Archive for the ‘Self-esteem’ Category

ImageThere was this video making the rounds on the internet last spring.  It was some kind of Dove commercial disguised as an experiment on how women see themselves.  The idea was that, when a woman described herself, she’d have a really hard time describing herself as beautiful.  There is, in this country, this, you know, ridiculous perception of what it means to be beautiful.  Thin is good, fat is bad.  Light is lovely, dark is not.  Blonde is best, blah, blah, blah. 

The (mostly white) women in the commercial, I mean experiment, walk into a giant loft space and sit down in a comfortable chair.  Behind a screen, where he can hear them but not see them, sits a sketch artist who draws as the women, one by one, describe themselves.  Then, in the same way, someone who knows each woman describes her.  In every case, when the portraits are placed side by side, the women look more beautiful when they are drawn as described by their friend or mother or husband.  It makes perfect sense, given what I have already mentioned about society’s need to create some crazy and “ideal” notion of beauty.  People from other continents, for the most part, seem much better at identifying what is beautiful and appealing on the inside of a person rather than worrying about the outside.  Americans like to claim to be from the Land of the Free, but all that goes out the window when beauty is discussed.  We can pretend that we are free of prejudice, that we don’t think some people are ugly, that we have freedom of choice about what we wear and how we style our hair but when it comes right down to it we are all so stuck on fitting in, on looking the part, in one way or another.

Girls will literally starve themselves to death to look skinny because to be overweight or even what’s considered “acceptable” weight would open them up to criticism and bullying.  Women will spend thousands of dollars a year on makeup and hair products, manicures, pedicures, botox, breast enlargement and all kinds of other bullshit just to feel like they look “acceptable.”  Men will get tummy tucks and plastic surgery to disguise their double chins.  It’s ridiculous.  It’s this notion that’s force-fed to us in magazines and on TV and the silver screen and the internet and everywhere we look.  Billboards.  Bus stops.  Subway posters.  Book covers.  We are not good enough unless we look like “them.”  The beautiful people.

Well, I wish I had been asked to participate in Dove’s experiment on beauty.  I can’t remember ever thinking of myself as ugly, except for maybe one week in first grade when I had the mumps and I looked into the mirror at my swollen face and neck and cried to my mother, “Mommy, I’m ruined!”  I can remember feeling apprehension about how I had my hair cut or what I was wearing, when I was living my life to my fullest tomboy glory, but that came from knowing I was making other people uncomfortable, not from thinking I was unattractive.  I knew, as a kid, that my mother was considered a beautiful woman.  It did wonders for my ego, if not my tender tomboy reputation, to be told I looked just like her.  As a young adult I didn’t think of myself as “pretty” because that seemed so femme, but I never thought of myself as ugly either.  And once I came out as a lesbian I saw right through the “all women are beautiful” mantra that so many dykes proclaim in public while privately condemning each other for being fat or ugly.  Self-loathing is so toxic.

No, if I were to describe myself to that sketch artist in the Dove video I would start out by telling him that I’m very beautiful because I FEEL beautiful.  I would describe my bee-stung lips as not as full as they used to be but still enough to frame a dazzling smile.  I would talk about my dad’s strong jaw, my mom’s lovely cheekbones and my paternal grandmother’s button-y nose.  And I’d say yeah, I’m 54, but my skin is still smooth and almost wrinkle-free.  My eyebrows are natural and unruly and never plucked and my eyelashes are noticeable, thick.  My eyes are brown and so, somewhat, is my hair, but don’t forget to make it about 50% gray.  I earned every single one of those silver threads so don’t you dare leave them out.  And yep, there’s a little baggage around my neck but hey, I’m 54, remember?

I wonder, if I were asked to be a part of the Dove soap experiment, if I would have made it into the video?  How would I have skewed the numbers?  How would I have ruined THEIR preconceived  notions of how we think of ourselves?