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Beauty Propaganda


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Thin models gazed at us in a doe-eyed daze from within the computer screen. We knew nothing about the thoughts that lingered behind the pale skin of their seemingly fragile faces. No, we weren’t here to hear the words of nameless models. Their words were so secondary to their image that their compass of mind as a whole became irrelevant. We were here for bones. Glamorous bones. Binge and purge bones. Backstage at fashion week bones. “Really, I’m just not hungry” bones. What was it that we admired in these women? Was it purely aesthetics?

Is anything ever purely aesthetics?


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The concept of beauty is enchanting when considered in its most basic form. Beauty touches all of our senses and is felt in our innermost being. Beauty itself is a blessing- the very ideology of it enhances our quality of life. But our fixation on this aspect of life can become a disease, both metaphorically and medically. And although this statement is true of men and women alike in all parts of the world, I can speak only for the demographic that I am myself a part of: teenage girls in modern day American society. We are among the most insecure people in the world. It is common knowledge that girls today feel immense pressure from society to look a certain way, but this “certain way” has never been clearly defined and repeatedly changes. Contradictory and unrealistic ideas of beauty have lead an entire generation of girls to have incredibly warped self-perceptions, inevitably resulting in practices as common as the application of makeup and as extreme as eating disorders.

Beauty propaganda is hammered into our psyche every day on a conscious and subconscious level. A very direct form of beauty propaganda is the one we actively seek and share on the Internet. The World Wide Web is a whirlwind of conflicting perceptions of beauty. Take the emergence of the Tumblr crazes, “thinspo” (thin inspiration) and its healthier counterpart, “fitspo” (fit inspiration). Thinspo consists of photos, quotations, and blogs that promote a skeletal female body. Google “thinspo” and you will find yourself amidst a sea of protruding hipbones, ribcages, and thigh gaps. “Fitspo”, on the other hand, is about working out, eating healthy foods, and flaunting a fit physique. Physically fit girls take pride in photographing their meals and themselves at the gym. They use the Internet to motivate one another to maintain a healthy weight and refuse to be associated with the thinspo community. Fitspo seems like the better alternative to thinspo and it certainly has a better connotation, but is it really any better than the latter? Both communities promote a lifestyle that is hyperaware of physical appearance. Whether the goal is to achieve Kate Moss’ collarbones or a Victoria’s Secret model’s toned physique, the effect is the same: girls are to be extremely mindful of their bodies. Emotional and intellectual development seems to be an afterthought.

It would be far too easy, though, to put all the blame on the Internet. The very use of that phrase, “the Internet”, enables us to detach ourselves from the source. The people behind the keyboards create societal standards. We force beauty propaganda upon one another in a direct way in cyberspace, but there is a much more subconscious language used in the “real world” to pass along the ideology of aesthetics. What is the first thing an adult says to a little girl upon meeting her? “Oh you are so cute!” or “she is just adorable!” Already the significance of this girl’s appearance is made clear. And as the little girl grows up she’ll be called beautiful and ugly and fat and skinny and the world will reduce her body to an object. Fashion magazines will ask her what body type she is. Hourglass? Apple? Pear? And she’ll categorize her body just as society told her too, all the while forgetting the humanness of her figure. And she’ll learn from these same magazines and from TV and from friends too that it’s practically a sin to step out of the house without makeup. If there aren’t colorful chemicals on her face, then she’s ugly because we all are. Then she’s conceited because she thinks she doesn’t need it.

I see all this. I hear all this. Whether I like it or not, I take it all in and regurgitate it through my actions and my own insecurities. When looking into the bizarre universe of a mirror, I see all of me that is and all of me that isn’t, and somehow, over the years, the isn’t has overtaken the is. I dwell on long, dark eyelashes that never were. I become fixated on the number on the scale that I am not. I daydream about the high cheekbones I’ll never have. And I’m trapped in a gray area in which I don’t quite know if I’m trying to please myself or everyone but myself.

We create terms and conditions for ourselves to achieve happiness within our own skin and drive ourselves to a place in which we do not allow ourselves to actually obtain this happiness. Perfect is out of reach because it is nonexistent. If we repeatedly reach for the nonexistent, and place our faith in its supposed existence, we set ourselves up for damaging disappointment. It is like running against an Olympic track runner and telling yourself that you’ll be the greatest, loveliest, most able version of yourself if you win. All the while you are highly aware of your inability to win, and yet, you run anyway. This is the cycle that the female youth of America are trapped in. So where do we go from here? We react.

We react in dimly lit bathrooms applying pink lipstick while our best friend gazes into the mirror asking, “Ooo what brand is that?” We react with our head bent over a toilet, watching today’s lunch exit us. We react when we stumble around lightheaded because 300 calories can’t get you through the day. We react when we spend all our hard-earned cash on a Chanel coat. We react when we stick silicone in our skin. We react when we binge on chocolate cake and pizza and spaghetti and meatballs and rocky road ice cream because we resent the media for forcing beauty propaganda on us. We react when we accept or deny we’re the ones who allow ourselves to fall victim to these standards.



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