Thursday, July 1, 2010

princess sabrina.

i stumbled into reading a – whatchammacallit – critically conscious blog, and a certain post about ideals that promote artificial means of beautifying oneself. while i agree that many beauty standards are ludicrous and that they put both aesthetic and financial pressure on young women (and men), i find very little newsworthy about it.

nonetheless, it were the reactions to the blog post that really aggravated me – women competing with each other telling how awful it was that natural beauty was no longer appreciated and that the poor children had to deal with unrealistic expectations. one mother felt pressured to get rid of her fashion magazines in order to prevent their effect on her little girl...

well, guess what: read a little history and the current selection of methods seems humane and accessible. beauty ideals are by definition supposed to be unattainable for the majority. that's just how human society works.

moreover, natural beauty has never enjoyed the status of a standard – no matter what women's magazines try to tell us. altering what we have naturally is what socially constructed beauty (which is all there is, btw) is all about. the illusion of naturalness is only a current and rather novel trend that coexists with other standards, such as the barbie look built around peroxide fauxness.

yup, and some fortunate individuals are better endowed than others. some have better means to alter themselves, others come better equipped naturally, and sometimes, infuriatingly, the same people are naturally beautiful and rich, too. if there weren't individuals who represent the ideal, we'd have nothing to aspire towards... it's tough, i know.

nonetheless, when i read pseudo-intellectual outrage over beauty ideals or when a mother feels forced to protect her daughter from exposure to fashion or when bloggers start accusing other bloggers of promoting unreasonable or unattainable beauty treatments, i cannot help but shiver. seriously, now?

i don't know about you, but i was lucky enough to be raised by a mother who told me i was great as i am (no, she didn't call me pretty, but i don't blame her for refusing to lie) and who also told me that no matter how much i used the line every single kid knows – "all my friends have it, too" – i wasn't about to have anything she thought wasn't worthwhile.

for example, i had my ears pierced at 15 because my mom decided that was the proper age. everyone else had them before me. really.

and no, i do not recall my youth as a struggle around deprivation nor was a damaged emotionally. as a parent, you have the right and the responsibility to decide for your child. i'm sure i tormented my mother for her decisions, but hey, that's life with children. (sorry mom.)

as adults we should know better and prepare our kids for facing the world with its ideals. sure, most of us are not immune or capable of dealing with the pressures of the beauty industry ourselves, and i guess many actually suffer if they cannot afford bleaching their teeth or liposuction. the fact that not everyone can do it does not imply that there's something essentially wrong with trying to attain beauty – however one perceives it.

ultimately, s**t is hard. i just hope those who have enough willpower and mental endowments to approach these aspects of our culture analytically (or attempt to do so), would go a little further than complaining about how media (and bloggers) are setting an impossible example. why not start with providing support for fellow moms to have the strength to raise their girls (and boys) as they best see fit acknowledging the media pressure we all need to deal with?

as a kid, i wanted to be a princess who looked like sabrina (the boobylicious italian singer) and live on a farm. i wanted a perm, a nose job and breast implants (since mine didn't grow until i was 18) and, unsurprisingly, i survived without any of those and lived happily ever after. point being, have some faith in your kids and take responsibility for yourselves and the example you give.

now, let's hear your princess stories – wanna share?


Anonymous said...

Joo, tuo kauneusihanteiden päivittely menee kyllä ihan samaan luokkaan kaupallistuvan joulun päivittelyn kanssa.

Eniten minua hämää kauneusteollisuudessa se, että ilmassa leijuvat lupaukset ovat niin kovia. Kyllä ulkonäkökeskeiselle uralle vaaditaan erittäin harvinaislaatuiset geneettiset lähtökohdat - yksin kosmeettisilla operaatioilla ei tehdä huippumalleja tai -näyttelijöitä.

En ole kieltämässä keneltäkään itselle nautinnollisia kauneusrutiineja tai muuten vaan tärkeältä tuntuvia operaatioita, mutta kyllä se on hitto soikoon vanhempien tärkein tehtävä iskostaa tyttölapsen päähän, että jopa naisella voi olla muitakin attribuutteja kuin ulkoinen kauneus. Ja jos ei ole geneettisessä arpapelissä sattunut huippukortit kouraan, niin saattaa olla järkevää keskittyä elämässä noiden muiden attribuuttien vaalimiseen.

