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some thoughts about appearance

The Beauty Myth via eve_l_incarnata: There's a lot of good stuff in this article, but I also have problems with various points.
The wishful notion that with enough time, money, effort and will-power any woman can and should attempt to look like an extremely tall, young, slender-yet-bosomy, Nordic blonde model of a certain facial bone structure more-or-less summarizes the prevailing beauty myth.
No, there's more to it than that. The beauty myth also says that a woman's personality can be determined by looking at her. And it says that no matter how a woman looks, she isn't to be taken seriously. Beautiful women are bubble brains, and ugly women are offensive non-entities.
A self-confident teen is a rarity in the U.S. Millions of young women suffer from chronic, health-threatening eating disorders. Some try to play the dangerous, often deadly game of becoming thin enough. Others opt out by stuffing their negative feelings with excessive, unhealthy food or deliberately making themselves less attractive. Some try to become invisible or even mutilate themselves in reaction to the idealized mold. No girl remains unaffected. 
There's some truth to this - there are a lot of teens with eating disorders. But somehow this paragraph implies that any young woman who is thin, or who is eating a lot today, or who is wearing loose-fitting clothes, or who isn't standing on the table with a lampshade on her head, or who has a tattoo or piercing is doing this because she lacks self-confidence. It's just another manifestation of "I can tell what's wrong with you just by looking at you - and no matter how you look, I'll find something wrong with you."
Girls with DNA not programmed to fit most of the highly improbable physical characteristics of the beauty myth just give up, often in depression. Even those who come closest to attaining the current "look" tend to magnify or imagine minor "flaws" and are often the least self-satisfied of all.
OK, so we've determined the beauty ideal is ridiculous, and now we're criticizing girls who give up on it? Actually, I agree with the suggestion that many women who come close to fitting the ideal tend to be more unhappy with their appearance than women who never came close to fitting it. If you know you'll never be a tall and willowy, you can get on with other things in your life.

(The rest of the article deals with the healing joys of social nudity in a rather simplistic way and can safely be skipped.)

Comments

( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
sinboy
Aug. 28th, 2003 05:45 pm (UTC)
It's a shame the article didn't get into who was the most self satisfied, and why.
firecat
Aug. 28th, 2003 06:25 pm (UTC)
Yeah. Who do you think is the most self satisfied?
sinboy
Aug. 28th, 2003 06:57 pm (UTC)
I'm inclined to say those with parents who support them and help them figure this stuff out.

On reflection, though, that's something I don't know much about. I can only supply annecdotal evidence from parents I've seen with well adjusted kids.
firecat
Aug. 29th, 2003 07:45 am (UTC)
Me neither.
femmediva
Aug. 28th, 2003 06:19 pm (UTC)
No, there's more to it than that. The beauty myth also says that a woman's personality can be determined by looking at her. And it says that no matter how a woman looks, she isn't to be taken seriously. Beautiful women are bubble brains, and ugly women are offensive non-entities.

....Very true. Also, beautiful women must usually be "bitchy", and ugly women are generally "nice".

There's some truth to this - there are a lot of teens with eating disorders. But somehow this paragraph implies that any young woman who is thin, or who is eating a lot today, or who is wearing loose-fitting clothes, or who isn't standing on the table with a lampshade on her head, or who has a tattoo or piercing is doing this because she lacks self-confidence. It's just another manifestation of "I can tell what's wrong with you just by looking at you - and no matter how you look, I'll find something wrong with you."

Great point. If we aren't buying into the beauty myth, then everything that we are doing, what we are eating, or how we are presenting ourselves is some kind of reaction to it.
Sometimes I go eat a large amount of something unhealthy because it's what I want. Some of the ways I might feel after doing so can certainly be beauty-myth related, but it isn't what "drove me to it" in the first place. I'm speaking as someone who doesn't suffer from bulimia, I realize others' experiences may be different than my own.

Same with body modification/hair coloring/whatnot: of course some girls might be lacking in self-confidence and trying to fit in, but this isn't necessarily the driving force behind it. A girl might just feel like dressing as she does, getting a tattoo, etc- because she wants to.

