Most of us grew up hearing the classic fairy tales: Cinderella, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White. While most boys listened and then went off to play with their cars and action figures, the majority of us girls dreamed of being princesses and happily ever afters. Not once did it ever occur to us that Cinderella had eleven toes on her tiny feet; that Rapunzel got hair extensions to make her ladder of lovely locks; that Sleeping Beauty was actually snoozing at a private hospital in Switzerland getting cosmetic surgery to “preserve” her looks until her prince came along. And I never in a million years thought that Snow White, when coming across the Magic Mirror, would ask, “Do I look fat?”
These scenarios sound ridiculous, right? But these are the very things that we as individuals, and as a society, are searing into our children’s maleable, little psyches. Right about now you’re probably saying, “I would never tell my kids something like that”. But take a look at the shows and movies you’re watching while they play nearby. Skim through the magazines you leave laying around for tiny eyes to peruse. Listen to the criticism you heap on yourself when you don’t think they’re listening. And they’re always listening, especially when you think they aren’t. Now, maybe you can see what I mean.
I like to read fashion magazines. Now, I could lie to you and say that I “just read them for the articles”, but I won’t. Truthfully, I read them for the whole package: the clothes, the makeup, the shoes, the current events, advice, health articles; all of it. The one thing I DON’T read them for is to see the skeletal remains of women encased in haute couture that they call “models”. The very act of writing about them gives me shivers. What are they considered “models” of? The feminine form at it’s best? Are you kidding me? These girls look as if they were to stumble on the runway, that they would shatter into a million pieces! And it’s not just “models” in magazines. The celebrities on TV and in movies look like stick figures, too. The mature Oscar winner right down to the young ingénue. Not only that, but younger and younger women are getting cosmetic surgery. Botox, implants; a lift here, a tuck there. When did we decide that looking half starved and in a constant state of surprise was the epitome of beauty?
Up until the early part of the twentieth century, the ideal female form was considered to be shapely, curvacious, soft. Artists like Cezanne, Degas, Klimt, and Renoir are just some examples of those who took up their brushes to proclaim that very idea. Not in any of their paintings would you be able to count a woman’s ribs or think that she had her nose done. What they saw was so beautiful that they felt compelled to immortalize it on canvas.
Now, we immortalize things digitally and photoshop or airbrush away what is considered undesirable. We tell our little girls how pretty they are and then go out and buy them dolls with tons of makeup and minimal clothing and show them what pretty is “supposed” to look like, effectively negating any praise we’ve just given them. Where does it end? When will we decide that it’s better to pass down a healthy respect for ourselves and the way we look, instead of our neuroses about an unachievable, and ultimately damaging, standard set by a silent consensus.
Who is to blame?
Every time one of us looks in a mirror and sees what isn’t there, instead of the amazing things that are, we put another nail in our own glass coffin. Every time we look for approval between the pages of a glossy magazine; every time we envy that celebrity who is starving herself and working out manically just to keep her job; every time we search for self-worth through the eyes of a nation of surgically altered, over-beautified lemmings, we help to dig our own idealized graves. And we teach our girls to do the same.
So what do we do to stop this vicious cycle?
Well, for starters, we need to stop letting the media tell us who we are and what we should look like. Don’t let them tell you that a size 8 is plus size. Don’t let them make you think that since you’re preternaturally thin, you need to have a rack full of C-cups. Don’t let them tell you that your nose needs to look like a button, that your lips need to look like a swarm of bees attacked them, or that your eyebrows need to be up in your hairline. Stop allowing them to manipulate what our standards of beauty should be.
If you have a gap in your teeth, smile all the wider.
If you have a big nose, know that sculptors revered women like you.
If you have wrinkles, know that every one of them tells a story of joy or sorrow.
If you have a flat chest, throw your shoulders back and stand proud.
If you’ve got curves, show the world that they are dangerous and sexy.
It’s said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. No one beholding you is perfect. Doesn’t it stand to reason, then, that beauty isn’t perfect?
Embrace your imperfection.
And the next time you walk past a mirror, magic or otherwise, tell it to go crack itself. You already know who’s the fairest one here.