Steve Miller, Opinions Editor-
You’re fat, you could stand to lose 10 pounds, your chest is flat, your penis is too small—these are only a handful of daily attestations the advertising, fashion, and media industry pushes on the general public. We live in a society that has taught us to hate our bodies, strive for unattainable physical perfection through whatever means necessary, and model ourselves after the media’s singular ideal of beauty.
As a self-proclaimed lover of fashion, I often forget to question the media’s intentions. I admire the creative outlet fashion gives to an individual; the ability to express ones self through the way we dress and allow for the formation of our own sense of identity, but by supporting a world so concerned on physical attraction, at the age of 22 I’ve learned to constantly question my self-worth based on the way I look and view my body as inferior. While it’s difficult to realize this and even more difficult to tell others, I’m sure more than one person reading this can identify with me on some level.
This weekend, after the recommendation of a friend, I watched the documentary “America the Beautiful,” directed by independent filmmaker Darryl Roberts. Throughout the film we follow Roberts on his quest to understand our country’s obsession with beauty. Through interviews with magazine editors, celebrities, photographers, plastic surgeons and school children, we begin to see just how much emphasis our society places on beauty and the debilitating effect it has on our self-worth. Whether we’re conscious of it or not, we’ve been conditioned to be a zombie-like following of dedicated and self-conscious consumers.
What we all fail to realize is magazine editors put “beautiful” people on magazine covers in order to sell more copies—to give the public what it wants. Millions of men and women each year go under the knife for cosmetic procedures hoping to emulate their favorite celebrities without questioning the degree of photo manipulation, which emphasizes features that these models and celebrities don’t even have themselves. Children from the point of self-recognition feel inadequate when they see images in magazines, billboards, and on television telling them that they can be beautiful if they buy X product, lose weight, or build more muscle. Men and women see each other as objects rather than breathing, thinking, loving human beings. Our obsession with beauty has reached epidemic proportions as health and personal well-being take a back seat to the desire for physical perfection.
But out of all the interviews, one in particular had a deep resonance with me. A large portion of the film followed 12-year-old Gerren Taylor, a bubbly, self-confident model, as she escalates in the fashion industry gaining interest because of physical beauty and her age. After one season of success in Los Angeles and New York, Gerren returns next year and does not book a single show. At the advice of her overbearing mother, Gerren, now 14, travels to Europe in search of work.
In Paris, Gerren is told she is too heavy to be casted and bypasses Milan because at 6 feet tall and 120 pounds, she is automatically too big to even be considered for the runway. I couldn’t believe it. As the film progresses, Gerren’s once beautiful outlook on life begins to wane and by the end of the documentary at the age of 15, she said she feels ugly, should be on a diet, and is considering getting breast implants. To see the confidence of a child be destroyed by the pedagogical psychosis of externality before your eyes was heartbreaking to say the least.
In no other country is the demand for beauty higher than in America. While our country only constitutes five percent of the world’s population we are exposed to 40 percent of its advertising. Our fear, consumption, and idolatry for beauty has ruined us and media’s omnipresent nature has pervaded our minds without our realization by refusing to see that beauty exists in everyone of all shapes, sizes and color.
But despite the film’s upheaval of the negative aspects of our society’s obsession with beauty one woman, Eve Ensler, playwright for “The Vagina Monologues” puts it all into perspective with one simple realization we can all remember the next time we look at an image projecting the media’s conceptual idea of beauty.
“Every woman (and man) is beautiful in his or her particular way,” said Ensler. “Really. And while some may be more beautiful in the way you’re ‘supposed to look,’ if we developed eyes and we developed the spirit to see beauty in a different way you would see every woman and man as beautiful.”