Is Beauty Necessary?
Beauty is usually associated with women like money and intelligence are associated with men. Every gender is expected to use their asset to make it in life. Is it sexist? Absolutely. Is it the message society constantly tries to send? Sadly, yes. So why can't we move on from the old stereotype of the pretty dumb woman?
Beauty transformations : A growing market
The market of beauty products is constantly expanding and innovating, now representing $170 Billion a year. France is the leader of the market, and the western world altogether spends more on cosmetics, though Asia is catching up. More extreme plastic surgeries are also expanding to Asia (one in 77 people in South Korea had a cosmetic procedure in 2011), while it remains a vast market in western cultures (the US has the most plastic surgeons). In 2011, 15 million people had plastic surgery around the world. It raises interrogations on why women nowadays are ready to go to such extents to match modern beauty standards (with popular procedures such as breast implants and botox injections).
The new stereotype
This issue typically touches impressionable teenagers raised in a world where beauty is omnipresent. Each magazine picture and TV commercial perpetuates a cliché of the "perfect woman". Cultural beauty disappears as countries such as Japan or South Korea adhere to European and American codes who are themselves inspired from different cultural stereotypes. As Tina Fey stated in her humorous book Bossypants : "Now every girl is expected to have Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin [...] and doll tits. The person closest to actually achieving this look is Kim Kardashian, who, as we know, was made by Russian scientists to sabotage our athletes."
Kim Kardashian, the new ideal?
Grown-ups will think there is no room for imperfection in a woman and will find it unreasonable, but less experienced and mature teenagers will want to get as close as possible to this "ideal". This phenomenon led to many excesses, such as the pro-ana movement in 2000 (promoting anorexia), a large growth of the number of plastic surgery on young women (219,000 cosmetic plastic surgery procedures were performed on people of age 13 to 19 in 2010), and the latest trend : the search for the "thigh gap". Teenagers share their tips on how to lose a lot of weight almost immediately on social websites, encouraging each other to skip meals, exclude entire categories of aliments and starve themselves to look like Victoria's Secrets models.
Dove "real beauty" campaign
Medias and brands' pressure on women
The pressure is crushing for many young girls, with commercials like the recent dove "real beauty" campaign. The message they originally intended to relay is that every woman is prettier than she assumes. In the short film, self-descriptions are compared to descriptions made by strangers to reveal a less harsh vision of various women's looks. But in the end, the message is disturbing : what we remember is that women need to be beautiful to be valuable. Why should we expect beauty from a woman and intelligence from a man? Are women aware of the sexism they themselves encourage by being so preoccupied about their appearance?
Dove "real beauty" campaign's models
Health vs. Beauty
But what about "fat"? Those messages sent might lead us to think that being overweight is acceptable. Our society seems to focus more on beauty than health, mostly because, as we said, it is expected from women, at any cost. But is it their only role in society? Women don't really have the choice to use their assets as tools or to not use them at all because the social stress of being watched and judged make them fear the look of other people if they don't embrace their femininity.
Society is sending contradictory signals
The pressure to be perfect is at the same time increased and reduced by that kind of campaign. Shows like the British "How to Look Good Naked” adapted in France recently ("belle toute nue"), allow us to feel good about having curves and not a "flawless" body. It makes the statement that it is beautiful to not be skinny while it also creates new beauty standards that actually remind us of older norms of women looking healthy and well-fed. Is curvy the new (old) sexy?
How to look good naked
Finding a new role in society and the family
Would I have a different point of view if I were what society considers as an "ugly" woman? Beauty clearly is an issue for women, it's their first concern when it comes to finding a husband (or a boyfriend) while men think they can rely on the money they own as a guarantee. But what about intelligent women? Even though more and more women are CEOs or have high-ranking jobs, men still have the lead and intelligence isn't always a criterion when they are dating women. It makes women wonder what we need to show to make it in life. There seems to be no clear role for women in society anymore, when it comes to both work and family matters. It makes them wonder – it makes me wonder -, who we are supposed to be?