Actually, I agree with the suggestion that many women who come close to fitting the ideal tend to be more unhappy with their appearance than women who never came close to fitting it.

I can relate to this personally, not having ever been tal/willowy, but in my teens I did resort to extremely unhealthy and unnatural ways to lose weight and change the appearance of my body. (most definitely beauty myth induced at the time)
At one point I was 115 pounds at 5'5" with a fair amount of that being muscle. I also lived on diet pills, Metamucil, coffee, Hostess, and Lean Cuisine.
Gave up two hours each night for workouts.

So much for nutrition for the growing body, right?
Obviously, that weight is not natural for me to begin with, or I wouldn't have had to do what I did to get there. I'm not there now, by a long shot.

At no time was I ever satisfied with the way that I looked. I do not remember loving myself any more, and I certainly do remember picking myself apart.


**************************
I did skim the rest of the article on the social nudity. I find it to be true somewhat, but not completely. I do like to see "real" women's bodies outside of media images, that has been affirming for me. I don't think sexist/looksist/etc. conditioning is always magically left at the door in public nude space though.


firecat
Aug. 28th, 2003 06:30 pm (UTC)
When I was a teen, although now I feel like I was only a few pounds heavier than average, at the time I thought I was monstrously large, and therefore I knew that it wouldn't matter to anyone looking at me whether the skin on my knees was wrinkly - which was the kind of thing that the beauty column in Seventeen magazine discussed. I remembered thinking "Wow, I can't even imagine looking so good that I would think it worth worrying about the skin on my knees." It's more or less what I think now, too.
dawnd
Aug. 28th, 2003 08:12 pm (UTC)
I don't think sexist/looksist/etc. conditioning is always magically left at the door in public nude space though.

No, it certainly does not. Last month I was up at Harbin (clothing extremely optional retreat), and there was a family there with a teenage girl. At one point, I heard her saying she didn't want to go up to the pools, because they were also clothing optional. I thought that she might just be concerned about HER body (many teens are), and suggested that she could wear a suit, but that she'd probably stand out even MORE, since MOST people up at the main pools were not wearing suits. She then went on to explain to the rest of her party that it wasn't a concern about HER body being covered. No, she was squicked by all those people up there "who shouldn't be naked," and went on to enumerate that old people, fat people, and ugly people should know not to be naked in front of others.

And this was a girl from an otherwise ENLIGHTENED family.

I was appalled. I was especially appalled that none of her family saw fit to do any educating on the subject.
(Deleted comment)
firecat
Aug. 29th, 2003 07:50 am (UTC)
If I fought with an eagle and lived, I'd want other people to see the scars! *grin*

Then again, I think stretch marks look like tiger stripes in general, and if the skin weren't so delicate on them, I'd have mine tattooed.
firecat
Aug. 29th, 2003 07:47 am (UTC)
I suppose it might just have been another way of saying "As a teen, I don't want to hang out with old people," but it's certainly telling how she chose to express that.
(Anonymous)
Aug. 29th, 2003 01:41 am (UTC)

That article about nudism, that purported to be about
"The Beauty Myth," that was written by a white woman
between 30 and 60, right? Claiming to speak for
everyone, or at least for all women.

When I was at Cornell about 15 years ago, there was
an awful lot of de facto racial segregation. I'm
not saying this was a good thing...just sociologically
interesting (from a purely amateur perspective.)
Maybe white women don't have the kind of casual
naked conversations that men do (though it's my
impression that younger white women are likely to have
very different comfort zones.) But black women, especially urban black women, seemed a lot more
comfortable hanging out naked and chatting in the
locker rooms. Rather than carefully pretending to
be alone in the room.

I challenge the idea that being comfortable with
nudity has anything to do with beauty myths, or
comfort with body image. I think sexual freedom
and orientation are much more relevant, for most
people. Especially for women, considering that
the critical features for beauty are height,
slenderness, curves, and facial beauty...features
that are quite obvious in a swimsuit. It's different
for men, whose external organs are rather more
concealed by swimsuits.

