"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," said Margaret Wolfe Hungerford in 1878 in Molly Bawn. But today, it seems that beauty is only about youth, a predefined set of features when it comes to women. Assumptions or stereotypes of who is beautiful can impact women's lives including their incomes, access to resources and interpersonal relationships. We spend billions of dollars on elective plastic surgeries, facelifts, Botox, creams and makeup, sometimes with dangerous consequences.
I grew up in India, where beauty is equated with being fair-skinned and the level of income you get can depends on it. Women use Fair and Lovely cream to bleach their skin so that they transform into the accepted norms of beauty. In addition to the reported inclusion of worrisome ingredients like hydroquinone, steroids and mercury, the lack of its efficacy can lead to other problems. A friend of mine went into a deep depression because Fair and Lovely didn't lead to the results it promised, i.e. a handsome husband.
I now live in the U.S., where youth appears to have the corner on beauty. Hence the willingness to go under the surgeon's knife and use potions that promise the elixir of beauty. Reality television shows like Botched have done little change perceptions or behavior.
But, it's not just older women who face the burden of having to appear beautiful. It begins early. Young women can be teased, bullied and much more for not fitting to the accepted norms. Anorexia and bulimia are frightening disorders beginning in teen years or young adulthood, often caused because we value "thinness" and teach our girls to believe the same.
However, change is happening, but slowly. The film, On Beauty attempts to bring us a different image of beauty. The film follows people to help us see beauty with a different lens. At the same time, we are seeing a new generation of women who are pushing back that "we need to stop convincing girls they're beautiful."
Advertisers are recognizing the need for change and stepping up. For instance, the Dove Soap and Lotions Company is trying to change the conversation uniquely through its advertising and public relations. Although some women think this is creepy.
Change is happening locally in Chicago as well. As an example, The Viola Project is empowering young girls from 10-16 to use their voices, learning through Shakespeare. According to them, "students practice self-defense, create visual art, learn musical instruments, study stage craft, interview professional women, attend live performances, and perform works of their own".
Let us know how you define beauty for yourself. This month, we are talking about body positivism and would like you to weigh in. Add your voice to the conversation: @ChiFndn4Women / #BeautifulMind
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.