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The Ugly Reality About Beauty Standards

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By Guest Blogger Maddie Wadington

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If you’ve been reading Time Magazine, The Guardian, Glamour, or just about any popular magazine or newspaper of late, you’ve seen reports of a new study that compares men and women’s perceptions of beauty. The researchers asked both men and women to judge which photo of a model, wearing various amounts of makeup, was the most attractive to them, which photo would be the most attractive to other men, and which photo would be the most attractive to other women. Both men and women believed that the models wearing more makeup would be judged as more attractive by men. Interestingly, that wasn’t the case. Results showed that more women than men preferred the model wearing more makeup.

So what’s going on here? The researchers conclude that women are holding themselves to a standard of beauty that does not exist. Well, yes, that sounds right. But in spite of their findings, these researchers assume this standard of beauty is created and maintained solely by men, reflecting their version of attractiveness. This doesn’t make sense to me. We’re bombarded 24-7 with photoshopped beauty ideals, so doesn’t media play an overwhelmingly large role, not only in the creation of this “make believe” version of beauty but also in maintaining this standard in girls’ and women’s everyday lives?

Sure, maybe there are more men making decisions about what images are created and sold, but are they doing this because of what they individually like or because they know what sells to women—what makes women anxious enough to say, “I want what she’s having?” Isn’t the bottom line all about marketing and money and grabbing women’s attention (and as we’ve seen from the likes of Veet’s recent ad campaign, anything goes). Isn’t the corporate bottom line and not individual male desire responsible for perpetuating these unrealistic beauty standards?

It is also interesting to note that the Time Magazine article that I read about this study was titled: “Science Shows Men Like Women With Less Makeup.” But I have to wonder, why is the emphasis placed on how men prefer women? What about considering how women view other women? From my experience, girls and women compare their own beauty to that of other girls and women (just like girls and women do in the media). Could the results of this study–women preferring the model with more makeup—simply be due to the pressures they feel to look like the models they see in magazines?

When we think about how males and females perceive beauty, it’s important to consider more than just the physical attractiveness between men and women. In our society, there are so many more factors affecting what we think of as attractive: like media, marketing, and the ways they impact our views of each other. This isn’t just about gender or even about biology. Only when we consider the larger forces at play here can we affect how these unrealistic beauty standards affect our relationships and how we feel about ourselves. Only then can our voices can be heard.

 

A Before and After Reversal

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By Guest Blogger Amanda Carbonneau

I came across this ad for a national eating disorder awareness week on Facebook that showed a girl’s eating disorder treatment “before/after” picture with a link to her blog about body positivity.  Not only did the photo serve to culture jam the usual before-after ads that show a girl losing weight, this girl was proudly showing off her new and healthy body.Before-After

More importantly, this girl, Brittany, wrote a blog about eating disorders and invited other girls to share and contribute from their own experience. From the comments and blog posts it’s clear that the readers were engaged in a dialogue about body positivity and health.

This is great. But one thing bothers me. The website positions Brittany as their “brave” leader. She is brave and it’s important to have a leader to motivate others, but I worry that girls will fail to recognize the help that Brittany received from treatment. Not only should we acknowledge the hard work Brittany has done but girls struggling also need to hear about those who supported her just as she supports others now. No girl struggling with disordered eating can become healthy without the support of others!

I love Brittany’s before-after culture jam and how her blog builds coalition between girls. However, I think it’s important also to encourage girls to “culture jam” the single heroine story and include those who support them in their narratives of strength and bravery. It’s important for girls to learn its okay to seek support from others, even if no one is talking about it. People don’t become heroines all on their own.

Talking Sex

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By Guest Blogger Janie O’Halloran

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Can you remember a time in your life when you felt so incredibly uncomfortable and awkward? I sure can. I was sitting in my ninth grade health class during the sexual education unit. Our class was taught by Mr. H, the most feared and mysterious man who walked the halls of our high school. He was also the head coach for the varsity football team, and exactly the kind of man I wanted to go to for all of my burning questions about sex−not.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m sure that Mr. H was a quality guy, just not the guy I felt comfortable asking what it means to ‘pop one’s cherry’? So I didn’t ask, and no one else in my class did, either. I think all of us were scared that our curiosity would suggest we were either having sex or thinking about having sex− two things that none of us, boy or girl, wanted Mr. H to know about us. As you can imagine, a lot of the questions we had about sex remained as questions.

