“I’ve never seen magazine covers and music videos and been like, I need to look like that if I want to be a success. Never,” Adele said Sunday in response to her Vogue cover. “I don’t want to be some Skinny Minnie… I don’t want people confusing what it is I’m about.”
Wish we could all be like Adele. It’s hard to go through any grocery aisle and not be influenced by the beauty trends and what society says is the new “it” look (even if it’s fatal). From makeup and high-heels to corsets and now Photoshop, we’ve come up with new, crazy and dangerous ways to be beautiful or at least perceived as beautiful. But why do we go through these measures? Why do publishers use Photoshop to the extreme such as in the Ralph Lauren campaign ad or in the case of the shopped Vogue cover of Adele? What is in it for those publishers and for society and ourselves?
1. It’s habit.
Even during the ancient times, people have been coming up with new ways to alter their appearances. From an ancient Egyptian tomb, the first pair of stilettos was discovered as a way to convey status as well as for ceremonial purposes. High-heels didn’t start becoming fashion accessories until the 16th century when Catherine De Medici used them to “dazzle the French nation and compensate for her perceived lack of aesthetic appeal, she donned high heels two inches high that gave her a more towering physique and an alluring sway when she walked.”
Also during this time, corsets were raging throughout Europe. Corsets are one of the most interesting and frightening aspects of fashion. While it dates way back to medieval times, most know of the corset from the Victorian era and maybe if you’ve seen Gone With the Wind you may remember Scarlet O’Hara and her 18-inch waist. During the Victorian era, children were subjected to these tight fitting corsets to train them for a life in a corseted cage. Mothers and servants would have to tight lace the corsets by placing their foot on the other woman’s (or child’s) back and pull the laces as tight as possible to achieve a “wasp” waist. If you have never seen an example of this count yourself lucky. It is a scary sight what we do for beauty.
2. It’s biology
Somehow we’ve been ingrained with the need to be beautiful whether it is due to a societal or biological need to be attractive is still up for debate. It’s why male peacocks flaunt their tail feathers and human females feel they need to flaunt themselves. This isn’t a new concept; we’ve been doing this since we were even aware of attraction and what makes someone attractive. Ever hear of the Red Queen hypothesis? It states that continual development is required of a species in order for that species’ to maintain its fitness relative to its environment.
If taken in terms of our daily beauty regimens, as a species have had to come up with new ways to improve our fitness (ability and success at reproducing) by improving our methods of attracting a future mate. These extraordinary means included dangerous practices like corsetry. Corsetry “crafted the flesh into class-appropriate contours. That is, corsetry operated to hide any ‘coarse’ abdominal bulges from view, while it smoothed the hips and created the small, circular (rather than oval shaped) waistline that supposedly denoted good breeding.”
So, corsets denoted a good partner with traits that a potential mate would want passed on to his future children. But does corsetry really help the wearer attract a qualified mate and successfully reproduce? Many studies have been conducted falsifying that claim and instead showing how corsets actually decreased a woman’s fertility through the crushing and disfiguring of her internal organs. But that is for another post.
This trend of disfiguring ourselves for beauty isn’t stopping any time soon. It continues today as women dye their hair, use pounds of makeup to get that healthy “glow” and spend hours tanning for that sun kiss look (even if it kills them in the process or worse creates a snooki lookalike).
3. Its a lucrative business
Each year hair care, cosmetics, tanning and weight loss companies make millions and billions on the fact that we all succumb to that need and pressure to be “beautiful.” Last year, hair and nail salons reported revenues of $41 billion while the cosmetics industry earned $13 billion in revenue and tanning salons reported $5 billion in profits! Dying your hair or tanning is routine in our quest for beauty but if we look at these practices a bit closer they seem almost grotesque. Take tanning for example. Tanning means that your skin is damaged from UV rays and the melanin (the pigment in our skin which is basically our own natural sunblock) is pushed to the top layer of our skin which gives our skin that healthy orange glow.
Look at hair dyes. Have you ever read the chemicals you are putting on your scalp? Dying your hair could lead to your death. Literally. Studies have been done which link certain chemicals in hair dyes to cancer (check out the American Cancer Society). Basically we are paying to be drop dead gorgeous or just to drop dead.
4. It’s a competition
Not only are these companies competing against each other but so are we. Every time we look at someone either in magazines or in the grocery aisle we are sizing them up. Don’t lie. Everyone does this. Whether you’re at the gym or the mall you look to your left; you look to your right and size up the person next to you. We all do this to verify our own bodies and to validate ourselves versus the “other.” Just looking at a magazine with the latest celebrity diet being flaunted by a “skinny Minnie” just starts the race. We evaluate ourselves and compete to be better. We look to these images (and even if you don’t subscribe to them they still have an influence on you) for social guidance and unfortunately we don’t have much to choose from.
What is difficult is that even if one person tries to make a difference, it’s not enough. No one person can make the difference and thus no one person ever tries. We all engage in the same fatalistic race against ugly that is only judged by subjective corporations looking to make a dollar and make our lives miserable.
5. It’s an issue
This isn’t going away. It’s affected thousands if not millions of little girls, boys and adults of all ages who have been diagnosed with any number of eating disorders, self-esteem issues or other psychological maladies.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 10 million females and 1 million males are currently fighting an eating disorder. In 2003, a literature review discovered that 40 percent of newly identified cases of anorexia are in girls 15-19 years old and that research toward finding solutions to these illnesses only receives $7 million from the National Institute of Health. Another scary statistic is that 42 percent of girls in first-third grade want to be thinner! These are children just starting their lvies and they are already miserable.
Most fashion models that plague every magazine cover and television ad are 98 percent thinner than American women! We are putting the 2 percent on 100 percent of our magazine covers to influence girls and boys of any and all ages to engage in dangerous behaviors all for the sake of beauty.
This trend will not stop unless we make changes. Slowly, there are more curvy female role models (Queen Latifah and of course Adele to name two) are emerging to battle against the prevalent, dangerous and fatal image of beauty. Even though one person alone isn’t making a difference, joining in with the thousands and millions of others waging this war against dangerous beauty makes all the difference.
Just remember that we are human. We are different. We are beautiful. Short, tall, thin, thick, smart, athletic, academic, or in between, no boundaries should limit you, no name can define you and no one but yourself can judge your beauty.
Help make a difference and tell your story through comments, emails or tweets! Let me know your opinion and stance on this ongoing issue.