But nudity can carry a sexual charge. If people
are in a group they feel is safely free of sexual
pressure or innuendo (a same-sex group where
local customs do not include any kind of homosexual
behavior, or a family group, for instance) then it's
not a problem. Or, in other cultural contexts, a
group can be so sexually free and open that a sexual
charge doesn't imply a danger. People feel free to
make invitations, and accept or decline them in
peace and safety...but that only works if *everyone*
in the group feels comparably safe.

I've been in locker rooms where everyone politely
ignored each other altogether. I've been in locker
rooms and seen naked women chatting casually. When
I asked one of the women about the difference, she
said it was because they felt safe knowing there
weren't any strangers or lesbians around. (Small
sample bias, obviously. Anecdotal.) I've also
been to women's SM parties, with other naked
women around...a fair number of them lesbians.
Chatting casually and comfortably. The sexual
charge wasn't a problem, because everyone knew that
"No thanks, I don't want to play" would be respected.
firecat
Aug. 29th, 2003 08:03 am (UTC)
It sounded to me like the article was written by a man, but I don't know.

As a young white female on the East Coast in the 80s, I never had casual naked conversations in locker rooms. Hm, well, that's not entirely true, but the conversations always took place while dressing, we never stopped dressing to chat. However, once I discovered communal hot-tubbing, naked conversations did take place there. The space was set up as socially acceptable naked space.

Also, at the fat-accepting gym I went to (which has sadly died), some of us did have casual naked conversations in the locker room. This was in California in the 90s.

I agree that comfort with nudity and comfort with body aren't related to quite the extent that the author claims. But I do know from anecdotal personal evidence (me and some friends of mine) that women who almost never see other women naked do sometimes experience increased self-acceptance when they go to a place (such as a communal hot-tub) where they can do so.

I agree with your comments about the sexual charge.

(I like how you think and write! Do you want a code so you don't have to be anonymous? No pressure of course.)
pir_anha
Aug. 29th, 2003 04:52 am (UTC)
Re: some thoughts about appearance
the healing joys of social nudity

*chuckle*.

one thing is for sure; i am very glad i didn't grow up over here. i'd have gotten even more screwed up than i already was. at least the whole beauty and size thing never made it into my consciousness until i was able to reject much of the crap dumped on me by society at large.

the article sounds like it's going for exaggeration as effect. *rolls eyes a little*. "No girl remains unaffected." -- i know some. now, if only they were courageous enough to cast off their clothes!
firecat
Aug. 29th, 2003 08:13 am (UTC)
Re: some thoughts about appearance
Oddly enough, I think the whole beauty and size thing being thrust at me as a child helped me reject much of the crap dumped on me by society at large. I had such a distorted body image and felt I was so far removed from how I was "supposed" to look that I felt more or less un-human at times. Well, if I was already un-human, then all that other stuff humans had to do to fit in didn't apply to me, right? At least that's how it went for me, on a more or less subconscious level.

Now I'm going to go post a picture of what I looked like at age 15, so you can see how normal I looked (and therefore calibrate how distorted my body image was).
pir_anha
Aug. 29th, 2003 08:51 am (UTC)
Re: some thoughts about appearance
Well, if I was already un-human, then all that other stuff humans had to do to fit in didn't apply to me, right?

oh yeah. i seeble that tremendously. my own stuff about body image isn't due to size, it's due to feeling i am in the damn wrong body altogether, and that overall i am just thoroughly not-human. and in the end that has been freeing, yup, and i now feel better about living in this body than i did as a teenager, though it's falling apart, *heh*.
firecat
Aug. 29th, 2003 09:10 am (UTC)
Re: some thoughts about appearance
and i now feel better about living in this body than i did as a teenager, though it's falling apart

Right.

At the last Fat Fest (fat women's con) I went to, there was a workshop on writing about one's body. One exercise was to write about what one liked about one's body. Everybody wrote about how they liked how this or that part looked. I wrote about how this and that part worked well, and I didn't get why the others were entirely focused on looks. I don't see my body very often, so why should I care how it looks? (Except to fit in.)
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )

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