The Ugly Truth about Beauty

Published November 4, 2013 by The Feminist

beauty

When I was 12 years old, me and my brother were playing in the park one day. I was on the swing and my brother was in the sandbox building castles with two other adorable eight-year- old kids. I kept swinging higher and higher. I felt free. Happy. Alive. I jumped of the swing, rolled over the grass and kept laughing the entire time. If an adult would behave like that, we would assume he were high on LSD. But when you’re just a kid, being wild and free is allowed, or better even, encouraged.
And then one of the eight-year-old boys shouted at my brother: “God, you’re sister looks like a whale!”

Looking back on that moment now, ten years later, I think it is safe to say that that particular moment and that particular insult changed me. I was on the brink of puberty and before that awful day in the park I was a carefree young spirit, not giving one shit about what people thought about me. The fact that people thought about me and my body didn’t even cross my mind. But that day in the park-which in my head still marks the end of my childhood and the beginning of puberty- changed all of that. From then on, I was insecure. I felt ashamed. Lost. Ugly.

Although the whale-comment came from a young kid- and, one could argue, should not be taken seriously- you simply cannot deny that the issue of beauty is hard-wired in our Western society. It forms our background, it molds our conversations and it shapes our self-images. Beauty is society’s ultimate bitch: brutally honest, disrespectful of imperfections, disregarding of differentiation and when you least expect it, it can slap you in the face with a perfectly manicured hand.

Beauty makes the world go round. Is that a sad thing? Absolutely yes. Can it be changed? Unfortunately not. Whether we want to admit it or not, we all judge people on the basis of their looks. It’s the first thing we notice when we meet someone. The colour of the eyes, the shape of the nose, the waistline, the cup size. We all like to say we prioritize personality over beauty – it is a myth used to soothe our conscience- but in reality it’s just a given fact that no one would ever turn around in the street to take a second look at someone because he or she looked intelligent, but because he or she had a beautiful face and/or nice butt. In a perfect world, inner beauty would triumph over outer appearance. In a perfect world, I would also live in a mansion next to a lake filled with white mocha latte and drive around in a pink mini cooper with wings, but we all know that’s not going to happen. We are biologically programmed to be attracted to beauty. We have eyes. It’s natural. We are drawn to symmetry and the hourglass shape. We all have had crushes on beautiful people we have never even talked to. When I heard Charlie Hunnam was being replaced by Jamie Dornan to play Christian Grey, I was over the moon with delight. Was that delight based on the fact that Jamie has better acting skills? Phah! Of course not! It was purely based on my attraction to Jamie’s gorgeous eyes and amazingly toned abs. Yours truly often serenades the beauty of many different actors on this particular blog. Does that make me shallow? Maybe. Does that make me human? Definitely.

I therefore believe we simply cannot blame “the media” for all of this. Yes, they use Photoshop. Yes, they portray super thin models. But the ladymags’ overuse of super thin models and Photoshop frankly says more about all our ridiculously high beauty standards than about the ethics those magazines apply. They create images of “perfect women” because we, the public, want to see them.

The real issue here is that our high beauty standards combined with the omnipresent image of beauty provided by advertisements and magazines, creates a “culture of appearances”. This culture is based on competition and leads to exclusion; leaving people insecure and vulnerable. Little eight-year-old boys and girls are taught that outer appearance are not just part of life, but that outer appearance is life. Looks mean everything and hence, we have developed a collective insecurity about it. We try to cheat ourselves into thinking that those men and women staring at you from large billboards beside the road don’t really exist, but the problem is that they do. I’ve met people like that –and yeah- it sucks to realize you’re not one of them, but demonizing the commercial industry won’t help you escape them.

The only thing we can try to do is find confidence in a pool of insecurities. We have to pledge, not just to ourselves but to the future generation of beauty-obsessed men and women, that beauty will no longer be a confined box where only the lucky few fit into, but a limitless concept where all kinds of unique beauty can roam free, without any doubts or insecurities.

