Is Beauty A Worthy Goal?
Posted by BroadBlogs
Over at The Nation Jessica Valenti wondered whether beauty is a worthy goal in the first place. At best, beauty is a short-term solution. And not much of a solution at that, if the sole focus is a one-dimensionality that keeps us shallow.
Plus, Valenti says,
We create a trap where anything that makes a girl feel better about her appearance, no matter how harmful, is a reasonable solution. (How many times has plastic surgery been preceded by an “I’m doing it for me!” explanation?)
Throughout history women have been convinced they must have various physical characteristics or accessories that harm their health: tiny waists, small feet, high heels, girdles, corsets, boob jobs…
All at the expense of extreme discomfort, scrunched vital organs, pulmonary disease, varicose veins, a lack of vital nutrients, crippled feet and knees, deadened erotic sensation, a block to cancer detection, death…
It’s all made worse by calling variation from beauty norms a “deformity” – just to make a buck. Doctors have told some of my students that they needed corrective surgery for their breasts. And that’s how Nadia’s doctor described her “need” for an operation:
She wasn’t picked to have her surgery because she was bullied. She was picked because of her deformities.
No wonder Valenti groaned,
This is our culture now: teen girls thinking that the slightest perceived imperfection—any deviation from what they see in magazines—is tantamount to deformity and in need of surgical correction.
… We should tell girls the truth: “Beautiful” is bullshit, a standard created to make women into good consumers, too busy wallowing in self-loathing to notice that we’re second class citizens.
And in fact, being called ugly can be useful. Jessica was teased before she grew into her face, as she put it. But,
In a lot of ways I’m glad I was considered unattractive as a kid—there is an upside to ugly. I developed a sharp sense of humor, a defense against the taunts. I thought more deeply about how good and bad people can be. I started writing. I found feminism.
Some who commented on my first Nadia post had similar experiences:
I was teased relentlessly when I was her age for my big ears, flat chest, and the amount of body hair that I had. Today I am grateful for a mother who didn’t care that I was being bullied for such superficial things and did not allow me to make permanent changes to my body to escape bullying. Eventually I grew into my body and in the meantime, while it was painful, I found people who didn’t give a shit about those things, and now most days I feel completely comfortable in my body and my own unique beauty.
Some come to understand that the tauting isn’t about them but about the taunter.
I suffered bullying when I was a kid, and I discovered that people who do this kind of thing usually are trying to move attention from them; they usually have self-esteem problems.
Instead of agreeing that beauty is worth having, Valenti suggests we should be warning that a culture that demands as much is toxic.
Or, as another commenter suggested, maybe we can expand our notions:
I used to have a pretty narrow definition of beauty until at age 15 I started drawing the faces of the people I saw around me, often on the city bus on the way home from school. That is when I began to see a new world of beauty everywhere I looked.
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About BroadBlogsI have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.
Posted on August 15, 2012, in body image, feminism, gender, psychology, sexism, women and tagged body image, bullying, feminism, gender, Nadia Ilse, psychology, sexism, women. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.