T. ihan tavallisen näköinen nörtti - joka kyllä tykkää kynsilakoista ja inhoaa ihokarvoja.

Anonymous said...

Ai niin - ja on harkinnut rintojen leikkausta. Pienennysleikkausta. Terveydellisistä syistä - mutta hylkäsi ajatuksen kun kokemukset kirurgisista operaatioista eivät ole olleet kovin rohkaisevia.

Sugar Kane said...

THANK YOU (dollface) for articulating on this issue - after reading the "discussion" I was capable of only shouting "Grow the f**k up, bitches! Or, at the very least, read a freaking history book."

Even though it's an everyday cliche to complain about today's unattainable beauty standards, too-thin/too curvy/all together UNREALISTIC (sic) models, and blah blah blah, the definition(s) of "beautiful" has never before in history been this, well, democratic, ALMOST possible for almost anyone, regardless of class, race etc. Even in the mainstream, a long-legged blonde with huge tits is not the only standard, and people who claim this sound silly, or maybe watch too much porn/American tv.

As to "protecting" one's child from the media and fashion industry assault - Why not rather educate your child, help build up her/his self-image, make sure she/he knows s/he's wonderful just as s/he is? Children are not stupid, loving fashion is not a crime, or even a sign of stupidity.

I hate, hate, HATE the quasi-nostalgia even more, when it comes to body image, fat vs.thin, and such. When people dressed in their comfortable leggings go on and on about how it "used to be" that women of every size were desirable, I want to scream. That golden age never ever was. The upper-class European women starved themselves (at least until they were old enough to jump out the beauty game), the early movie stars had waistlines you could put your hands around, etc etc. So, plz.

Anonymous said...

Because of my laziness I answered in Finnish first... ...but this issue really stuck in to my mind and I have been pondering around it with my probably bit foggy brain (summer flu... ...yeah).

It is somehow true that the beauty ideal is quite "normal" in that sense that it does not involve for example deforming the body or face in any cruel way. Despite what was discussed in that original blog post it can't be said that the contemporary ideal includes for example requirement for surgical operations.

The problem in contemporary society is not the beauty ideal itself - but the extent of it's influence. Being concerned about looks has been the concern for mainly the upper class - not saying that the peasant or pleb - whatever - could not benefit from good looks, but the hardships of human life probably have eradicated peoples looks in relatively young age.

The big difference - in my opinion - is not the accessibility or inaccessibility of the ideals - and for the exact same reasons you are stating in the original post. Beauty can't be democratic, available for all. Ideals have to convey the aspect of rarity to actually be ideals. It does not matter much that today's ideals do not include mutilation of feet or removing ribs.

But back to the accessibility... western world we are truly living in a society that embraces youthful looks. The pressure for beauty today is more and more democratic - and probably not in positive sense but in a way that it soon concerns everyone. The freedom (actual or virtual) of individual makes everything seemingly accessible - despite of the fact that the individual is still given just that certain set of genes, and reading the sociological evidence very much bound to the "class" he or she was born into. The cinderella stories of pivovarovas of this day are exceptions - like cinderella stories should be.

But this brings me just back to the importance of parents - and personally I think that the most stupid thing that a mother can do to a child is to constantly tell her that she is beautiful - even if that is not the case. Your mothers attire has been really exceptional - and actually probably the best one, the acceptance and love are not related to your looks, you are good as you are. This kind of attire helps a girl to explore all her sides and deal with the pressure.

That is also the reason why I sort of despise this "everyone is beautiful" -type of marketing. a) that is not true b) it is mainly used for selling people another foul smelling shower gel (or whatever mass produced cosmetic product that actually has zero impact to one's outlook).

Everyone is not beautiful - and that is not about if you have money for lash extensions or not. Just teach your kids to deal with it.

But on the other hand - nice clothes have never made anyone look worse. Aesthetics is a legitimate hobby for everyone, despite of looks. Just adjust the expectations.

Anonymous said...

Can you please remove the doubles - blogger did not like the length of the comment - and then went haywire... ...sorry!

Mme Flore said...

Okay, this post and the comments are made of win, and everyone taking any part in discussions regarding beauty ideals should read them. Period.