Ever since the whale-comment I have struggled with this notion of beauty and my perceived lack thereof. If there is one word that could totally capture the spirit of the past ten years, it has got to be insecurity. Insecurity led me to believe I wasn’t good enough to go talk to that boy. Insecurity led me to believe that acne was far worse than world hunger or terrorist attacks. Insecurity led me to develop eating disorders.
I used to look in the mirror and all I could see were flaws. Until one day I got tired of worrying about what other people thought of me and my body. I got tired of hating myself. I didn’t want to be invisible anymore. I wanted to shine…

I am sure that, how personal and intimate my confessions may seem, this story is first and foremost a universal one. That is why it needs to be told. So that all the other boys and girls, men and women, who suffer from insecurities know that they are not alone. If even I eventually managed to accept my “imperfections”, real or perceived, so can you. Body and beauty acceptance starts with accepting that you might be fatter than others. Or thinner than others. Taller or smaller than others. That your nose might be bigger and your eyes might be more crooked than others. That your boobs might be smaller and your butt might be bigger than others. But that all of that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be proud of our body. If beauty is indeed the ultimate bitch, than diversity is the ultimate BFF: defending us through thick and thin (pun fully intended), supporting us in times of sorrow and pulling at that bitch’s hair when required.

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14 comments on “The Ugly Truth about Beauty

  • Man oh man alive! Could I EVER relate to your every word! I find myself in my mid 50’s and still to this day, when I look into a mirror, my VERY first reflex is to see the flaws. The sags. The wrinkles. The age spots. Then despair at “what I used to look like” comes into play, and when I “used to look good” I still saw flaws.

    This all in a moment. I stop!

    NO!

    And I “talk to myself” telling me, while looking into the mirror, how beautiful I AM! I can even look into my eyes and say “I Love you, Amy!” Now this is from a woman whose childhood was filled with criticism, hate, never good enoughs, actually being told I was ugly…..and to arrive at the Gate of Self-Love (yes, even with a struggle still) is quite the accomplishment!

    From One Gorgeous Woman to another Gorgeous Woman……Keep up the Great Work! Keep on Loving YOU just as YOU are!!!

    BIG (((HUGS))),
    Amy who says GREAT ARTICLE!

  • Culture of appearances. I think that’s so true. In our world that’s getting faster-paced by the day (or hour), we rarely spend the time to get deeper than appearances.

    Have you ever noticed how, when you get to know someone well, they become more beautiful or more ugly depending on what their personality is like? It’s a shame that these days we rarely take the time to get to know many people this well.

  • I never got that phrase “Hollywood creates a false image”. Hollywood is a location for one; also it’s show business. They’re in business to get you to the theater. What do people want to see? And if people don’t want to see what the media show, they just need to stop contributing to the business AND contribute more to those who show what they want to see. As I say that, I’m noticing you’re background of Audrey Hepburn. She is a classy, sophisticated woman. How many movies have been done to portray her story??? Now think about a blonde movie star, who wasn’t the only blonde during the same time. How many movies have been created to this day to portray her? Lots. My point? It’s a cop-out to blame the media. Huge lack of accountability! To elaborate:

    1.) The Ugly about Truth about Beauty for me is the PERCEPTION that there’s only one definition. Lighter is the definition of beauty for girls. This is my personal obstacle growing up. With bleaching creams in India, Asia, Africa, it is a universal problem. In western regions, it seems to be men “prefer” blondes. Being the masses, we know SHOULD know better. It becomes nasty when someone uses that misconception to judge someone who doesn’t meet that perception. But also, how often does that happen? We tend to listen to the negative and only hear the positive. Probably because those obnoxious losers can be obnoxiously loud. Let’s start turning the volume down.

    2.) We know this issue is more dominant in the female society than males. Does that mean males are never insecure? Did not say that, read my statement again.

