It is indeed a fact that physical appearance is the first thing that we as human beings take in when we first meet someone. Before we know anything about an individual, our eyes see their physical form and — often — quickly form a judgment based on that information. This reality is no longer up for debate.
This response belongs to human behavior 101 and is very basic in its nature. I would hope that as humans with the ability of deep thought and profound compassion, we could move beyond basic reaction to more meaningful and elevating ones.
Physical Appearance and Societal Norms
When it comes to physical appearance interpretation, societal norms play a huge part in how we perceive the information we gather from our sight. However, societal norms are crummy measuring sticks.
While there may have been anthropological reasons — at first — for our judgments based on physical appearance alone, I would like to believe we see more about a person than looks.
There are no altruistic reasons behind today’s standards of beauty. There are indeed industries which benefit enormously from our insecurities as well as our innate desire to belong.
In this day and age, men, women, and — sadly — now children perceive the pressure to look a certain way more deeply than previous generations. This fact is in great part due to the rise of social media, magazines, and TV exposure worldwide.
The Puppet Masters
In 2017, Americans spent more than 16 BILLION dollars on cosmetic procedures (with breast implants at the forefront of surgeries). Also in 2017, the cosmetic industry was expected to reach 265 BILLION in sales.
Do you genuinely believe that these industries care about our physical appearance for charitable reasons? Call me cynical if you must but I genuinely doubt this is the case.
When I was in sales right out of college, I learned a valuable lesson. We were told that the American economy is a consumer-driven economy. For Americans to buy, we must CREATE needs. Needs create consumers.
This factor is probably the main reason I was terrible at selling. Preying on the weaknesses of individuals is not something I could align myself with especially when I abhor being “sold to.” Manipulating others to make a buck, no thanks. Needless to say my tryst into the world of sales was short lived.
Alter your Physical Appearance For…?
A few days ago, hubs and I went out to lunch.
Upon entering the restaurant, I notice two greeters behind the booth. Both female (this will matter in just a sec). Upon being seated at our table, we met our waitress. I observed that all three of these young women (in their early 20s) sported rather thick and long fake eyelashes and heavy makeup.
The following day, someone posted a video on their social media about a tutorial on how to create fake freckles with a hairbrush and powdered blush.
I was left baffled.
Maybe, it’s my age.
I admit that I’m a perplexed by the desire to alters one’s appearance — especially for women — to such an extent. I really don’t get it. Maybe I am just an old fuddy-duddy who hasn’t advanced with the times. This conclusion is highly possible.
They are everywhere, women who take such drastic actions as surgery, extreme dieting, and over-exercising as well as far less invasive options.
Questions Which Begged to be Asked and Answered
Why the incessant need to transform our physical appearance and to present a picture that isn’t truly who we are?
Why the masks?
I personally find the trend alarming because I genuinely do not understand the reason behind these behaviors.
What are those women trying to achieve?
What is the message that they are hearing from society?
More profoundly, what is the message they tell themselves when they look in the mirror?
I am concerned that the bill of goods being sold is that we — especially women — are not acceptable as we are. Attached to this false belief is the assumption that life will be better — and happier — if we can squeeze ourselves into narrow molds of beauty.
When hubs and I went away for our 25th anniversary, we caught a brief glimpse of some TV show in which few of the women appeared “normal.” At the very least, they looked nothing like the women I see on a daily basis as I live my life. The women I encounter at the grocery store, the bank, the dental office, the library, the post office, and the mirror, look vastly different than the women the plasma TV screen reflected to me.
The beauty industry is very competent and efficient at creating needs for women of all ages (including very young girls).
When we — as humans — perceive something as a need, it becomes a biological imperative to meet that need. Those who want us to consume their ware are well acquainted with this fact. They study us like lab rats to uncover what makes us tick — or, in this case, buy.
What are the messages behind the trends?
What are we told about our bodies?
Let’s Talk Breasts
While women who breastfeed in public are often assaulted, insulted, ridiculed, and shamed. Women who flaunt their milkless breasts are applauded.
Is a woman less of a woman because she has small breasts? Conversely, is a woman with large breasts more of a woman?
Do large-breasted women make better mothers, friends, neighbors, wives?
Are they more fulfilled in life?
Do they have more joy?
Again call me cynical, but from where I stand the core message I receive from all the breast talk (ad nauseam) is a purely sexual one. The theme I gather is thus: women with large breasts are better to gawk at, they have more sex appeal and they are bombshells in the bedroom.
For far too many, sex appeal is attached to breast size and women — being well acquainted with this fact — flock to get their bodies altered.
In a strange way, wanting to fit and not be seen as “less than” makes perfect sense in a world of 7 billion people if we believe life is a competition.
Let’s assume half of the people on earth are female. If you see the world as dog eat dog then rising to the top makes sense when your competition is this fierce.
In this case, if a woman wants to be noticed she must rise above all rivals (all 3.5 billion of them).
What are they competing about?
A mate. A job. It really doesn’t matter.
When we view the world as a Colosseum where few remain standing, winning at all cost becomes an imperative which makes perfect sense.