I am too always annoyed by people talking about "natural beauty" vs. "artificial beauty", and how everything used to be better in the past - whatever that past it. On the other hand, I'm just as much annoyed by the also somewhat general assumption that in the past women were oppressed by beauty ideals, and that for instance corsets were some kind of a torture device invented by the oh-so-cruel men who wanted to suppress women. Both assumptions are total crap, and as long as we (as a society) don't see it, the conversation will lead nowhere. As you so well pointed out, beauty is a constructed ideal, and never and nowhere has everyone filled its standards. Also never and nowhere has everyone aimed at doing so - whether or not they had the means. (It's known that for instance Queen Victoria herself used corset very infrequently.)

In general, I think it's childish and silly to blame the "society" for creating such and such ideals. Everyone who uses any media should understand that the ideals are simply ideals, and that's what movies/magazines/tv-series/whatnot are made of. It's not just beauty that's unrealistic in many of them, it's the whole life. At least I know that it's myself who thinks that I should look better. The universe couldn't care less.

I'm also lucky to have a mother, who had quite a reasonable attitude towards these things. She told me I was pretty, but never emphasized that. She refused to buy as a scale, for instance, because she didn't want me to start worrying about my weight. The smartest thing she did in this respect, though, was the way she handled my constant ranting about my protruding ears (perhaps by biggest appearance-related complex as a teenager). Just as her parents had told her, she also told me that if my ears really bother me so much, she'll pay a cosmetic surgery, but otherwise I had better shut up and stop thinking about them. Of course I never wanted to take that step, which she presumably anticipated easily, and eventually I forgot the whole ear problem.

Anu said...

Kuten kommentoin jo tuonne linkkaamaasi blogikirjoitukseen, minusta on karhunpalvelus lapselle piilottaa häneltä muotilehdet. Ne ovat osa sitä todellisuutta, jonka keskellä täällä elämme, ja niiden peittely vääristää sitä vähintään yhtä paljon kuin niiden sisällön väitetään tekevän. Jonain päivänä lapsi löytää ne lehdet kuitenkin, ja ilman mediakasvatusta hän on paljon suojaamattomampi niiden sisältöä kohtaan.

Ja kuten sanoit, epäterveellisiä kauneusihanteita on ollut olemassa jo ennen nykyisenlaista mainontaa/mediaa/whatever, joten kieltämällä ne tai muokkaamalla niiden sisältöä ei myöskään voiteta yhtään mitään. Ratkaisu on sama kuin edellisessä kohdassa.

Luonnollisuudesta vouhottaminen on siinäkin mielessä hassua, että siitä on tulossa tai oikeastaan se on jo ihan samanlainen mahdoton ihanne kuin kaikki muutkin.

stellagee said...

kamicha, you're right, the promises associated with beauty standards are quite ridiculous and i agree that the most important thing a parent can teach a child is that their looks are most likely not going to be an asset that solves every problem in life and, thus, concentrating on other features and talents may just be a tad more important.

and reading your statement "Everyone is not beautiful - and that is not about if you have money for lash extensions or not. Just teach your kids to deal with it." and instantly having a reaction that "wow, that's harsh, now!" just goes on to prove that the discussion is quite oversimplified to repeat exactly what you explained. hence, i totally agree.

sugar kane, yup, it seems surprising how standardized the discussion is considering the easy accessibility to information these days. this does not apply to only this topic, but i do feel the need to scream "read history!" quite often...

mme flore, thank you and props to your mother for such a sensible way to face your complaints – taking it seriously, but also considering the fact that the possible damage she would try fixing is your self-esteem, not you yourself.

generally, i have a major issue with discussions that turn towards "let's blame the society" without the acknowledgement that we, ourselves, actually form the society and the blame is, thus, on us. although media seems to be the pet of those who like to blame society these days, it's just as poor as an argument.

anu, kiitos kun olit raikas järjen ääni siinä keskustelussa – tyypilliseen tapaasi. lapset ovat fiksuja ja oppivat, kun heille kerrotaan asioista avoimesti. uskomattoman vaikea asia joillekin käsittää...

Anu said...

Tuosta kauniiksi kutsumisesta tuli vielä mieleen, etten pitäisi sitä niin yksioikoisen pahana juttuna - siis sitä, että vanhempi kutsuu lastaan kauniiksi, vaikkei tämä (jollain mittarilla) sitä olisikaan. Kauneus on kuitenkin aina katsojan silmässä, ja vanhempi todennäköisesti tarkoittaa, mitä sanoo, vaikkei asia ulkopuolisen silmin niin olisikaan.

Itse siis uskon, että kaikki ovat kauniita vanhempiensa (tai rakastettunsa) silmissä. Jos kaunis on rumaa jonkun toisen mielestä, se on enemmänkin heidän ongelmansa. Itse en siis haluaisi lähteä määrittelemään kauneutta kovin ahtaasti.

Ns. institutialisoitunut kauneus on ihan oma juttunsa, ja sen kanssa toimeen tulemiseen tarvitaan medialukutaitoa. Ihmisten välinen kauneus on asia erikseen.

stellagee said...

anu, olen ihan samaa mieltä, ettei kauniiksi kutsumisessa ole mitään vikaa. kehut ovat aina mukavia, myös ulkonäköä koskevat. omia läheisiään nyt pitää yleensä kauniina riippumatta ulkonäöstä.

ja kyllä esim. mun äitini taisi mua joskus nätiksi kysyttäessä sanoa – ei tosin oma-alotteisesti, mutta ei se olisi ollut hänen tyylistäänkään. äitini ei ylipäätään arvioinut ihmisten ulkonäköä heille itselleen tai muille. se on asia, jonka opin aivan muilta ihmisiltä, enkä tiedä oliko se niin arvokas läksy...

Anonymous said...

I think it is also oversimplification and pseudointellectual to claim that "always" we have had such drastic and dramatic beauty standards and ideals. yes, ideals have always been rather unattainable. In many cases they have had more to do with now-pedophilic-sounding age than any particular physical attribute. However, there is change. The change is best seen in the formulation of consumer society itself: people are able to compare themselves, not with the Joneses anymore, but the few superwealthy and super-beauty as seen on tv and advertisement anywhere.

I do think it is rather weird to simply ignore in this claim both the above mentioned change in the perceived "peer group" as well as very large shift in the advertising industry that is much more aggressive and emotion-triggering than before. Yes, women previously mutilated their face with lead as they tried to whiten their faces - but this applied in a small scale in the upper classes. While poorer classes sometimes imitated the procedure, they resorted to potato flour.

The images of beauty were not everywhere. Are you really thinking that in rural societies there were that many glimpses to upper class beauties - with no clothes on, to continue the comparison?

Problem with history is that it is also rather focused with those upper classes - the ones with leisure time to fill with "trivialities". The time when in Finland overtly focusing to looks was considered very shallow and harmful is not many decades away - the attitude still persists in some rural areas with the older people. I'm not saying the attempt to gain beauty did not exist - but there never was such a need in the working classes. As well the elderly were "released" of the beauty race while currently ever older people are pushed to the new younger norm.

The society has changed in this respect, and the procedures with which the beauty can be altered have also changed dramatically. In Louis XIV court, your best shot at getting better thighs was to pray the devil. Now you just get a lipo.

See where I'm coming from?

In the end, we just have too much free time in our hands. Our time is not spent with working and gathering food anymore. The only means to avoid the largest problems is to teach kids not to care too much about looks, just as was already mentioned here. It is ok to tell them they are pretty, but the line is far crossed when you enter your kid to beauty pageant. (Effects of which were nicely demonstrated in a Dr Phil show just a few days ago.)

Sorry about rant, but I think the "history card" was a tad simplified.


Anonymous said...

btw, I think the point about "natural beauty" never being en vogue was a good point (though I do not think "never" is as good a wording as "rarely"). I think the natural ideal has to do with improved health but also with the fact that now it is _possible_ to change our looks more than ever. It is, in effect, an antidote to the surgical beauty type - now that anyone can be a peroxide bombshell, there is a new virtue in not being one.

(Please remove the duplicate entries - I got an error message on first submit and did not check the result. With computers, you should never assume...)


stellagee said...

kl, so your point is that the increase in size of one's peer group is such a dramatic change that historical comparisons are not valid to the point i am using? ok.

i think sugar kane's point about the versatility of beauty ideals is one of the "natural" steps that follow our enlarged peer groups: we try to control it by adhering to more specified standards. that does not mean the historical continuity of beauty ideals remaining unattainable by definition (which is what i claimed) does not apply. the fact that humans live amongst individuals of whom certain types are considered pretty and others aren't does not fundamentally change by the fact that we see pictures of people outside our societal class.

but as far as history comes, first, i am not entirely sure why you believe that pictorial evidence of the looks of nobility did not exist amongst the "plebs" – sure, our culture produces more images than ever, but that does not mean there weren't any available before.

