Image From the ‘Dove Real Beauty’ Campaign
“When I looked in the mirror, it was like cutting my body up into different pieces and evaluating the pieces, as if it was some sort of thing … I would really focus on different parts and then rip those parts apart, being hypercritical. It was a violent way to look at my body. ” From the book “Sacrificing Ourselves For Love”
There once was a zen master who acquired a new student who was very eager to learn. The new student explained that he wanted to learn all that there was to learn and to know the very secrets of the universe. As the zen master scratched his beard inquisitively, he replied to the student, “Very well. I will teach you all you need to know, and we will have a tea ceremony every day precisely at 4pm, and your presence will be required”.
That sounded fair enough to the student and he was overjoyed to be under the instruction of such a wise man. The zen master and his student had tea precisely every day at 4pm. Each day, the master held a long, gnarled walking stick in his hand. And, each day, after the tea was poured, the master announced, “If you drink the tea that you have been given, I will beat you with this stick”. The student looked terrified. “Conversely, if you do not drink the tea set before you, I will also beat you with the stick”. Now the student WAS terrified. Either way, the student would receive a beating with the master’s stick. This is certainly not what the student had signed up for, nor was it his idea of learning. But, he trusted the master’s plan.
On some days, the student surmised that since he was going to receive a beating, he’d at least enjoy the tea, and he drank up. And he always received a beating after he drank the tea. Other days, he was so anxious about the impending doom, he lost his appetite and didn’t drink the tea. He still received a beating.
One day, the student decided that he was plain fed-up with the way he was being treated and he had the bruises to show for it, too. He thought about walking out on the zen master and finding another teacher, but he just didn’t have the courage to do it. Would he receive an even bigger beating if he left? The student felt stuck and victimized. The unfortunate student could feel his anger welling up in his throat.
That day, as the tea was poured, the student seethed and would not break the master’s gaze. He was attempting to stare the master down. The student eyed the walking stick and braced himself for pain. After the tea was poured, the master reached for his stick, with a dour, serious expression, and raised his stick forebodingly in the air.
In an instant, the student sprang to his feet and wrangled the stick away from the master. He took the stick and broke it in two pieces and threw it away, all before the master’s eyes. All of a sudden, the student filled with intense fear– he had just broken the master’s stick. Now, he was REALLY going to get it.
But, to the student’s surprise, the master’s eyes lighted up and a large smile broke the master’s dour expression. The student looked puzzled as his own fear started to subside. The student didn’t understand why the master would smile. What did it all mean?
The master looked his student in the eye and said, “You are now free to go. You have now learned ALL that you will ever need to learn”. And with that, the student went on his merry way, never to see the zen master again.
The story above, which I have edited from another text, illustrates what is called the “double-bind situation”. A double-bind situation is a situation or circumstance where you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. You’re in a catch 22. You SEEM to be trapped. But, the story of the stick teaches us that, truly, there are no real double-bind situations if we can just FIND THE STICK and have the courage to TAKE IT AWAY.
The current beauty standard that women are supposed to live up to is a classic double-bind situation. You see, we are told to be thin and to have a flat stomach and slender thighs. But, the flat stomach is supposed to be accompanied by a DDD bra size and a round behind. Now, most women who are extremely thin do not have such a body type naturally. Then there are the girls with natural DDD breasts and round behinds. They usually do not have extremely slender thighs and wash-board stomachs. To acquire a flat stomach and slender thighs, they would need to enlist the help of tummy tucks and liposuction. And did I mention that their DDD breasts also have to be perfectly perky, round, and defy gravity all at the same time? Did I mention that the stomach also has to be a six-pack and perfectly muscular? Did I mention that the woman’s behind must be round but cannot have any fatty tissue on it?
Victoria’s Secret Models Illustrating My Point
Oh, and that’s just the body part. What about a woman’s face?
Well, really, that depends on what month it is. Sometimes, Cosmopolitan is featuring Angelina Jolie as the current flavor of the month, along with her angular features, pillow-esque lips, and round eyes.
Another month, they are featuring the oval face of Scarlett Johannsen, with her pouty lips, and almond shaped-eyes. The beauty standard changes monthly and even conflicts from magazine to magazine, depending on which one you’re reading.
This would all be fine, if we happened to have faces made of play-dough, that we could mould at the fashion industry’s whim. It would also be ‘fine’ if we were like Mrs. Potato Head and had detachable, re-arrangeable faces. Just think, a whole industry could be built around 100 different pairs of removable lips and eyes, noses and ears.
“It is better to be beautiful than to be good, but it is better to be good than to be ugly.” -Oscar Wilde
I suppose we could get plastic surgery each month, that is IF we had such a disposable income. And even if we did, we’d end up looking like Joan Rivers. I have nothing against Joan Rivers, she is a type of survivor and it’s a shame that she has allowed Hollywood’s dictates to re-arrange her face in order for her to CONTINUE to have work in ‘the business’. Even though her lively-hood is based on her quick wit and perceptive sense of humor, she is still expected to live up to the unrealistic expectation of NOT aging.
Joan Rivers With Some Plastic Surgery and Then With Even More
“Most urgently, women’s identity must be premised upon our “beauty” so that we will remain vulnerable to outside approval, carrying the vital sensitive organ of self-esteem exposed to the air” -The Beauty Myth- Naomi Wolfe
So, where’s the stick you say? I hinted at it in my last article when I talked about beauty being more than a woman’s dress size. After realizing how much this message resonated with readers, I decided to write a short series about how to get out of this beauty double-bind. Instead of feeling just adequate about ourselves, we are going to feel GOOD about ourselves.