Like many schools in the U.S., our sex education stressed abstinence and the plethora of STDs we were bound to get if we did engage in sexual activity. There was so much missing in our health class conversations. Important stuff, like relationships, sexual pleasure, and desire. Nobody talked about these experiences and feelings so we weren’t sure they were okay. Any hint of desire was about adolescent boys —assumptions that they were innately inflicted with “sex on the brain.” They wanted it. They were naturally horny and they simply couldn’t help it. But what were we? Our desire was missing. We were passive, the cause and objects of boys’ desire. So we learned by our absence that if one of us engaged in sex it was not because we wanted to, but because of a boy’s unrelenting testosterone.

Fortunately for girls out there who are experiencing their own Mr. H, there’s a way to fill in this missing information about ourselves. Scarleteen.com is an online “sex education for the real world” that every girl should know about. This website provides a place where girls and young women can engage in a free and open discussion about sex, filling in all of the topics left out of traditional sex education classes, like girls’ sexual wants and desires. Scarleteen allows girls to ask questions about sex, take polls, and gives us an opportunity to share and read the sex testimonials of other girls.

Reading this amazing site makes me more certain then ever that we need a discourse of girls’ desire in our schools’ sex education classes, not only because there are still so many girls without access to the internet, but because this conversation is fundamental to what makes us human. Perhaps if I had known about Scarleteen when I was in Mr. H’s class, then I wouldn’t have gone through most of my teenage years thinking there was actually a “cherry” that I was terrified to pop.

Dove’s Definition of Beauty Exposed

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By Guest Blogger Kylie VanBuren

 

urlWhen the Dove Real Beauty Sketches Campaign came out last year, I watched the video and cried. I’ll admit that it was a rainy night, and it had been a long week.

I forwarded the video to a friend after I watched it, with this note, “It’s nothing complicated, pretty much what you would expect, but maybe it’s expected because it is this simple. Anyways I found it powerful.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=litXW91UauE

The video touched me, yet even in this emotional state, I found the ending to be very obvious. I expected the women to say bad things about themselves, and I expected them to have their opinions changed and to realize that they were actually beautiful after all.

The next day the conversation came up with another friend who had just seen the video, and I mentioned that I guessed the theme of the video. She pointed out that it was a little weird that I could figure it out so easily, and her comment got me thinking.

I began to question why the theme was so clear to me. And why did it affect me so much to see other women tear themselves down so easily, realize they were beautiful all along, and that they had work to do on their self-esteem. This is the question I come back to again. What is Dove doing and why does the company continually want us to realize our outer beauty? Who defines beauty? I mean, instead of just being happy with ourselves (something I still think is really important). Shouldn’t we also be questioning the whole beauty industrial complex, of which Dove is a part, and how they make us feel bad if we don’t feel good about how we look?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bRXe7KUQxYI

I think so.  I found myself thinking about the Dove campaign more thoroughly, reading critiques of it, and watching this spoof video, and I realized that Dove is still pushing the idea of physical, outer beauty above all else. They are selling Dove; associating being happy with your body and finding your own, “natural” beauty, with the products they are selling.

This is bad enough, but do you know that Dove’s parent company is Unilever? What other beauty product company does Unilever own? AXE. AXE is marketed in clearly sexist ways that degrade and objectify women. AXE sells women to men. Dove sells beauty to women.

Axe The Dirtier You Get

Axe Any Excuse to Get Dirty ad

What kind of beauty? Physical beauty. The kind of outer beauty that women must be obsessed with and reduced to. It does not matter how many advances we make in the corporate world, or how smart we are, or how powerful we are. We must still achieve the unattainable happiness of our own perfection; and Dove will help get us there because Dove is different. Except that it’s not, it’s just another marketing campaign. It’s just trying to tear us down.

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