Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Skin Deep

Lately I've been thinking a lot about societal standards of beauty and how they are really transient and, well...odd. We in the modern age like to think that we have cornered the market on superficial obsession with beauty, but, while the ideal figure has changed, the lengths that women will go to in order to achieve it have not. From constricting, deforming corsets, lead-based eye-liner, and foot-binding to high heels, anorexia and plastic surgery, women have spent centuries torturing themselves to conform these fabricated standards of beauty. Why? I would, like a good feminist, like to be able to lay all of the blame on the broad shoulders of that other gender, but I think that simplifies the issue to an insulting degree, for both men and women. Men, for the most part, have always found certain things attractive, and generally speaking, those things do not include emaciated, stick-thin bodies that would be more at home on an 11 year old boy. And, even if there does exist a certain (Neanderthalish) segment of the male population who do enjoy those things, well, that still doesn't explain why women world-wide feel the need to conform to that stereotype. Why do healthy, beautiful women starve and berate themselves if they are not a size 2? Why do women zealously rearrange their bodies and facial features surgically to obtain an ephemeral concept of physical perfection? What is it about the human experience that pushes us to strive in such unhealthy ways toward an unattainable, completely fabricated construct?
Thinking about this has led me to question why I want to lose weight so much. Is it, in some part, to better fit the societal ideal of attractiveness? As much as I would like to say that my reasons are solely healthy and not at all superficial, the truth is that most of my motivation is feeling (and looking) prettier. You would think that it should have more to do with lowering my cholesterol or building muscle and being strong and active, right? So, my question here is two-fold: does the motive matter as much as the result? and why do these issues of health seem so often to take a back seat to beauty?


Kristen said...

For the record: I have no idea why that one line is highlighted.

Marie said...

I don't think I'm eating 2 slim fast's a day and working out at least once to get healthier, and that's sad. I will say though, that I'm doing it because I don't like how I look, and I know that my husband cares, but not enough that he treats me any differently because I'm heavier. I will say that I think women are mostly to blame for what we do to ourselves. We can't be happy with ourselves as long as there's someone skinnier and prettier out there. I think a lot of women have very deep-seeded insecurities and it makes them ultra-competitive to the point that you have to be skinnier than everyone else. I may be way off, but I don't really blame men too much for where society is. They generally like curvy women and not, as you said, boyish-looking bodied girls. It's the women who can't be satisfied with how they are - when they're healthy. Gosh, I couldn't be fine how I am, could I?!?!? I feel that I have a really good point, I'm just not able to make it - perhaps 'cause I'm so tired right now. :)

Rachel said...

Great post! I KNOW for me my motive for losing weight has been 90% to feel better and 10% to be healthier. Of course I have enjoyed the benefits of becoming healthier. But I revel in the benefits of feeling and looking prettier, especially as I'm single again and back in the dating market.

Part of the natural man is that they are visual creatures. I believe a part of the natural woman is the need to be attractive to those visual creatures. It's part of our DNA, structure, makeup, spiritual womanhood, whatever. There are those at both ends of the extreme, though. Those who torture themselves to conform to some twisted belief and those who refuse to embrace the beauty of their femininity.

So, just as emotionally healthy men shouldn't be berated for their natural make up as visual creatures, women shouldn't berate themselves for their need to be attractive to those visual creatures... as long as they do so in a healthy, happy way. At least that's what I think!

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