The whole idea of appreciating real beauty is about broadening our understanding of what beauty is. Vertically speaking, it means appreciating physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual beauty in each individual. Horizontally speaking, it means appreciating various shades of skin, the various hair types and colors, and the various body shapes and sizes that exist amongst individuals.
Media aimed at women have a strong influence on our perception of beauty. By celebrating only one type of person, either vertically or horizontally speaking, it is implied that others are not worth the while. A broadening of the type of women—both vertically or horizontally—celebrated in the media will, in turn, contribute quite meaningfully to our appreciation of real beauty.
Based on nothing more than my perception and experience, there does seem to be an increase in diversity portrayed in the media. However, there also seems to be quite a few obstacles still ahead of us, one of which hit me recently like Thor’s hammer.
Real or Perceived Diversity?
I was grocery shopping a couple of days ago and passed the magazine aisle on my way to the cash. There I was, casually strolling by. I always glance at magazine covers—they are so glossy and pretty and shiny!—and so I did just that, noting with joy that there were women from different backgrounds on the covers—including Latin American, African-American, and Caucasian—before stepping in line.
As it advanced, a sudden thought hit me. Was it me, or were the faces looking back at me from the magazine rack less diverse than they should have been?
The list of the women on the February 2016 covers I glimpsed and their ethnic background, as per their Wikipedia page, are: Ana Ortiz (Puerto Rican and Irish); Ashley Callingbull (Enoch Cree); Jennifer Lawrence (Caucasian); Katie Holmes (Caucasian); Megyn Kelly (Caucasian); Oprah Winfrey (not pictured; African-American); Penelope Cruz (Spanish); Priyanka Chopra (Indian); Reese Witherspoon (Caucasian); and Rita Ora (Albanian).
One would expect, then, that quite a rainbow of skin colors, facial features, and body types to be gracing us from the magazine stand, no?
That’s what I was expecting, especially when comparing the magazine covers with candid shots of these ladies. But I found myself staring at women’s whose bodies had been thinned out and skin colors had been lightened—women who seem to have been digitally altered to look more like the commonly accepted narrow definition of what beauty is.
The Benefit of the Doubt
Let me be completely fair; there is a fair chance that, as someone who hasn’t done extensive research in this phenomena, I simply got caught in a bad month. That usually there is, indeed, a wide diversity of women that do not look both thinned out and lightened up. This is only one person’s one-time experience.
But what if this is, indeed, the norm? What if my cynicism—honed through years of reading posts and articles and watching denouncing the practices of the beauty and fashion industry—is actually based on reality rather than only my perception of it? I’m going to have to do more research into this, but at this point in time, I feel comfortable in my belief that there is a homogenisation of physical traits on magazine covers.
We’ve been hearing for quite some time about how the media is manipulating women’s images to fit a certain narrow aesthetic. While there have been some great developments in recent years, such a big problem is not just going to disappear overnight.
Which brings me to my biggest realisation: we shouldn’t lose sight of these challenges that plague our society just because there is no big, breaking news about it anymore. Diversity in the media, the over-retouching of women’s bodies to fit a narrow aesthetic, the gender gap in movies, the gender gap in general—and every single other thing in society—we need to remember that just because there isn’t a big bad story about it doesn’t mean that it’s not happening.
Resisting Doing the Ostrich
But there are so many problems going on in the world that, well… I know I have played the ostrich quite a few times in my life. It’s just too much, you know? And I often feel like I’m just one person and I can’t possibly do anything about it. I’m no leader, I’m no public speaker, I’m no [insert whatever position you think I must hold to change the world].
So how can I not forget about all the problems in the world while avoiding becoming so overwhelmed that I would stick my head back in the ground?
Focusing on the Root Cause
As mentioned many times before on this blog, the solutions to big problems are oftentimes quite simple, but are difficult to put in place as they take the consistent efforts of a large number of people. In the case of learning to appreciate the broad range of beauty, the solution is, indeed, simple if we identify the root cause of the problem.
Personally, I think this root cause has to do with a lack of appreciation for the nobility all human beings are born with, a nobility related to their spiritual nature.
The current situation is:
- Cover pictures are digitally manipulated so that all women, whatever their ethnic background, fit a narrow aesthetic of beauty;
- This implies that the natural physical characteristics of these women is unworthy of being on a magazine cover;
- Which further implies that these women’s other sides are not worthy enough to “make up” for being outside this narrow definition of beauty.
My understanding is that:
- All human beings have souls, therefore they are all noble;
- Their bodies are a temple to their souls;
- Temples are spiritual places where the higher nature can commune with its Maker;
- If a temple is well taken care of it will fulfill its intended purpose;
- If a temple is fulfilling its intended, higher purpose, can it ever not be beautiful?
When the Vertical and the Horizontal Align
It seems, therefore, that to broaden one’s horizontal appreciation of beauty, one has to broaden one’s vertical appreciation of the same concept; that it is normal, if we deny the spiritual side of human beings, not to be able to appreciate the beauty of the full range of its physical manifestation.
Again, a simple solution, but a complex one.