The desire to belong is elemental to all humans. Being “the plain one” in a crowd of beauties can feel suffocating and scary. If one must be beautiful to find favor then one will find a way to become dazzling and no artifice should be spared.
This makes sense.
But, is this how women see the world?
Social Media and the Likes
The competition is all the more intense now that our faces can be plastered on a screen on the other side of the world. While we used to only have to compete in our own backyard so to speak, thanks to technology, we are now going against the entire world.
In magazines, we go as far as comparing women who wear the same dress with the question “who wore it best?”
What is gained from such a shaming practice?
Who cares who wore the darn dress best?
These judgments are based on physical appearance alone.
Dreadful if you are one of these women.
If we examine the life of the “beautiful” it does not appear to me that they are incandescently happy.
Fame, beauty, and fortune do not seem to heighten one’s joy in life. Beautiful people still go through divorces, death, rejection, derision…and whatever hails the rest of us, plain folks.
Life is hard for all of us.
Beauty is not a shield which hides us from life’s difficulties.
Unconditional Love and Acceptance
Genuine unconditional love is never based on physical appearance. And while a very attractive well-put-together woman will most certainly attract the eye of many males, will she — in the end — find what her heart truly desires: unconditional acceptance, belonging, and the ability to be completely vulnerable.
We all want to be seen not just gawked at.
Every one of us wants to be seen for who we are…in our heart. We want our essence to be seen and yes, accepted.
It seems to me that our striving to physically appear as acceptable is often rooted in shame and the message “you’re not okay.”
While there is nothing wrong with wanting to look our best, or simply loving makeup and playing with different hair color, there is something wrong when an individual feels the need to meet a manmade standard to be loved.
At this juncture, looking our best becomes a catch-22.
On the one hand, be noticed — and accepted — for our physical appearance. On the other hand, resent we are accepted and loved solely based on that same physical appearance.
Acceptance based on such premise is not sweet. It is hollow and painful. In the end, it leaves us feeling alone in a world where we are not really seen. When we need to act and pretend, whatever is granted to us, is not really acceptance anyway. Is it?
We want to be comfortable in our skin and accepted for our true authentic self.
I do not know of any individual who genuinely wants to be judged by their looks alone.
The crux of the matter is that we need to be able to accept ourselves first if we expect others to do the same. Yes, self-acceptance means our less than desirable attributes as well.
Women who are genuinely happy with who they are despite their flaws can find the confidence to be seen as they are despite ever-changing societal norms. These are the women who authentically radiate Beauty.
The conundrum is that this self-compassion and self-love are not easy to achieve in a culture where entire industries benefit from our fears and feelings of inferiority.
Lack of confidence is good for business.
While no company has ever made the claim to have found the Fountain of Youth — or of happiness — some insist that they’ve gotten pretty darn close. It would behoove most of us to ask ourselves why do we have such a strong desire to modify our physical appearance.
Is this desire based on feelings of shame?
Do we fear we won’t be accepted?
Do we hear the whispers of “you’re not enough?”
For the Children
Moreover, remember that our kids are watching us. Our worldview becomes theirs as well. Parents cannot raise body-confident kids if they are not willing to really look at their own emotions regarding the issue of physical appearance.
Finding makeup great fun is not the same as wanting to hide or trying to make oneself acceptable through makeup.
Moreover, the world is fickle. What is gorgeous today will be hideous tomorrow.
Don’t believe me?
Remember the big hair of the 80s? Blue eyeshadow? The mullet? The huge eyeglasses of the 90s? And, so the list goes on.
The needs must change for people to buy. What was “the bomb” last year is so “passé” this year.
I don’t care if people like fashion and makeup. However, I do care that women feel the need to compete against (irrational) standards of beauty which even the most beautiful among us cannot meet.
My diatribe is not about makeup, eyelashes, or fashion. It is very much about the messages we are being bombarded with and the pain these themes cause.
Do you personally know individuals who felt so unacceptable that they starved themselves yearning for an acceptance which — when it was acquired — failed to fulfill their deepest longings?
I am sure you know women, maybe even young girls, who genuinely struggle with their physical appearance. And, despite your best efforts to tell them otherwise they still feel ugly, unloved, and unacceptable.
The pain is real.
And, it is not ok in my book.
I would like to think that we as humans we can do far better.
Maybe I’m dreaming.
However, I can hopefully positively affect the women in my circle of influence.
I, you, we are not our bodies.
We live inside of them while we are here on earth. One day we will die and our bodies will become dust. Our essence will remain and it is this essence those who love us will miss and remember.
Life is short.
It is even shorter than we think.
Too short to obsess about our looks.
So shine Beautiful.
Show up as You and let the haters hate. That’s what haters do. Their problem.
Let those who love you love. Absorb that love through all your senses. Revel in it. Wear it like a garment. Be grateful for it. And then, send it back fuller, brighter, and greater.
THAT, my friend, will transform you.
You are light.
You are made from stardust.
Your body is but a shell.
Despite your physical form, you remain you.
I will leave you with two videos which I found very eye-opening.
Resources for Physical Appearance: