As most of you know, I rang in the New Year while vacationing and relaxing at a spa in Austria. These annual breaks always allow me to do something I don’t generally have much time for: I get to let my mind wander for hours, ponder random thoughts that come into my head and read trashy beauty magazines (which I stopped buying years ago, but will still leaf through when they’re put in front of me at the dentist’s office or at a spa. I’m the same with tabloids, BTW.) In small doses, these types of magazines can be fun, sometimes hilarious, and, well in this case, can even spawn a blog post.
Pointing out our flaws
The reason that I don’t often read these types of magazines is because I prefer not to bombard myself with messages that state that the way I look is inadequate. And that applies no matter what I happen to look like, by the way. The message that the beauty and fashion industries spread is the same for everyone: You suck. You’re not good enough. If you buy this eyeliner, though, you probably will be good enough. Ok, not really. We lied. But you might be a teensy step closer. Possibly. But probably not. Just keep buying stuff, Ogregirl.
Beauty magazines make a living off of pointing out our flaws. If they can’t find any flaws, they’ll make some up so they can point them out. Their advertisers then tell us that their products will magically fix those flaws. Did any of us know that it was a problem to have thin eyelashes before the beauty industry helpfully informed us of this? Did Cavewoman obsess about her brittle nails, split ends, curly/straight/limp/thin/frizzy hair, wrinkly skin, flabby thighs, cellulite, stretch marks, being too tall, being too short, being too fat, being too thin, having too much muscle tone, not having enough muscle tone, being pear shaped, apple shaped, or shaped like any other fruit for that matter? No. She didn’t. And yet, somehow, she still managed to get her man. The survival of the species is a testament to that.
Whatever we focus on determines our reality. So, it stands to reason that if I focus on how ugly and fat and just plain horrible I am, I’ll begin to feel that way. If I want to feel good about myself, I’ll need to limit such messages and focus on positive reinforcement instead.
The industry is not the problem
But, of course, I don’t blame the beauty, fashion or cosmetic surgery industries. I see them as a mere symptoms of the real issue, something that dawned on me as I lay there, having been massaged into a near coma, leafing through some generic testament to our obsession with perfection, in that wonderful Austrian spa.
The real problem is not that people keep telling us that we’re not good enough, or pretty enough, or hawt enough. The real problem isn’t even that we keep listening to them. The REAL problem, ladies and gentlemen, is in the way we approach beauty in general. The underlying cause of all these symptoms, the actual disease, if you will, is that we have tried to standardize beauty. And today, I call bullshit on that little douchenugget.
It’s not just women, either
To be fair, this problem of standardization doesn’t just apply to beauty. We humans try to standardize everything, which leads to problems in whatever area we are trying to find conformity in, but today, I’m going to dissect beauty. Not only because I happened to have this insight over the holidays, but because it affects so many of us. Men aren’t immune to this disease either. The hairier sex… wait, what’s the opposite of “fairer sex”? “Hairy”? Given all the hair removal products for women, that doesn’t seem to apply. Or maybe “beardy”, you know, because women can’t grow beards. Generally. Well, some of us will grow a mustache if left to our own devices (I’m not admitting to anything, of course. Although I have gotten my upper lip waxed just in case, thanks to the mustache paranoia instilled in me at an early age, thank you Cosmopolitan Magazine). Ok, so the beardy sex often feel just as inadequate as we do, it has just generally manifested differently, thanks to cultural expectations of what it means to be a successful man. But more and more, men are being told that they’d better look the part too. You can be hairy yes, but please be appropriately hairy. Like, hair on your chest is ok, hair on your head pretty much a must (bald is sexy, but only if it’s voluntary), but hair on your shoulders is gross. Potbellies are out, wash board stomachs are in, tall is good, short is bad, haircuts have to come from a stylist, not a barber, you have to smell good, feel good, slather on wrinkle cream, get a back facial (to remove pimples on your back, in case you didn’t know what that was. You’re welcome), depilate your knuckles, get a pedicure, have your eyebrows plucked, your teeth whitened, your nether regions groomed and waxed, hit the gym at least 5 times a week, stop eating carbs, change your underwear so that your sperm is healthier and de-lint your belly button on an hourly basis. These messages are taking their toll on men’s self esteem.
The standard of beauty
Throughout the ages, the standard of beauty has varied greatly within our Western Culture. Of course, different cultures will have vastly different interpretations of what it means to be beautiful, although for the sake of this post, I will concentrate on the Western, English speaking world. But one constant remains: We come up with some arbitrary standard of beauty and then use that to make ourselves feel like we’re not good enough. And yes, I mean all of us. Especially in current times.
