Why Your Eye (I) is the Only Beauty Beholder That Matters
"Funny is sexy, and Jennifer Aniston is funny!," writes editors for "Men's Health" magazine who just donned Ms. Aniston THE sexiest woman of all time. By this logic, my partner's 87-year-old grandmother is a giggly, witty sexy beast in those beige orthopedics and wispy silver hair. Likewise, the same goes for the middle-aged postal worker who is a wheelchair user and always cracks me up when I have to mail something over sized and any random video of cats in party hats doing adorable things like using an iPad. Yes, funny IS sexy, but let's not delude ourselves into believing that that's the reason Ms. Aniston came in at number one with a bullet. She made the grade because she conforms to a narrow cultural perception of what passes for "beauty" and "sexiness." "Men's Health" also voted in Marilyn Monroe, Madonna, Pamela Anderson, and Britney Spears.
The superlative list of head-turning beauties has nothing to do with the women themselves, rather the issue is that these polls or rankings exist at all. I remember the dopey yearbook "best," "most," "-iest" designations that pigeonholed us into some type of Franken-identity at the mighty, wise age of 17. I remember the feeling, then, of being voted "Brainest" when I wanted to be voted "Prettiest." (Note the italics as I could not be more prouder to fly my Nerd flag high today.). Because it isn't the title that you're given, it is the longing you feel from wanting the title you have not got. These ridiculous magazine lists keep women in that perpetual state of wanting, and worse, pit women against each other in a never ending, Miss Beauty-Trend-of-The-Moment-USA type contest. Who wants to be you when you could be Jennifer Aniston?
And it is not just a problem for young women who are finding their way, navigating through a media and culture minefield that celebrates women who can lose 35 pounds of baby weight two weeks after giving birth, that overlooks Kardashian vacuousness in favor of their coveted assets (ahem). The rhetoric and practice of beauty is an issue for women who have given over so much of themselves to caring and nurturing others, to advocating on behalf of ill or physically challenged individuals that standards, ideas, or ideals of beauty not only seem out of reach, but also feel exclusionary. Who tells the exhausted caregiver she's beautiful? How does the woman operating on little sleep and even less energy in order to see to her son's needs feel about her beauty? Where is the Top 100 Sexiest Over-worked, Under-appreciated Moms of All Time list?
Women need to take back their beauty. To claim it, define it, and express it proudly on their own terms, not from what comes in a bottle, off a wrack, in a test tube, or what is ranked on a list. Maybe we can't change the industry. Maybe we can't change the producers who back movies and television shows that cast twiggy, doe-eyed, rosy skinned women in a state of perpetually suspended animation, impervious to the work of time and age, as the ideals to aspire towards. But we can change the conversation. We can change the way we view, celebrate, and declare our own sense of beauty. We can change the words we say to ourselves, and in doing so, change the way we want others to see us and treat us. We can change that longing to be someone beautiful like Jennifer Aniston and instead LOVE being someone beautiful like ourselves.
Dr. Sheila C. Moeschen
Director, HerSelf First