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Page history last edited by stephanie.marie.trowbridge@... 10 years, 10 months ago


    Falling From Perfection to Pursue Happiness


     What is "beauty?" Who is considered "beautiful?" In American society, perfection is considered beautiful. Women seem to bear the brunt of this perfectionist view. There is a certain "look" that women are supposed to have, or else they fall far from this constructed perfection. Pamela Anderson, Angelina Jolie, Megan Fox: they are all considered to be the models of what women should be. They are not necessarily natural, in fact, one of them obviously has had some work done. They all wear a lot of makeup to cover any flaws that they have. Plastic and cosmetics are seen as fixes for these flaws. Commercials play on this idea. They have models who glow and shimmer and have perfect hair. If you buy the products they are getting paid to sell, you can look like that. It could be mentally hurtful to young girls. They have been made to believe through magazines, commercials, movies, and t.v. shows that if they do not look perfect, they are not good enough and will never have a wonderful life. Goodman, Morris, and Sutherland's article "Is Beauty a Joy Forever? Young Women's Emotional Responses to Varying Types of Beautiful Advertising Models," looks into the way young women perceive this "perfect" woman. Could they be scarred by how women are portrayed and how they are "supposed" to look?


     Women have always been perceived in a perfectionist form. Even in older movies, the women had to wear lots of makeup and certain clothes. Fads change and so do the perfectionist views. There always have been these views, but parts of them have changed. It used to be popular to have ivory skin, while now it is popular to tan. These views are not natural and must be changed.


     There are actually campaigns in the works showing women in a more natural way: without makeup or plastic surgery. They find that their flaws are what make them beautiful. Jennifer Millard's "Performing Beauty: Dove's 'Real Beauty' Campaign," looks into what is considered "real beauty," which has nothing to do with perfection or someone trying to be perfect. There are people who are putting these ideas into mass media in the form of commercials. This is to show women and girls that there is nothing wrong with flaws. Everyone has them. Hiding them is hiding who they are. Makeup can be fun, but there is no need for it. No one needs to risk their life for vanity, like with unnecessary plastic surgery. It also shows men and boys what women really should look like: themselves. This agenda will help women and teach young girls to be themselves. They might stop the unnecessary physical mutilation. Maybe it will save them some money from buying cosmetics that make them look like someone else, or that conceals what makes them who they are. Mentally, it should make them stronger and less likely to feel so much hurt for that unattainable perfection. Eventually, there could be a real change in the way women are portrayed in mass media that will be positive for everyone.


     As Shelley Streeby explains in her "Empire," some words have mostly negative meanings. The word "empire," for example, is normally a negative term used to discuss the United States in relation to power. The word "beauty" has gained a somewhat negative meaning, as well. The women usually termed as "beauties" are normally the ones who look as perfect as they possibly can. More natural women might still be beautiful, but they are normally not compared to the ones wearing lots of makeup, or who have had plastic surgery to correct what was not beautiful. The Dove Campaign is working to turn this around so natural women will be "beauties."


     Beauty standards have changed a lot from the Victorian era to the present. Not only standards, but also certain people have always had their influence on the fashions at those certain times. Although they are quite different today, the idea of beauty standards has not changed. Not all women pay attention to these standards, but many do try to keep up with the beauty standards that make them look like the women portrayed in films, t.v., advertisements, and commercials. Through clothing, hair, shoes, accessories, and make-up, women have expressed themselves throughout history. Women then and now were/ are expected to live up to the standards of society, which many times comes from the media.


     Many of the closer-to-modern views came from feminists in the 1960s. According to Kathy Peiss, who wrote Hope in a Jar: The Making of America's Beauty Culture, these feminists believed that "powerful male-dominated consumer industries and mass media [were] a leading cause of women's oppression" (4). They believed women were being held back by the images they saw in the media because no matter how many cosmetics they bought, they could never really achieve that image of perfection, or close to perfection. It was also expensive and vain, and it took time out of a woman's day when she could be doing something more worthwhile, in their eyes. Although these are valuable ideas, it was not men who started the cosmetics empire; it was mainly women, starting in the 1890s (Peiss 4).


          Feminists have argued for years what make-up means to women. Some believe that it has brought about empowerment, allowing women to express themselves. Others believe it takes away from women's time, costs too much, is vain, and is only used to be like a mask, covering their real faces.


          According to Kate Ward, who wrote "Is Wearing Makeup a Feminist Act?," after the oppression that occurred in the 1800s, there was a "sexual awakening, prompting many assertive women to wear cosmetics to enhance their sexuality and individuality" (Ward). They started going out on the town more, rather than staying in and being domestic. Men were afraid of this assertive new identity, thinking that women might actually try to gain (gasp!) equality. Men also saw women "as rebellious, uncontrollable, and dangerous" when they used cosmetics (Ward). By the 1930s, Nell Vinick believed that women no longer tied themselves to morality or otherwise when it came to make-up. She saw that they were "merely symbols of the social revolution that has gone on; the Spiritual and mental forces that women have used to break away from conventions and to forward the cause of women's freedom" (Ward).


          Shelia Jeffreys is a feminist on the other side of the beauty argument. According to Julie Bindel, Jeffreys believes that "from make-up to breast implants- should be redefined as harmful cultural practices, rather than being seen as a liberating choice. She believes that much of it started during World War II. Since so many men had gone off to war, women had to try and look as nice as they could for the men who were there so they could get a husband. They began wearing more make-up for that purpose. Rather than stopping that practice after the war, it just kept growing. Cosmetics companies keep getting bigger, and more women are buying from them.