Part 1: Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty, — that is all. -John Keats
The poet John Keats implies that beauty and truth are interchangeable, but that would also imply that they include each other. So, it would follow that nothing can be beautiful UNLESS IT IS ALSO TRUTHFUL.
And if this is so, where then do today’s media images come into play? Before I started researching the alteration of the images presented to us in the media, I didn’t realize to what extent they are re-made. The very female stars and fashion models we look up to and pine to look like don’t even look like themselves. They are air-brushed to death. I knew this intuitively, but I went searching for some images of popular singers, actresses and models PRE-photoshop and POST-photoshop. I found a wealth of images on a French website. The images below speak for themselves, but I will make a short commentary on each one.
(Photos copyrighted to their respective owners)
ALSO, please let me preface this photo-essay with the fact that I find each and every one of these women beautiful PRIOR to them being photoshopped. Also, I employ much sarcasm in my commentary.
Image 1: How would like to be able to lose 100 pounds within the matter of an afternoon? Photoshop makes it entirely possible!
Image 2: Put Your Local Plastic Surgeon Out of a Job! Gee, in these recessionary times, a girl just can’t afford to keep her plastic surgeon in the monthly budget!
Image 3: Have the Skin You Have Always Dreamed of Without Retin-A
Image 4: Late Night Drinking Binges Got You Down? — Well, then photoshop is Britney’s new BFF!
Image 5: Don’t Worry, Photoshop Has Kim Kardashian’s Back, Even if Paris Hilton Doesn’t
Image 6: Oh Scarlet- Where Did Your Thighs Go?
Image 7: Britney- Your Hip Bones Look Positively Stunning
Image 8: Hey Photoshop, Jay-Z Put a Ring on Beyonce’s REAL Body, Not the Version with Her Hips and Booty and Thighs Removed
As we see, there is even a large discrepancy between what these beautiful women look like in real-life and their photoshopped selves.
I was talking to my friend Scott one day and I asked him what he thought of the models and actresses on magazine covers. I especially like to talk to James because he doesn’t mince words on any topic. He shuddered, and said, “Uccckkk! Those women all look so ANGRY.” I asked him to explain and he said that their faces looked unnaturally angry to him, and this definitely was not sexy. I asked him what he thought of Megan Fox. He didn’t know who that was, so I showed him a picture. His comment? “If she walked into a room, my libido would be killed and I’d have a hard time getting it back.” I told him that Megan Fox was one of the girls of the moment and that most men would go to the ends of the earth for her. His response, “She looks mean and selfish, she has NO curves, and all of the make-up she is wearing is just gross. There might be someone pretty underneath all of that but I highly doubt it”.
James’ comments certainly piqued my interest for two reasons.
1) I have met few men who don’t like the ‘look’ that is represented in the mass media.
2) James is highly successful, intelligent, happily-married, and well-dressed.
So, I asked James what an attractive woman looked like. Aside from the obvious, that is, his wife, he stated that he likes women with curves and lots of them. He likes women his own age, (in their forties), and who are generally between a size 10 and 14. He likes hips and added that his wife’s body got even more beautiful after bearing children. I asked him to tell me more about that. “Stretch marks are sexy. I don’t get what the big deal is about stretch marks and how people are hung up on them. A woman having a child is amazing and it’s wonderful that her body can reflect the wonderful force of creativity within her”, he said. I told him that there was a million dollar market dedicated just to women getting rid of stretch marks. He just shook his head. “Give me a woman who has had a few kids any day. There aren’t two ways about it– their bodies are just gorgeous”.
I told James I was likely going to blog about his perspective and he thought that was great. I told him there are more women out there than he could ever know who feel bad about their appearance. His response to that was, “All women are gorgeous just the way they are. I love women. I love everything about them. They’re soft, they’re warm, they’re kind, and gentle. They are everything a man is not and that’s so incredible. Women are a miracle to me”.
Then there’s my dad. He always told me when I was growing up that the man I marry needed to accept me ‘warts and all’. I didn’t have any warts to speak of and didn’t know what he was talking about. My dad explained that people you fall in love with are irreplaceable and it does not matter if they don’t meet this standard of beauty or that standard of beauty. And when you’re in love, you accept everything about that person. You wouldn’t change a thing. He told me the women he found to be the most attractive were women in jeans who wore their hair long and un-styled and wore no make-up. He didn’t like ‘fussy beauty’ and he did not understand high fashion. When I was in high school, I would point to the models and tell him they must be the most beautiful or they wouldn’t have jobs as models. His response was, “No, they are working as models because they are built like clothes hangers. The clothes designers are currently making only look good on actual clothes hangers, and so they select models who also look like clothes hangers”.
So far, I have two examples of men I know who don’t buy into the current beauty standard, and I am sure there are many more. Since a large part of the female population is married, and since only .01% of the female population could actually fit into the fashion model mold, then it would follow that many men love and marry women who do not look anything like models.
So why then are women trying to mold themselves after such an unrealistic and unattainable ideal? I am going to explore that in Part 2 of my post which is coming soon. So, please stay tuned, and PLEASE leave comments in the feedback section. I would love to know what’s on your mind.