Monday, July 15, 2013

On Beauty, Dove, and the Lies Society Tells About Women

I'm getting all soap-boxy today. It's about a topic I've been thinking about for months, and it's finally come to a head.

You've all seen the Dove Real Beauty commercial, right? The one with the forensic artist? If not, here it is. Or watch it again to refresh your memory:

Many women's reaction to the video was powerful emotion. Some women cried at the message, which is captured in the tag line: "You're more beautiful than you think." Yes, I am, was the overwhelming response as thousands of women shared the video through social media.

Then came the backlash about whether the forensic artist was biased because he knew about the experiment, and how the majority of the women were Caucasian, and maybe that's the kind of beauty we're being told is somehow "real." Those arguments may or may not be valid.

It was a different response that make me sit up and pay attention: the one saying that outward appearance/beauty shouldn't be what society looks at anyway, and that making a commercial that focuses on it is wrong.

I even saw well-intentioned men get on the same high horse. They did mean well. I get that. Society is too focused on beauty. Isn't that the point? The truth  is, we live in a society that does put an extraordinary amount of emphasis and significance to outward appearance. That is a fact.

Another fact: Women are often way too hard on themselves because they can never measure up to the airbrushed models and movie stars bombarding them every day.

I know I'm only one among millions of girls who grew up with a gorgeous mother who was convinced she wasn't good enough in whatever way (too fat or whatever else). I've tried hard not to pass on those kinds of ideas to my daughters, but ironically, discovered that I have, at least with one of my features, and one of my daughters now worries about that very same feature, even though she's totally gorgeous.


Dove took a new angle on the beauty war. Instead of using those images of impossible beauty, where the models themselves don't even look like that, they used everyday women and showed the beauty they have.

To me, it was refreshing to see a company essentially back up the trolley and give women a dose of positivity. Should beauty be the only thing we're concerned about? Of course not. But it'll take a huge paradigm shift, and likely generations, before we move past it. If we ever do.

To any man claiming he gets it, or that he somehow values all women equally, no matter what they look like, I say, hah. Even women don't/can't always look past the outer shell, and we're the targets of the issue every minute of every day. It's not a man problem. It's a societal problem.

Case in point: One of the men I saw who was up in arms about this commercial and its focus on beauty (rather than brains, or other qualities, it was implied) had previously referred to his wife on Facebook and elsewhere as his hot and gorgeous wife. For that matter, pretty much any time I saw him refer to her, the word wife was preceded by a word or phrase describing her physical beauty. And I'm sure he did so out of love.

But after a lengthy discussion on a thread about this commercial, and my (always vocal, sometimes obnoxious) opinions on how our society values appearance so much, I noticed a change. I have no idea if it was intentional, but suddenly this same good man started referring to his spouse as his smart, brilliant, and talented wife.

If we think it's wrong that Dove made a commercial about beauty, then we should be ticked off at every women's magazine cover, every makeup commercial, every movie.

The problem is so widespread that not too long ago, one of my writing idols admitted in a blog post that if she could take a pill to be prettier but stupid, she's take it. I was horrified, in part because she's so stinking smart (and she's already pretty anyway, yet apparently doesn't think so), but also because she was pandering to the lowest common denominator in society. Not even this brilliant woman of letters was exempt.

(I was also dismayed because I'd lived the stupid/pretty pill thing in the form of medication side effects that made me lose a bunch of weight but made me dumb as a rock, and I was absolutely miserable the entire time.)

So men: Do you think you get what it's like being a woman, or that appearance isn't that big a deal? Read this post about sexual harassment at a science fiction/fantasy convention and think again. Women, it's an important read for us, too.

Even better, watch this video with Dustin Hoffman. Years ago, I'd heard about the epiphany he had playing a woman in Tootsie, but I'd never seen this video where he describes it. This clip has been making the rounds on Facebook lately, so you may have already come across it, because I didn't get to putting up this post early enough.

If you've seen it, watch it anyway. If you haven't, watch it now, and then watch it again.

I dare you to think about women and beauty, society, appearance, and intellect, in the same way.

