Define beauty. Is it something perceived only through our sense of vision? How does a collective idea of what makes someone beautiful shape every social construct and social system–everything about us really, including the things we desire, and the way we learn to feel about ourselves and others?
If you’re anything like me, whenever you walk past a magazine rack you can’t help but eye and scrutinize each pretty face and sculpted body. They’re always tied to headlines like, “Flatter Abs In 10 Minutes!”; “Flawless Skin You’ve Dreamed About”; “Get Him To Notice You”. I’ll stand there with a feeling of contempt over the absurdity of our culture’s obsession with women’s aesthetics.
And yet, part of me wishes I resembled them more in some way, even though I know most women don’t look like the models in magazines; even the models themselves don’t look like they do in the magazines. With enough make-up and air brushing, (not to mention money and silicon), a hair stylist and fashion and lighting expert, we could all look good enough to make the cover of some insipid magazine.
So I peer into the faces all staring at me, telling me what I should see when I look at me. Then later, standing in front of the mirror, gazing into my own reflection, that’s not what I see. And what I’m left with is the feeling that I’m not enough.
I glare down at my deflated, once D cup, now B-C cup breasts. I analyze the stretch marks that span the width of my stomach and the skin there that puckers because it’s been stretched by two pregnancies. And in my heart of hearts I like to believe, and I encourage other mothers to believe, that these things make me more beautiful, not less so. Because they symbolize the amazing feat of growing, carrying, delivering, and sustaining the lives of two human beings!!
But unfortunately, this is not how stretch marks, floppy breasts, and flabby skin are perceived by the rest of society. No, instead they’re interpreted as marks of shame; something to be removed, pushed up and covered up, never to see the light of day. You can forget about wearing a bikini again, ladies. Nobody wants to see what you now have to offer after having done the most incredible thing any person can do–bring new life into the world. And how does that world repay us? By telling us we’re no longer sexually desirable; as if the outward appearance of our body alone delimits our sensuality; as if we should be content with the archetype set for us.
Yet that’s exactly what we’ve been brainwashed to believe. The sexual desire of straight men has been kicked into overdrive as images of sultry sirens continue to show up everywhere in our conscious awareness–surfing the web, listening to Pandora, watching TV, opening the mail, standing in line at the grocery store, walking through the mall–men are constantly taunted with images intended to stir their blood (and empty their wallets). Knowing that the widely accepted standards of attraction are what entice men, and enticing men is how a woman is told she will gain attention and find love, women go to great measures to feed their appetite. Left to their own devices, do people really think women would go to such excruciating lengths if superficial beauty wasn’t so highly regarded? Corsets, pantyhose, high heels, girdles… none of these things are comfortable or easy to wear and yet women have convinced themselves that squeezing themselves into these apparatuses make them look and feel sexier.
Based on all the advertisements we’re bombarded with (not to mention the increasing number of online porn sites), it would seem as though women exist for the mere sexual gratification of men. Even ads targeted towards women are usually intended to sell them something that will make them more desirable to their spectators: a new shade of lipstick, a different color for their hair, an age defying face cream, a fantastic way to lose weight… And we buy into it. We buy into it because we fear the threat of rejection if we don’t. Indeed, women have been used as pawns to make men happier and companies richer.
As women who buy into what they’re selling, we become a part of the conspiracy against ourselves. And while I can intuit that true beauty is something to be revealed from the depths of one’s soul, I also know that it’s the skinny bitches with perfect hair and perfect skin, perky round tits and a tight ass that turn heads. Ashamedly, I feel inferior to them, inadequate, even homely in their irrefutable presence.
But again, if you’re anything like me, you also want desperately to resist! Fuck a fashion trend and fuck a beauty myth. We must define beauty on our own terms and expect men to follow suit. Because beauty is more than what we see with our eyes. We also feel it coursing through our veins, in our heart and in our soul; we perceive it with our mind at each beautiful thing our lover says and does. It’s in their touch, in their voice; we can smell them and we can taste them. We come to know real beauty through their love and through them alone.
But Cosmo doesn’t want you to know that. Because that’s not what sells magazines. Convincing women they’re not enough to attract or satisfy a man… now that’s where the money’s at.