The Perception of Beauty

February 28, 2010
From beauty we derive inspiration. From beauty we derive pride, pleasure, and envy. How many of us can say he has not gazed upon a smooth brow or a shapely figure and felt these emotions? In response to the question, “What do women want?” the designer Valentino Garavani once said, “Yes, I know what women want. Women want to be beautiful.”

This is true. Who can deny the desire to be admired, envied, or considered pleasing?
Women have been noted for their especial beauty - Helen of Troy, Madame du Barry, and Marylyn Monroe among others - for almost as long as men have been noted for their acts of bravery. How many times have we heard men say, “This is Susannah, my beautiful wife,” or “Alice, my lovely daughter?” How many times have we heard a woman say, “This is Thomas, my attractive husband?”

However, beauty obviously exists and is enjoyed in both sexes. Only the female though, is pressured to alter herself in order to be beautiful. Beauty is not a choice for women in today’s society.

To “be a man” in our society is to be hesitant with the razor below the chin, lest one’s manliness be disturbed. It is to scoff at diets and hair-dos, and other such “women’s talk.” However, to be a woman is to wax, shave, tan, dye, straighten, curl, powder, diet, perchance to implant. All this is accepted and even expected. Yet who sets these standards of beauty? Men. The designers of women’s “high fashion” - Armani, Calvin Klein, Valentino, Gaultier, Dior, Yves Saint-Laurent, etc are almost all men.

Newcomers to the United States have often commented on the increasing resemblance of adult, mature women to “fourteen year-old girls,” with heavy makeup and thin adolescent bodies; forty-year-olds speaking and dressing in the same style as their teenage daughters. They are not the only ones who have ever gone to extremes to conform to a beauty standard. In China the men chose small feet, so the women bound their daughters’ feet, disabling them of free movement and torturing them in the meantime, in order for them to be considered beautiful. In America, the beauty standard is blonde, thin, big-breasted, and young. Hence the rise in plastic surgery, breast implants, highlighting, dyeing, and “anti-aging” products.

Thin bodies, dieting, weight-loss programs, etc. - while these are ostensibly a concern for women’s health, in reality they are the every-day applications of conforming to the beauty standard. They are in fact a form of control - of subverting the female population. Yet who can forfeit the desire to be beautiful?

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