(I always knew there was a reason I admired Dustin Hoffman . . .)


Jennie said...

There's nothing wrong with beauty. I'm all for it. The problem is when it's the ONLY criteria by which we determine a woman's worth. I've seen too many women who think they're making a bold statement for women's other positive qualities by wearing slouchy, ugly clothing, refusing makeup or moisturizers, refusing to go to hair salons, etc. There's nothing wrong with enhancing personal appearance through good grooming. A brilliant mind is not handicapped by attractive packaging. Looking like a slob doesn't make anyone smarter, kinder, or more socially acceptable either. Provocative clothing and makeup do nothing to express either intellect or beauty. It's time both men and women stop tolerating the use of female body parts as acceptable advertising. Too many advertisers sell sex instead of their product.

Sue said...

Great post!

Our culture has clearly taken the love of female beauty to a worrisome extreme...but I have no problem with an appreciation for good looks per se. I'm sure that even pioneer men were drawn to the face that was most pleasing to them, and I have no problem with that. I like the way my husband looks, too, but beauty alone does not satisfy.

I loved the Dustin Hoffman video and his sensitivity to the entire issue as it exists today.

My personal take on the whole thing is this: I keep myself clean and well-groomed. I make sure I have a good haircut. I take care of my skin. I try to wear colors that flatter me. However, I dress for comfort, and I don't wear make-up because I don't like the way it feels on my face. I like to look "cute," but I wouldn't give up one ounce of brain power for two ounces of good looks. No way.


PS. I do worry about women growing up in our overly looks-conscious society. And I think Dove was trying to do a good thing.

Annette Lyon said...

Jennie and Sue,
AGREED! Beauty has its place, absolutely--which was largely my point. It's good to point of the beauty in every woman and rejoice in it.

Thanks for your comments!

Anna Maria Junus said...

Love this post. I too admired the Dove commercial. It seems we can't talk about beauty without it being controversial. The fact is that we are drawn to our ideas of beauty. It's our first impression. It's only after taking time to know someone that we find out what kind of beauty they really have.

Pat Coffey said...

Thanks for starting a discussion. This societal problem has many causes, but women together can turn the ship. When we meet each other instead of saying how wonderful we all look, we should "Hi what's happening in your life?" We should take the conversation to a new level. We should want to talk about accomplisnments and process. Avoid the nice hair, great lipstick, wonderful outfit, etc. stuff.

Jenny Proctor said...

I wish it wasn't so late and I had enough brain power to put together a thoughtful comment. Suffice it to say, I love it when you get on your soapbox because I think you're one of the smartest people I know.

Loved this post, Annette.

L.T. Elliot said...

I remember your post about "the beauty pill" and also being horrified that *anyone* would take it. But when I look at the world and what is valued...? I begin to have greater understanding for why women would consider that choice. When everything about you is being undervalued, when it feels like all you have to give depends on the facade of youth and size and even the "luster" of your hair, I can see that inner *need* to be seen at all. And that breaks my heart.

I admit to being a person who compliments people on their looks, clothing, etc. But not because that is all I value in a person. Mostly, I do that because the majority of times I compliment others in this way, these people are complete strangers about whom I've just had a kind thought. And I've learned that a kind thought should always be shared. When I have the opportunity to witness someone's intelligence, thoughtfulness, grace, or talent, I seek to compliment that as well. And all of this is done in an effort to *see* other people.

I don't believe that society can be fixed as simply as stopping the ad slogans from selling sex. (First of all, how DO you slay that beast?) I think it really begins and ends with people seeing each other. Seeing value in more than age and beauty and status. Seeing that each person has a place and a purpose and MATTER. When we really look at each other, we learn about each other, and knowing each other leads to loving each other.

Okay, rant out. I also appreciate your posts like this, Annette. You have long struck me as an intelligent, mindful person--a deep thinker whose opinion I value. Thanks for sharing your mind with us.

Donna said...

I love thinking about things....i take them and chew on it for this. I love beauty also....when we are the happiest is when we can find beauty anywhere. That is the key to being happy

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