From admired Hollywood stars to fashion icons, performers, even the elusive and alluring women populating classic and modern art, there is no shortage of images of beautiful women that populate our social consciousness. Go to any online gallery and browse the collection, and you’ll find that incredibly gorgeous women are constantly adored throughout history. But in a society where beauty is only skin deep, what do we really get out of being beautiful? And what image of beauty do we want to participate in?
My friend was telling me a story of when she sat with her five-year-old daughter who was playing with dolls. The daughter seemed to think that the pretty things should only be worn by the pretty girls, and the ugly dolls shouldn’t wear nice things. Although this moment lead to a nice long conversation about beauty being a characteristic of who a person is, and not just what they look like, we can’t help but wonder how a five-year-old girl – who doesn’t look at magazines propagating harmful stereotypes or watch any TV programs that aren’t animated – could possibly arrive at this type of understanding of beauty.
Changing the Conversation
Of course these dolls portray very unhealthy body images to young girls, the problem wasn’t really the doll: it was the way that we talk about beauty in general. I realised that almost any time a person calls someone else beautiful, it’s usually praising some outward characteristic. This is the daily conversation that we enter into with ourselves and with each other that continues a concept of beauty that we cannot escape. Every time we talk about our physical appearance in such dualistic terms we are passing it on to the next generation to continue the cycle. The only way to change this social construct of beauty is to change the conversation.
What do We Want Beauty to Be?
One thing that always bothered me is how strong a hold this concept of beauty has on us. For example, consider the legacy of Audrey Hepburn. Audrey was a proficient ballet dancer, a model, an excellent actress, a wonderful singer, a fashion icon, and an admirable humanitarian and philanthropist, among other things. What is Audrey most remember for? For being beautiful. Audrey was no doubt a beautiful person, inside and out, but she is mostly remembered as a pretty face.
What do we want our legacy to be? What will we choose to focus on and speak about? Are we going to allow the conversation of beauty to continue to be about bone structure, or are we going to change it into something a little more permanent and promising?