What’s beauty?

I’ve always wondered how abstract ideas become normalized social mores – particularly how certain kinds of beauty become the foundations from which all other appearances are judged. I wonder what it was like, at the dawn of human civilization, when people were just people – before society and its constructs began telling us who we ought to be, what we ought to look like which people were people, and which people were simply commodities to be bought, sold, used and discarded. Were we freer then?

I’ve no idea how beauty is created, or how it is maintained, unfortunately. What I do believe is that our understanding of beauty is defined in many spaces external to our  selves. Some of these spaces we are aware of, some – not so much. Some of these sources have been defining the terms for us for so long that we see it as normal – television, movies, magazines, novels, the people who seem to have privileges that we do not have access to in the places that we frequent, even the people in our homes. And it’s easy to tell ourselves that those things don’t affect us – but being fed the same message time and again, day after day, year after year – it has to affect us at some point, right? The message has been the same since beauty became a “thing,” – whatever is beautiful at that moment is something that we do not have, but should desperately want. Luckily, in today’s world, it’s also something we can easily buy if we have enough money.

Even with that money, or whatever means used to obtain the beauty standard of the moment, beauty still remains a construct used to identify the other and define ourselves against it. Fat cannot exist without skinny, dark without light, tall without short. Naturally, whichever one is privileged changes from culture to culture, time to time. What I find interesting is that even in the face of the inevitable changes surrounding the standards of beauty – we individually tend to be unhappy about some facet of our appearance. Perhaps that unhappiness stems from things we didn’t know needed changing until some capitalist institution told us that the change was necessary. “Dove deodorant –  the secret to flawless armpits.”

I didn’t know that rough armpits were of sufficient epidemic status to warrant special deodorant, but now I’m wondering if other women have the same “problem” and have already corrected it. Or, worse, how long I’ve had it and how many of them have noticed.

Its small things like this that create beauty standards. And it’s always small, seemingly innocuous things that make up a larger, more detrimental system aimed at telling us how we are supposed to view ourselves. Women need the right hair color (I believe ombre is in now), the right mascara (the kind that doesn’t run, elongates your lashes to your hair line and takes you from eye-lash to eye-stache in seconds), and, now, the right arm-pit.

While I doubt that this latter point will be reinforced in very many spaces, it still represents a standard that someone somewhere decided needed establishing. Regardless of what our cultural beauty standards are– someone is always left feeling alienated by them.  This is why we need to ensure that women and men, young and old, define themselves on their own terms. Then the beauty standards are reduced to optional guidelines, rather than absolute necessities. 


~ by Kristen on March 19, 2013.

One Response to “What’s beauty?”

  1. “Fat cannot exist without skinny, dark without light, tall without short.” This sentence was my favorite part of your entire blog post. It’s so true. You can not have one without the other, so who gets to define which one is beautiful and which one is not? Why can’t they both be beautiful? Very thoughtful blog post.

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