Sex and the Ivy

A Capitalist Motive Behind The Beauty Myth

Filed under: Uncategorized — Elle August 24, 2009 @ 2:34 pm

How heartening to see that I’m not the only one who’s tired of chronic air-brushing in women’s magazines. Last week, I wrote on The Chicktionary about the positive response to Glamour featuring a plus-size model in its latest issue, and other Tumblr bloggers responded with a host of reposts in agreement. Despite all the body-positive messages women receive nowadays, I can’t help but think that none of it has sunk in, partly because efforts like Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” are only necessary because companies, Dove included, have been cashing in on women’s body insecurities for years. (Anti-aging cream, anyone?) The fashion and beauty industry, advertising agencies, and consumer women’s magazines are allied in a war against our self-esteem, but the biggest shame of all is that women actually buy in — quite literally — to what they’re selling: the idea that perpetual youth and a single-digit dress size equal happiness. While I don’t think that there’s a global conspiracy with Anna Wintour at the helm, it’s undeniable that some players — most notably, cosmetics companies and the cosmetic surgery industry — have profited hugely from unrealistic beauty ideals. That means women like my friends and me are forking over cash at an astounding rate because we’ve been told implicitly and explicitly throughout our lives that we don’t look good enough and won’t ever look good enough until we’re model-beautiful.

Of course, it’s not as simple as wanting flat abs and substantial cleavage for beauty’s sake itself. Our idea of what constitutes beauty is inextricably linked to the way we view success, lifestyle, and class. Unfortunately, my Gen-Y comrades and I grew up on a diet of Seventeen, not Sassy, and we now reach for Cosmopolitan instead of Ms. Magazine. That means that the way we define wealth and a desirable lifestyle is influenced by fashion spreads and make-up tutorials. (Don’t even get me started on the blowjob tips.) Like they say, you can never be too rich or too thin or nowadays, too tan. And as sick as it sounds, dropping from a size 12 to a 6 is the type of social mobility that any girl of any background can afford.

I just returned from Ibiza this morning, and based on what I saw on the nude beaches and the VIP sections of superclubs like Pacha, I’m astonished that magazines continue to Photoshop their models. There are women out there who look so close to perfection that they almost seem unreal from up close and not in a freaky Barbie doll kind of way either (though there are plenty of those too). Presumably, the girls I saw over the past four days –many of them models, dancers, or actresses — are the type of women who wind up on the pages of women’s mags, and yet, even they are constantly under the scrutiny of image editing software and ridiculed for imperfections. When Playboy’s first issue came out, photo manipulation and boob jobs were unheard of, but as beauty has become a consumer good to be purchased and acquired, Photoshop has become a tool for fueling consumption. Today, it’s not enough that affluent American women have been brainwashed into being gym rats and plastic surgery patients. These companies want these ideas to become the norm. That is, they want women with enough wealth to hand it over, and they want women without it to aspire to be consumers.