    C.) With the right support system, who cares about Hollywood’s or the media’s portrayal of beauty?! With that said, I’ll refer to Kate Winslet saying she works on telling her daughter everyday that she is beautiful: from her friends to FEMALE family members, women are not telling each other they’re beautiful. Whose job is it really? Mom’s don’t tell their daughters they are beautiful. They can be overly judgmental, overly critical, and insecure themselves. I’m sure this applies to fathers as well (but is it beauty related? Doubt it- confirm, male readers). If a large community of mothers or women are telling each other they’re beautiful, do you think we would be pointing fingers to Hollywood? NO; hell NO! We would tell girls who thought twice about their looks that those models are handpicked. That’s what should be going on! STOP the cycle!

  • On the other hand if we want to compliment a women, a friend or a little girl we tell them they look great, i see it especially with my daughter and what she’s being told by people: you are so pretty , you have a gorgeous smile, I love your dress.. And I tell to everyone , please stop telling her that all she is , is pretty. Why do little boys hear: you are strong, you are able to do it, you did it, you are courageous, you are smart.. And little girls usually hear the same compliment: pretty beautiful, nicely dressed.. And then they start to believe that they are appreciated only for there looks, that it’s the way they look that makes people like them, and love them.. And when a stranger criticize them , they instantly feel insecure..
    Yes we should tell our children they are beautiful, but I think we should tell them even more that they are able to do something, that they did it well, that they are intelligent, funny, strong and courageous.. And I hope then the fact that the mass culture is trying to create the insecurities to make money, by selling all these beauty products, won’t have such a big influence on them..

    • That’s a great point, Joanna. I recently saw a poem performed by an artist saying ” I’m pretty smart not just pretty”. That’s a paraphrase. Praise girls on their abilities!

  • What an amazingly true post. It’s sad to think that we all think in such way, so judgemental etc. I nominated you for an award by the way! Head over to my blog for more info!x

  • I loved this post. Like the other women writing here I had a similar experience growing up. I grew up around boys who not only knew how to hurt me but obviously didn’t realize how much it affected me. The most prominent memory I have is of someone close to me casually telling me that ‘you’ll never be skinny’ probably referring to the fact that I was always tall and curvier. I know that idea stuck in my head for years while that person probably has no memory of it and was probably speaking more to their own insecurity. It led me as well to battle with insecurity and eating disorders in my young adult life and it has taken me until now to realize that I was not born with a body that I was unhappy with but I was bred to be unable to accept what I had as beautiful. Time and experience has given me the strength to go out and fight for my confidence and be proud of the beautiful woman I have become.

    I also think it is interesting to note that while you are correct in noting the influence that media has on these ideals we create of what is ‘attractive’, it is interesting to note that in other cultures outside of North America the ‘skinny’ model ideal is not ideal. I recently read an article from an Australian magazine discussing how the ideal body shape there is much fuller than we view it here in North America, making us much harsher of a society as a whole. It is always important to remember how subjective beauty is.

    With the blog that I have recently created (http://feeltastetouch.wordpress.com/) I aim to reach audiences who have experienced this insecurity in various ways as well and also talk about the the faults that we all have and how beautiful they can be if we only look at them in the right light.

    I hope you will check out my blog in the hopes that it will inspire you as this post has inspired me.
    Thank you.

  • Lovely piece. I tell my daughters every day that they are gorgeous, that they are intelligent, that they are creative, that they are beautiful and that they have amazing and strong bodies. Each attribute has significance. Aged eight and ten they fully believe me. I’m under no illusion that puberty and secondary school might change their self perception but I intend to keep reminding them. Every day.

  • I am SO glad this article popped up in my inbox again today. YOU inspired ME to write an article, which is now helping some women deal with the knowledge how they have been controlled by others, not even knowing their True Self. I want to thank you for sparking the fire that lit within me. As I wrote my piece, I cried and I mourned, for all we do to ourselvess, all from unconsciousness patterns that were crammed down our throats. Now to AWAKE, and SEE, and CHANGE. Not easy. But, once one SEES the Truth, for what it really is, change is truly possible.

    With deepest gratitude, Amy

  • Thank you for sharing your story. I try to impress on my girls that we are all very different and if we can just love one another for who we are then we are being good decent people.
    Thanks for your visit.

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