on to say that we try to become “works of art” along with “works of nature”. The goal, she says, is “to have an outer representation that matches our dreams and visions and moral aspirations” (Etcoff). For instance, I want people to perceive me as honest and caring but at the same time gorgeous. Does my outer “shell” translate to that? Buddy Hickerson's cartoon portrays this well. These two people are supposed to be the epitome of beautiful look sad because their “shell” doesn't match their insides. Perhaps, it's the thought of being perfect that Hickerson is trying to communicate. Perfection and true beauty should be seen on the outside as well as the inside. To me it's contradictory, however, because it's very rare when a vain person knows they are vain or even cares. These people obviously do care which made me wonder if they are vain at all. So are they really ugly on inside? Maybe they aren't what they want to be on the inside; it doesn't make them ugly.
People are constantly trying to hide who they are, or their faults. Kathy Peiss questions, “Is making up an act of deception, a confirmation of natural female identity, a self-conscious 'put on'?” The market of cosmetics and plastic surgery is huge. If I walk into a store there are advertisements for new perfume, new photogenic makeup, make overs and skin cleansers. To some, makeup is an essential tradition and bonding moment for many mothers and daughters (Peiss). To others it's a deception and fake. To be perfect women go through grueling processes to be the ideal “beauty”. Women become victims of these expectations and oppressions (Koggel). Cosmetic surgeries hide what we think of as flaws, such as aging. Not only is it denial of aging, it is seriously screwing up the American female identity (Rosen). We often associate such things like people with big boobs as just women with fake boobs. Women with a botox addiction are known to be stiff-faced to look more “fresh”. People are always trying to master what is natural (Rosen). It makes me sad that people can't accept who they are and what they look like. We think of beauty in certain terms and in order to be beautiful you have to fall within them. Beauty needs to redefined before Americans completely loose their identity.
In every country there are different standards of beauty:
Some will have it that a beautiful woman must be fair, while others conceive nothing but
brunettes to be handsome. A Chinese belle must be fat, have small eyes, short nose, high cheeks,
and feet which are not larger than a man's finger. In the Labrador Islands no woman is beautiful
who has not black teeth and white hair. In Greenland and some other northern countries, the
women paint their faces blue, and some yellow. Some nations squeeze the heads of children
between boards to make them square, while others prefer the shape of a sugar-loaf as the
highest type of beauty for that important top-piece to the human form divine. (Montez)
Most of those listed are forms of cosmetic transformation. We are changing the way we look to fit into some sort of cultural standard. It is quite sad. The natural form of a human being is no longer good enough. Fran Lebowitz brings up the point that most people don't compare themselves to someone of great intellect. Instead we compare ourselves to someone of great “beauty”. In reality the “beautiful” people we idolize don't even look like what we see. Pictures on magazines and advertisements are airbrushed to a perfection no one can achieve (Lebowitz). Fran Lebowitz goes on to say, “as a culture, we understand that great intellect is a quirk of fate. Yet somehow we still believe we can create great beauty, when, in fact, staggering beauty is as genetic as staggering intellect.” People need to accept that what they have is what they get and they need to make the best of it.
It is wrong to accept beauty as only a physical attribute. It should be both external and internal. It is tragic to think that we have to look a certain way to be attractive. I believe that people are beautiful, fascinating and complex. If you have wrinkles, you are beautiful. If you are fat, you're beautiful. If you have scoliosis, you're beautiful. Bald is beautiful. Blond is beautiful. Short and tall is beautiful. Americans need to accept that “beautiful” ultimately does not exist. If you are honest, caring, and determined then you are internally beautiful. Accept what you look like and soon you will be internally beautiful as well as externally beautiful.
Etcoff, Nancy. Survival of the Prettiest. New York: Doubleday Books, 1999.
Hickerson, Buddy. “We're lucky, aren't we, Isabella?” cartoon. August 8, 2006.
Koggel, Christine. “Concepts of Beauty. A Feminist Philosopher thinks About Paradigms and
Consequences.” Presented at Beauty: A Symposium. Center for Science in Society, Bryn Mawr
College, March 23, 2004.
Lebowitz, Fran. “Beauty is Filthy Rich.” In What is Beauty? By Dorothy Schefer. New York: Universe
Montez, Lola. The Arts of Beauty; or Secrets of a Lady's' Toilet with hints to Gentlemen on the Art of
Peiss, Kathy. Hope in a Jar: The Making of America's Beauty Culture. New York: Metropolitan Books,
Rosen, Christine. “the Democratization of Beauty.” In The New Atlantis 5 (Spring 2004).