In ages past, the standard of beauty was often determined by the tastes and whims of a few, powerful individuals, like Kings and Queens and the social elite. Rarity and exclusivity were and are often considered beautiful, like a black person with blue eyes, for example, or people with a very rare body type. When people didn’t have enough to eat and often died of starvation and malnutrition, being hefty was considered the height of beauty (in many cultures where food is scarce, this is still the case. The fatter, the better). As food became more plentiful, we opted to go the other way. In the 40’s and 50’s, we idolized women who were thin, yet curvy. Very few women actually had the desired measurements (tiny waist, hips and boobs with the same circumference), but at least a few did (and some were close enough to pretend with the help of special underwear), and so that’s what went on the posters. And any woman with a few extra pounds, with small breasts or bigger hips, felt like she was a failure.
In the 60’s and 70’s, super thin became in again. Small boobs were back, as were small hips (can’t wear hip huggers with curves. This is how you get a muffin top, people. By the way, thinking that your body should conform to the beauty of the clothes instead of the other way around has caused more pain than I care to mention here). But again, at least there were still a few women who actually looked the way we wanted them to.
It’s all fake
Fast forward to today: Our current standard of beauty no longer exists. When you see a photograph of a model in a magazine, you can be sure that the actual model looks nothing like that. Not only has she spent hours under the care of professional makeup artists and hair stylists (these people aren’t called artists for nothing. They are creating art. The model is just the canvas. And just like with a painting, the end result looks nothing like the bare canvas did), but there is lighting, photography (another art), and then, of course, the now obligatory airbrushing, photoshopping and total remorphing of the original image. In the end, you have something that might as well have been created on the computer from scratch. I often wonder why they bother using a live model at all, since humans are so obviously imperfect. My point is this: Not even the models and actresses we hold up as the standard of beauty meet that standard of beauty! They don’t actually look like that. NO ONE DOES. Models and actresses are some of the most insecure people you could ever meet. Why? Because they spend all day, every day, faced with the fact that they don’t look the way our culture thinks they should. No matter how hard they try, they will never be anorexic, plastic dolls with huge boobs and fat lips (and by the way, who the hell decided THAT was a good look?)
But, it’s no coincidence that we should have such an unrealistic, quite frankly ridiculous standard of beauty at a time when more and more of us are waking up. What better way to get us to reject the whole idea altogether, than to make it so ludicrous, that we have almost no choice but to question the whole concept of standardization altogether? Really, can you think of a more effective way to get people to question a standard, than to create one that NO ONE meets?
Why we try to standardize beauty
When we look at a piece of art, it’s easy for us to understand that one person might love it, another might hate it, and yet another might be totally indifferent. I don’t necessarily require you to like a piece of art, so that I can have permission to like it, unless of course, I’m a horribly insecure individual. But many of us are, horribly insecure, that is. And that’s where the problem comes in (see, the insecurity comes first. Some of you will have seen that coming…) So, you get a group of insecure individuals together, and they all decide that this one painting is beautiful. Some of them might not even care, and some might secretly disagree, but the group has now made a decision and insecure people would rather conform to the group and gain some semblance of approval, than speak their truth. At this point I’d like to interject that not being disapproved of is not the same thing as being approved of, but most people don’t know that and will settle for the former in a misguided attempt to get the latter.
Anywho, so you have this group, who have decided, more or less, that this painting is now what’s considered beautiful and acceptable. And any paintings that differ from this style and color palette are considered ugly and unacceptable and should be shunned. Other insecure individuals will now begin to conform to this standard, as well, out of fear of being ostracized. In other words, all the people in this group have now decided to agree that this is the standard of beauty, even if they don’t really feel that way, and will do their best to conform to it. They will not create any paintings in a style other than the acceptable one, even if it would make their heart sing. They will suppress their inspiration and creativity. They will stunt their own evolution and mute the voice of Who They Really Are. Doing so is painful, of course, but it’s all worth it. You know, in order to not be made fun of by the cool kids (who are often the most insecure of all).
Fear begets more fear
We do the same thing with beauty. Since this entire concept was borne out of fear, it’s no surprise that it’s led to greater and greater insecurity. The more we try to standardize beauty, the worse it gets.
Think about it: When you create a standard and tout it as the only acceptable way of looking or being, everyone who doesn’t conform to that standard is automatically inadequate. And since our standard of beauty is unattainable, everyone gets to feel badly about themselves. Tall women want to be shorter, short women want to be taller. Thin women want to be curvier and curvy women want to be thinner. White people want to get a tan, and darker people wish they were lighter. Asians get surgery to get “white” eyes, while Caucasians spend millions to get the porcelain skin of the Japanese (not that all Japanese have that skin, but facts clearly have no place in the pursuit of perfection). If you have cellulite, you’re disgusting. If you’re bald, you’re a failure. If the whiteness of your teeth can’t blind a flock of birds heading south, you’d better get your ass to the dentist for some bleaching. If you have thin lips, you’d better plump them up. After all, we can’t go through life with thin lips. Or can we?