not to mention my second point which is to disagree with your idea about class difference – it seems reasonable based on microhistorical and cultural history studies that beauty ideals were not at all ignored by lower classes even if their time was not spent leisurely grooming or concentrated on trying to manipulate their looks when they had nothing better to do.

as kamicha pointed out right in the start and as i guess is what you're essentially trying to say also, the promises we associate with attaining beauty ideals are probably the biggest change culturally and socially. the amount of people who believe that by being beautiful life's problems will be solved, has possibly never been greater. thus, the very young beauty pageants etc.

is this change something that eradicates the "history card" about the nature of beauty ideals or deems it too simplified? no, i don't think so.

stellagee said...

kl, while it is true that appreciating the "natural" probably is a response to the appreciation and attainability of "artificial", the 'never' was there on purpose, making the essential point that what we consider "natural" is fundamentally constructed.

Sugar Kane said...

Agreeing 100% with Stellagee's latest comments. I do tend to play the History card to death, but still I maintain that very strict notions of beauty have existed among "lower classes" at least as long as we have written evidence, and that the ideal was pretty much based on the elite's opinions. The fact that the ideal form of a "lady" was impossible to reach for hard-working women and girls trying to survive on a bad diet, didn't make it any less important.

I'd say compared to the not-so-distant past, we do have a much larger variation of beauty standards or ideals to choose from - just think what is considered beautiful among different countries, subcultures (just think music genres - the Indie princess, the r'n'b diva - of course these are ideals and as such, by definition impossible to attain, but you can quite easily almost get there...). I think part of the pressure some women feel today is just this fact - Today's standards seem _almost_ like possibilities -for example: If I DID the right exercise, had a few tuck-ins here and there, had the "right" parts filled, hair and nails professionally fixed then I might be close to the mainstream ideal, ergo, it's up to ME, my priorities, and my laziness! (Good for me I'm not that into mainstream beauty)

On a side note, people and our values differ: I come from a family, where beauty and good looks are very much appreciated, as well as intelligence and academic success. As a child, I got praise for my wit (!),and for success in school and other fields of interest, but I don't remember ever having been called pretty by my mum. (She might say I was dressed with style - then again, it was her who made the clothes...)

When i grew older, this became a trauma in my confused mind and lead to quite unattractive ways of trying to get some attention for my looks. It might be just the silly old superficial me, but I do think every child deserves to feel beautiful in their loved ones' eyes.

Anu said...

Mä kirjoitan edelleen suomeksi, koska en nyt jostain syystä saa taivutettua ajatustani englanniksi, liian monimutkaista loma-aivolle...

Vielä yksi juttu lapsista: mun mielestäni oikea ratkaisu ei löydy siltä suunnalta, että opetamme lapsiamme ajattelemaan toisin. Eivät ne sitä kuuntele, jos emme itse tee niinkuin opetamme - tietyssä iässä ne tekevät juuri päinvastoin ihan kiusallaan. Vanhempi voi parhaimmillaankin vain tukea lasta ajattelemaan itse, ja hän sitten muodostaa mielipiteensä sen mukaan, mikä hänestä oikein on. Itse oikeastaan kavahdan sellaista ajatusta, että lapsemme "nielisivät" opetuksemme pureskelematta.

Vaikutteita lapsi imee vanhempiensa lisäksi myös jokaiselta vastaantulijalta, halusipa tämä tai ei.

stellagee said...

sugar kane, there might be some truth to that the "almost possible" standards create pressure although i would still like to claim that their lure is fundamentally based on the conviction that greater beauty will somehow embetter one's life not the relatively easy access. on another note, the individual responsibility ideal that so deeply structures our society because of libertarian influence can be seen here as much as elsewhere...

anu, joo, no mä käsitän opettamisen (kasvatuksen) monimutkaisena ja monisyisenä kertomisen, kyseenlaistamisen, selittämisen, sallimisen/kieltämisen, ja esimerkkien kautta näyttämisen sekoituksena. mulle ajatus siitä, että lapsen opettaminen olisi jotain "tee näin!" -tyylistä, on todella vieras ihan lähtökohtaisesti... mutta juu, lapset ovat fiksuja pointtini perustuukin siihen, ettei ne vain niele asioita ja että lapsella on oma tahto ja käsistyskyky, jonka monet aikuiset usein tuntuvat sivuuttavan.