Love & Beauty

I started this post ages ago and then left it for awhile because I didn’t know where I was going with it. After yesterday’s blog, I think I’ve figured it out. So first, what I wrote then:

On Black Friday I braved the malls for an hour or so with a friend of mine, mostly because we wanted to see what the fuss was all about (in the parking lot on the way out we decided that we never needed to do this again… people go CRAZY on Black Friday!) On this shopping trip I bought some nail polish in the chaos and then promptly forgot about it, until it turned up under my bed today and I decided to use it to paint my nails.As I was staring at the bottle while my nails dried (not much you can do with wet fingernails!) I started to think about the name of the polish… Love & Beauty. In fact, Forever 21’s whole makeup line is called Love & Beauty which got me to thinking about the connection that we CONSTANTLY make as a society between, you guessed it, love and beauty.

Last time I posted, I wrote about forgetting beauty norms and embracing the idea of being ugly because, why should we care anyway? Wouldn’t we all be much happier if we were free to present ourselves in whatever way we liked best, rather than following beauty conventions? Today I’d like to acknowledge the hurdles & limitations that stand in the way of doing just that; the ways in which society enforces our obsession with beauty. Then I’d like to analyze these “incentives” for being beautiful and explain why it is all just silly, anyways.

Relationships are often the biggest pressure-point when it comes to being beautiful. After all how will we ever attract someone to love us if we’re not “pretty.” I don’t know… lets take a look.

Just a bit of digging on google quickly uncovers something impressive. Based on psychological studies the idea that most people have (I have to be attractive in order to attract someone to love me) is not necessarily accurate. Rather, love seems to follow the age-old adage: love is blind. Sure some psychologists claim to have discovered the “golden ratios” for facial beauty but there are just as many studies out there that show people who are in love tend to see their partner as attractive regardless of what the societal standard may be! Inner awesomeness seems to radiate outwards and create positive associations, regardless of appearance.

For instance:

” In one study, 70% of college students deemed an instructor physically attractive when he acted in a friendly manner, while only 30% found him attractive when he was cold and distant. Indeed, when surveyed for attributes in selecting a mate, both males and females felt kindness and an exciting personality were more important in a mate than good looks. Thus, to a certain degree, beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.”

At the end of the day its important to keep in mind that looks will fade one day. You shouldn’t choose a partner or seek to attract a partner based solely on the way you look – because that is not the way to fulfilling relationships. Peoples bodies change and grow all of the time; in order for you to accept those changes, your partner (if you choose to have one) should not only be accepting, but be supporting of the natural changes your body goes through. I’d rather have relationships (romantic or otherwise) with people who like me for who I am rather than what I look like any day – wouldn’t you?

This is where the nail-polish and consumerism in general comes in; I find it striking how the company choose to link love & beauty together like this. I mean, the beauty part makes sense since nail polish is a “beauty” product… but love? This is a very blatant example of how companies like to capitalize on our human longing to be loved in order to sell a product; in this case the product is makeup, but more generally the “product” being sold is always a particular look that someone has deemed beautiful. Our magazines, television, movies, clothing stores, makeup stores, even grocery stores (diet foods!) all use the “beauty incentive” to sell us products to some degree.

In this way beauty is incredibly dis-empowering. Companies create a beauty ideal and instill a wide-spread societal desire to meet that ideal; those same companies sell products that promise to get us closer to the ideal; companies make sure that the ideal remains constantly unreachable (for instance, look at how much models keep slimming down… always skinnier than is achievable by the average person) so that we “have to” buy more products in an attempt to reach it. Lather. rinse. repeat.

Buying into the beauty ideal means, literally, buying a ton of stuff that you don’t need in the hopes of eventually feeling beautiful.

How much easier would it be to just say forget it? Just embrace the way you look and stop trying to change yourself into anything. If we don’t tie any of our self-worth into beauty, then it can’t have any power over us… can it? We can just be happy and feel confident based on qualities that really matter like intelligence or strength or compassion.

At least we could if it weren’t for those pesky studies. You know the ones I’m talking about, they come out every year or so to confirm what we already know: pretty people are successful. Moreso than those of us who don’t meet the ideal, and it sucks.

Beyond romance, beautiful people seem to have a leg up in the professional world. Yes it is true, “research shows attractive people […] have more occupational success and more dating experience than their unattractive counterparts.” At least, some psychological studies have shown that they do. However, the reasons behind this success are not necessarily what you’d expect…

“An alternative explanation for attractive people achieving more in life is that we automatically categorize others before having an opportunity to evaluate their personalities, based on cultural stereotypes which say attractive people must be intrinsically good, and ugly people must be inherently bad. But Elliot Aronson, a social psychologist at Stanford University, believes self-fulfilling prophecies – in which a person’t confident self-perception, further perpetuated by healthy feedback from others – may play a role in success as well. Aronson suggests, based on the self-fulfilling prophecy that people who feel they are attractive – though not necessarily rated as such – are just as successful as their counterparts who are judged to be good-looking.”

True, being beautiful is a societal advantage; if you’re pretty people tend to assume that you’re good… I think to some degree we knew that already. However, what I think we tend to lose sight of, is the fact that confidence can get you just as far (if not farther) no matter how you look.

So, let’s get doen to it and really embrace our “ugliness”. I don’t mean making yourself look as hideous as possible (that would make me just as much a hypocrite as the beauty companies!), or feeling bad if you’re pretty… no. What I mean by “embracing ugly” is simply this: accepting yourself as you are and questioning the tyrannical hold that beauty seems to have in our lives; focusing on the awesome qualities that you posses and control like your charm, or your sense of humor, or your intelligence because these are the qualities that are going to make you feel confident.

Then, take that confidence and take on the world. Never let yourself feel “too unattractive” or “too fat” or “too anything” to go out for that job interview, or to seek the promotion, or to go ask that charming person out on a date… show the beauty industry that would like to see us all insecure buying machines who is boss by embracing your inner ugly and turning the focus to being the awesome person you know you can be!

[All quotes from The Journal of Young Investigators!]

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