‘Only when women truly accept and believe in the beauty they posses will others appreciate and respect them for it.’
Beauty has many meanings. For me it meant skin cancer at age 25. Years of striving for that golden California tan—and way too much baby oil—brought it on. Luckily, the cancer was removed without reoccurrence. Unless you are an enlightened individual, you are manipulated by society and biology in some way. It’s not easy to see beauty beyond the ugly, hateful, disgusting, or despicable descriptions of things we’re given by society. That takes mindfulness and compassion that eludes most of us.
Like Lisa, I am fascinated by the topic of women’s love/ hate relationship with beauty. As I read Tom, Mark, and Lisa’s articles, the comments surprised me. It seems like much of the aggravation comes from being compared only based on appearance. But what about my sense of humor, my work ethic, my intelligence? Such a narrow illustration of the infinite possibilities of beauty is shameful. Beauty is so much more than just looks. It’s a subjective and individual experience.
The Biology of Attraction
In women, youth is prized because youth presumes fertility, the ability to provide and care for offspring. In men, beauty is the presumed wisdom from experience and the ability to provide or protect that comes with age. (Who would you rather be with Justin Beiber or George Clooney?) Are flawless skin, shiny hair, plump lips, and perky breasts just a superficial guise for sexual attraction? Or a visual sign of good health? These are subconscious attractions that promote survival of the species. When a man views a physical trait that he perceives as attractive, his body receives a hormone dump, a subconscious chemical reinforcement, which is neither his fault nor voluntary. The harm comes when a man cannot or will not control his verbal or physical response once the hormonal surge takes place. I lived in denial of these facts for decades. I refused to believe that so much of our modern behavior was dictated by evolutionary psychology. The truth is that human beings are members of the animal kingdom, and whether we care to admit it or not, we are still submissive to hormones and brain circuitry. Researchers have proven that women who have an hourglass figure (hip to waist ratio) have higher levels of female hormones that boost fertility. Is it not fair to assume that men are subconsciously attracted to these characteristics for the subconscious reason of the increased likelihood of producing healthy offspring?
Beauty Has Its Reasons
There are many reasons why women strive to be beautiful. The first being social capital. Women dress up on a ladies night in an effort to fit in, to be part of a group, to gain acceptance or validation from their peers. One commenter, Jeni, said that she doesn’t pay much attention to mainstream culture as she lives with others who were like-minded. Though Jeni is fortunate to have a fulfilling life outside of mainstream influence, she is still a part of a group that accepts her. Evolutionary biology teaches us that a woman has a greater chance to thrive and survive in the event her mate is unwilling or unable to provide or protect, if she has formed bonds with other women. Women also strive for beauty in order to attract a mate. (It’s true that we do the choosing, but physical attractiveness gives women the opportunity to choose from a wider gene pool). Once again, to reject the validity of evolutionary psychology is to reject a part of what makes us human. The perception of beauty changes across cultures. What is perceived as beautiful in the West is not necessarily the same as in the Middle East, Africa, or Asia. However, the extremes that the women in these non-Western societies take in order to meet the demand of presumed beauty isn’t any less harmful. A society’s perceptions of beauty dictate the actions of women throughout the world.
Beyond Skin Deep
“That which is striking and beautiful is not always good, but that which is good is always beautiful.” —Ninon de l’Enclos
Thankfully, a group of women’s voices has emerged, one that encourages an expanded view of what it means to be a beautiful. No physical characteristics come at the expense of intelligence, nor should having a full figure or almond shaped eyes exclude a woman from being considered beautiful. Women are beginning to advocate for themselves, teaching confidence and self esteem to their children. Only as more women accept themselves for who they truly are and stop tolerate being accepted as anything less, will the definition of women’s beauty be perceived differently. Only when women truly accept and believe in the beauty they posses will others appreciate and respect them for it. If a woman chooses to wear make-up, heels, and designer clothes, she needs to understand why she does it. Is she a slave to a certain perception of beauty? Or is she not a slave at all, just a woman who enjoys and appreciates that form of beauty? As long as we realize these things, we’ll all be doing OK.