It's a psychological itch that the most enlightened, successful and even beautiful women still tend to scratch: if I look better, I am better.
Now one campaign is trying to convince others to break free from that line of thought. The Stop The Beauty Madness campaign wants you to "feel like you've been socked in the gut" when you see its jarringly frank ads, says its founder Robin Rice.
Stop The Beauty Madness is a series of 25 advertisements branded with honest messages that highlight the true "madness" involved in creating and meeting beauty standards. Rice, an author and the founder of Be Who You Are Productions, started the campaign to challenge an internalized belief that a woman's beauty determines her value.
Rather than attempt to fit more diverse types of women into an already narrow definition of beauty, Stop The Beauty Madness questions the value we place on beauty in the first place. "My main mission is to say if women are worried about their weight and their looks to the point that they're not actually putting themselves in the world, then we're missing out on some really extraordinary individuals and some really important conversations we need to be having," Rice told HuffPost. "Women need to be helping the world move in a more beautiful direction -- a genuinely beautiful direction."
Beauty, Rice reminds us, can be both meticulously arranged or totally accidental. And yet, we privilege "effortless" beauty free of the true effort (and anguish) often required to achieve it, while criticizing those who happen to be very thin for succumbing to beauty standards. "Even if you fit the mold, you get in trouble for fitting the mold," Rice said. "You can't win."
This double-edged sword is why Stop The Beauty Madness takes a broad approach, addressing all elements of a woman's appearance from race, to age, to weight, to several at once. "Naturally thin women, or women who choose to work out and have really buff bodies, or elderly women, are not excluded from this conversation. They get their own backlash," Rice said.
The campaign intentionally uses stock photos, the type of images used to illustrate many glossy magazine articles. "We wanted to use what was out there," Rice told HuffPost. "There's not lot of stock photos of African-American women compared to white women. There's not a lot of edgy photographs of women. There were countless pictures of women on scales trying to lose weight. That shapes our conversation," she said.
Attaching a brutally honest inner monologue to an image typically used to sell things -- whether it's a product, a lifestyle, or romance -- reveals their true costs. Ultimately, Rice hopes the campaign will provide a corrective lens for how women perceive certain images.
"We look at beauty magazines and fashion photographs and whether we theoretically believe in them or not, we've seen so many of them and they've been put into exactly the right light and ratio that something inside of us has said 'That's beautiful,'" Rice told HuffPost. "Whether or not we believe in it intellectually, something deeper has set in and we compare ourselves to that."
Changing beauty culture won't happen overnight. But for now, Rice hopes women can rely on themselves not to fall victim to it.
"Maybe the next time you look at a magazine, you may have a split second in which you question whether or not that gets in your head again," said Rice. "We want to create that split second where you think, 'Wait a minute. Do I really believe in this?'"
The campaign also features audio and video series, a slam poetry contest and blogs. See some of the images below and visit Stop The Beauty Madness to see the full campaign.