How and Why Beauty Shapes Our World
Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairiest of them all?
90-60-90 was the ultimate body ideal by the end of the 20th century and we, as many other fashion and beauty trends, used it as an iconic image. No matter if you try on a low-waist skinny jeans or a red carpet gown, you cannot help but think how your favorite actress, who, of course, has turned in time into your fitness and fashion guru, would have looked in it. Yet the world around us is not a black-tie event, neither a commercial, where an entire beauty squad and a professional team of photographers make sure you look flawless, but rather a world that you cannot get picture perfect with that frizzy hair.
The society we live in, or, dare I say, posts in via Instagram and Facebook, creates a whole new world of opportunities for those who seek attention, fame or publicity and, sometimes, puts the rest of the (non popular) world in a corner of shame for not being like them. For the majority of the population, body ideals have been unrealistic since the end of the Italian Renaissance, when the ideal woman has been a fleshy belly, big thighs and chubby cheeks. However, history followed its course and these beauty trends were abandoned in favor of organ constricting corsets that made movement so difficult, but might have been worth the hourglass shape.
Nowadays, Hollywood stars pay a large amount of money for Personal Trainers, anti-aging creams or plastic surgeries, as one of the latest body ideal is D-cup breasts, tiny waists, sculpted abs, big bottoms and thigh gaps-all in one! Even though it may be suspicious for women who aren’t born with natural curves, they will still try to fit in, pay Personal Trainers or go for surgery. But, as the society is usually divided in two categories, we have on one side the idealistic voluptuous body, while on the other one are top models with their natural beauty glow, ultra thin look, characterized by pale skin, protruding hip-bones and jaw line.
If you’ve ever glanced at a magazine or tuned on the TV, you have got a good idea of what media’s definition of an attractive woman is, and this image is so constant in our lives that we, subconsciously, start comparing ourselves to it. When we only see a certain type of beauty positively presented in media, from teen movies to family sitcoms, it is no wonder why us, women, often have an incredibly low self-esteem and focus on appearance. Not to mention that we all know good looking girls who quit school and marry well, living now a good life, probably sipping Martinis on a yacht in the Caribbean. Sometimes, we see a direct link between success and beauty (that is, of course, depending on how we define the idea of being successful), but fail to see how beauty trends affect our eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia or obesity. Furthermore, there is a „beauty paradox”, meaning that if you care too much about your image, you might be categorized as shallow, but if you do not, people will think that you neglect yourself.
The „bias of beauty”, the idea that physically attractive individuals are rewarded socially, economically and biologically, have been the starting point for many experiments and conflicts, yet the statistics say that attractive children are more popular, both with classmates
and teachers, attractive applicants have a better chance at a job interview and good-looking people are found guilty less often in the court of law, but when found, they receive less severe sentences. If you still wonder why that is so, just remember how in all the fairytales you’ve heard, the good princess is always beautiful, but the wicked stepmother is always ugly, proving us, once again, that we believe in „what is beautiful is good” stereotype.
Make-up companies and international fashion brands dictate how and what to wear, picturing our world in a, more or less, fashion runway, where women look flawless. Every year we watch influential shows like Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show and we cannot help but think how the models look the way they do and if it is possible for another girl to look like them. The bilateral relations in this world are based on appearance and essence, meaning that not everything we see is, in fact, the truth. And, as a super model once said „you cannot look like the girl in the magazine; the girl herself in the magazine does not even look like the girl in the magazine”.
Consequently, the inevitable question arises: is the beauty really in the eye of the beholder? The quest for beauty may be a centuries-old obsession, but in the present day the reality is different than we would have thought just a while back. Beauty has more influence than ever nowadays – not just over whom we work with, if we work at all, of course. Recent studies done by Deborah Rhode, the author of the „Beauty bias”, shows that handsome men earn more with 5% than average looking guys, and beautiful women earn more with 4% than the others. As a culture consumed by image, we let our insecurities take over, forgetting what we were taught in childhood that appearance may be deceiving.