Beauty is subjective. And for good reason
Each of us actually has our own standard of beauty. It’s a combination of where we grew up, the experiences we’ve had, our thoughts and beliefs. In other words, it’s a product of our vibration. And it’s an ever evolving thing. Not one of us will be able to look at just anything and call it beautiful. We all have our own preferences and there’s nothing wrong with that. Even if you get to the point where you can see the intrinsic beauty in everything, there will still be some things that will evoke that feeling more easily than others. We each prefer different things by design. Imagine if everyone truly had the same standard of beauty. One couple in the world would get laid A LOT, and everyone else would have to settle. We’d all drive the same car, and live in the same house, and have the same hairstyle, and wear the same outfit. Do any of us really want that? Of course not.
Isn’t it great that we’re all so uniquely different and that we also all have our own sense of what we consider beautiful? Because no matter what your standard of beauty is, there’s someone out there who fulfills it perfectly (without surgery). And no matter what you look like there’s someone out there who thinks you’re the most gorgeous person ever. This is the perfection of who we are. The diversity in how we look matches the diversity in what we perceive to be beautiful. Diversity is the true standard of beauty.
It’s not about agreement!
The problem arises when someone out there tries to determine what we should all consider beautiful and we actually listen to them. When we override our own, personal standard of beauty with someone else’s, we suppress Who We Really Are. And that’s painful.
Why do you think we all have such horrible self esteem when it comes to how we look? Because we keep comparing ourselves to a standard other than our very own. We think we all have to agree on what’s beautiful! And that’s the biggest lie of all. We don’t all have to agree. We don’t all want to agree. Agreement would be detrimental. In fact, agreement would cause the destruction of the Universe as we know it. The Universe thrives on diversity. Your own personal reality depends on there being things you want and things you don’t want and your continued noticing of what your preference is. The creation process is stunted when we ask everyone else what they want and then try to conform to that. The process depends on each of us exercising our own, unique perspective.
Adopt your own standard
It can be difficult to break out of this paradigm at first. We have to give ourselves permission to acknowledge beauty wherever we happen to see it, regardless of what others think. And, we have to stop trying to standardize beauty in any shape and form. For example:
I think curvy women are sexy.
Some of you will have read that statement and thought “Yes! Finally someone who gives me permission to think I’m hot.” Others of you will be tempted to write a rebuttal in the comments. You’ll want to argue that women with small breasts or skinny hips are sexy too. Let me point out that I didn’t say “Curvy women, and ONLY curvy women are sexy. Everyone else is a total uggo”. But we often read these implications into the opinions of others, even when they’re not there.
And, even if I had said: “I think only curvy women are sexy. I don’t think that skinny women are sexy at all”, I would still be stating only my opinion (which, for the record is that all women are potentially sexy, but if I ever go lesbo, it’ll be hourglass figured women for me all the way. Just saying). I would not be saying “And you have to believe the exact same way as I do.” But again, this is what people tend to hear and argue so vehemently against in chat rooms, in forums, on blogs and at cocktail parties. If you’ve ever heard someone say they don’t like something and then witnessed another person go totally apeshit over that, you’ll have seen this principle in action. The person going apeshit is reacting to the unspoken (and usually not even intended) implication that this person has just taken away their right to their own opinion and preference.
Only that’s not the case, nor is it possible. Another person’s opinion does not negate yours, or your right to have a differing opinion. Of course, our attempts to standardize beauty have taught us to think otherwise, since creating a “standard” automatically implies that anything that doesn’t conform is unacceptable. But that just doesn’t fly in reality! If I like green, that doesn’t mean you can’t like blue. If I think tall men are hot, that doesn’t mean that all short men are unattractive, or that everyone now has to think they are! If a woman says that she’s not attracted to black guys or white guys (or Viking Vampires named Erik), that doesn’t make her racist (or blind). If a tall, blonde, white dude loves tiny, ethnic women, that doesn’t make him a traitor to his race or a bigot, and it doesn’t mean that tall, blonde women should feel rejected or inadequate if he doesn’t pursue them.
Let’s stop feeling personally rejected anytime someone expresses an opinion other than ours, shall we? And no, I’m not just talking about beauty anymore. Let’s revel in the fact that we’re all different, that we all look different, and that we all like different things. Because the two go hand in hand.
Conformity has no value
You are a perfect creation, just the way you are. And what you personally consider to be truly beautiful is correct for you, no matter what it is. You WANT that perspective to be unique. It’s only valuable if it’s unique. Think about it. What would the Universe have to gain by creating a bunch of people who think, look and act exactly the same? We only need one of each model, thank you. If you’re just going to conform, you might as well step off the planet now. You’re not doing yourself or any of us much good. You’re just a copy. But, if you’re going to bring your own perspective to the table, see angles that no one else sees, experience your own reality in a way that no one else can quite experience, and express your own unique essence, now you’re playing the game! Now you’re doing something that no one else in this Universe can do! Now you’re doing what you came here to do – you’re being Who You Really Are.
Now, it’s your turn. Have you struggled with the standard of beauty? Have you been able to overcome it and feel good about yourself anyway? If so, how? Share in the comments!