     There were major changes made from the 1800s to the 1930s. In the 1800s, women were seen negatively if they put on any make-up. They were looked down upon by the "good" people. These women were called "painted women" (Peiss 3). Women were supposed to look pure, and that meant without make-up, since make-up was seen as being for prostitutes. By the 1930s, however, cosmetics were being produced and many women were starting to wear them. There were those who still looked on in disgust, but it was becoming somewhat more acceptable (Peiss 3).


     Before cosmetics became the norm, many women could get items from their gardens or apothecaries to help mask blemishes. One Victorian girl used white wine vinegar, wheat bran, egg yolks, and ambergris to cover a sunburn and give her "a polished whiteness of the complexion" (Peiss 9). This is just one recipe. Many women had little beauty secrets of their own hidden in their cookbooks (Peiss 12).




This is a 1960s ad for eye cream. Apparently, women worried about crow's feet then, too.


     There were some dangerous "complexion enhancers" that women used that caused major injuries; some even killed them. These were considered "paints," not to be confused with cosmetics, since they "often really do impart whiteness, freshness, suppleness, and brilliancy to the skin," according to a writer (Peiss 197). Bloom of Youth was one such paint. Its purpose was to lighten a woman's skin. A woman named Mary used it often and died of lead poisoning. Lash Lure contained rat poison among other dangerous chemicals. A woman from Dayton, Ohio, used it and was blinded and had her face disfigured by it (Peiss 197). Of course the cosmetics companies let consumers know that these injurious paints were not real cosmetics. 




This picture shows Elizabeth Arden posing with one of her make-up brushes.


     According to Peiss, many of the women who became successful with cosmetics "were immigrants, working-class, or black women" (5). Three such women who have brought cosmetics a long way are Elizabeth Arden, Madam C.J. Walker, and Annie Turnbo Malone. Elizabeth Arden came from Canada and was considered a "working girl." She catered to the "social prestige and power of wealthy and upwardly mobile white women" (Peiss 5). Madam C.J. Walker and Annie Turnbo Malone were African American entrepreneurs. According to Peiss, they catered to "poor African-American women," and "created job opportunities for women, addressed the politics of appearance, and committed their profits to their community" (5). Not only did they help women who needed work, but also, they used the money to help their communities. Would it be plausible to say that they themselves were using women's insecurities so they could make themselves rich?


    Beauty standards had much more to them than just cosmetics. Hair was supposed to look nice and neat in the Victorian era. Women usually kept their hair long and placed in chignons or curls. There were ornaments that women could place in their hair, but they were generally small and not very noticeable. Hair-dos were to be sleek, and if there was a hair out of place, or a loose hair, it "was considered a sign of vulgarity" (Luxemag).




This ad is for perfume. It shows that everything is wonderful in the world for the woman wearing it. It is also an excellent example of how women dressed and wore their hair in the Victorian era.


     Clothing in the 1800s was not really comfortable. There were full-length skirts or dresses, corsets, bustles, and layer upon layer. Corsets were considered restrictive and most likely have to do with women fainting so often, giving the appearance of a weak and frail person (Van Dijk).   


          The media has a lot to do with beauty standards, especially in modern times. Body Images Created by the Media explains the positive and negative roles that the media have in society.


     Even though standards have changed, the idea behind beauty standards really has not. Girls and women want to look nice, Generally, they have someone in mind that they want to impress. And what better way to do that than by following the styles that other girls and women wear? Styles change so often these days that it is hard to keep up without spending lots of money. One day, it is the Romanesque gladiator sandals, and the next, it is plaid shorts for men and women. Usually, the tighter the pants or the shorter the skirt, the more popular they are.


     As with hair. there does not seem to be any real craze right now, although bangs have come back "in," and many women like the beehive look with ponytails. Hair dye has become quite the staple. 


     Fingernail polish has gotten brighter, especially around summertime. There are new colors for every season, and they are always talked about in the magazines. If you are not wearing this color, then you have no business being outside. What a wonderful message of being unique that sends out.


     As for make-up, there are many colors and types and utensils to choose from. Go into Sephora and try not to have a cow. Although there are many girls or women who wear way too much make-up, especially in the malls, there are those who have chosen to look a little more natural. It could be said that the more natural look is "in." It is the more popular thing to spend less money on just "things," so many are going without so much make-up. And then, there are always those who have chosen to be that way because that is who they are.


     It also could be said that, without the media, maybe everyone could be a little freer to be themselves without feeling so much pressure. So much for "freedom of the press." 




Works Cited


Bindel, Julie. "The Ugly Side of Beauty." The Guardian. 2 July, 2005. http://www.guardian.co.uk.

Frick, Katie L. "Women's Mental Illness: A Response to Oppression." Women's Issues Then and Now: A Feminist

      Overview of the Past Two Centuries. 18 May, 2002. http://www.cwrl.utexas.edu.

"History of Haircuts." Luxemag. 14 September, 2008. http://www.luxemag.org.

Gilbert, Stefanie C.; Keery, Helene; Thompson, J. Kevin. "The Media's Role in Body Image and Eating Disorders."

      Featuring Females: Feminist Analyses of Media. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 2005.

Levenstein, Harvey. Paradox of Plenty; A Social History of Eating in Modern America. New York: Oxford University

      Press, 1993.

Peiss, Kathy. Hope in a Jar: The Making of America's Beauty Culture. New York: Henry Holt, 1999.

Van Dijk, Nynke; Wieling, Wouter. "Fainting, Emancipation, and the 'Weak and Sensitive' Sex." The Journal of

      Physiology. The Physiological Society, 1 July, 2009. <http;//jp.physoc.org>.

Ward, Kate. "Is Wearing Makeup a Feminist Act?" Sirens Magazine. 26 January, 2008. http://www.alternet.org.









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