As the plastic surgeries trend is raising exponentially, making people believe that they are not beautiful enough the way they are, we must not forget the true words of wisdom from Leonardo da Vinci „simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication”. And if he, one of the most influential painters and inventors didn’t know about beauty, then who else does in the world? While not everyone possesses model like features or a Jennifer Lopez body, some of us make the most of our assets, the way we feel about our looks depends more on self-esteem and confidence than anything else, and vice-versa.
In conclusion, no matter how hard you try to beat Mother Nature, she will always have the last word, but if you cooperate with her, you might actually benefit from her expertise. While beauty trends can fade and some clothes might not longer be a must-have, self confidence will never go out of style!
Zamfira Parincu is an undergraduate student of the Department of Psychology, the Faculty of Political Science, at the National School of Political Studies and Public Administration (SNSPA) Bucharest
In this wonderful journey of finding our path, we are all experience seekers; we search for skills, for values or even for more earthly ideas, such as comfort, wealth or power. Regardless of our purpose, I think we all hold within our hearts a lot of beauty and humanity. It’s just that sometimes, we get scared and forget our true nature.
The journey of self-discovery is undoubtedly one of the toughest we will ever go through. I don’t believe it ever gets easier or that it ever truly ends. Each generation faces a different challenge and different opportunities; The Lost Generation (1914 coming of age) and the GI Generation (Second World War) fought two wars and saw many of their perspectives shattered, as economic depression and general hopelessness painted a bleak future for them. Baby Boomers faced the harsh realities of post war but they grabbed the opportunity and shaped a new world for them. With their coming of age, they owned most of the wealth of the new world. Generation X (the 80s), and Millennials are living the optimism and the belief that they can still change the world, although economic signals tend to cast some doubt on their future. And finally, generation „edge”, the digitally native generation born after 1990, face the challenges of Global Warming, of increasing populations and of terrorism, among other threats. But there is one thing that all these generations have in common: to the best of their knowledge, they strived to make the world a better place for their children. And that is remarkable. Although progress has been frustratingly slow at times, with segregation, racial discrimination, gender discrimination, minorities’ rights and so forth still not fully resolved, the struggle has created a more safe and inclusive society, in most developed countries, whilst in developing countries, the struggle has been to fix the basic human needs/rights issues.
But one thing has been constant: the fight to improve. That is one thing I would never change about the world around me. Our constant and sometimes irrationally, harmful and innate desire to better ourselves and break barriers. Be it sports, science, community work- It is human nature to become better and better. And there are challenges and people blowing against the wind, but I believe the good outnumber the ones who are still lost. And it’s comforting to see that the struggle is collective, but, more often than none, it is also very personal.
The hardest and most valuable deal you can make is to be at peace with yourself; to know your strengths and aspirations, and to work towards them every day. We get lost a lot of times in the work we do, or the bills that stack up or the crippling realization that our life is far from what we expected when we looked at our future with endless perspectives, during our youth. And there will be many threats to being authentically good, and the temptation to
take the easy road and succumb to servitude is overwhelming. But at the end of the day, when you look in the mirror, and you see what that person standing in front of you has to say, you have one of two choices: love yourself, with all the tough calls you’ve made, be proud of who you are, or the choice to live with yourself, with your choices weighing down on you. It’s always a choice. In the end, we are the sum of our choices.
In the wonderful experience of finding our path, we make choices that define our experience. We choose to sacrifice some parts of ourselves for the ones we love, we choose to give back to society or we chose to turn our back on what made us human. It’s always a tough choice, but the question that will always linger is if the person we are would make our children proud of us. If not, maybe it’s time to reevaluate our choices and make a brave new start. I think this is what I love most about us and would never change. Our annoying capacity to change and make a difference; our humanity. And there will be evil and moments when we don’t want to look in the mirror, and it’s all part of our becoming and growing up. But in the end, I will firmly believe that the good in us will outweigh the bad. And I wouldn’t change that for anything in the world.
Cătălin Bayer graduated from the Faculty of Political Science of The National School for Political Studies and Public Administration and now he is the Brand Manager for Desperados and Affligem, within Heineken Romania. He takes a major interest in wakeboarding, couch surfing and experiencing new and unconventional places.