I started writing this piece several months ago. I am reluctant to share this because I feel that there is still more to add and talk about regarding this issue. Perhaps I need to completely rewrite it, but I decided to post it as is for now. One blog post is insufficient to cover this topic, that our culture’s vanity issues reach far and wide, but my hope is it will be a stepping stone or a starting point for a larger conversation. Though many are refusing to give in to our culture’s pressures, will their decisions change the culture? How do we change a culture? How do we change our wiring as human beings? I realize that beauty and physicality isn’t just a female issue, but I do not explore that here, because simply I’m a woman writing from my experience and observations.
I started watching FX’s American Horror Story shortly after the first season aired. I don’t tend to watch movies or shows of the horror genre, because I have a great imagination and can easily freak myself out , but after hearing from a friend I trust that it was worth the watch, I pressed play. Though by the end I had lost a few hours of sleep and had spent a few evenings with all the lights on, I am so glad I took the time to watch it, particularly because of the episode set on Halloween night.
One of the neighbors of the murder house, Constance played by Jessica Lange, has a down syndrome daughter named Adelaide who desperately wants to be seen and receive affection from men and her mother. Adelaide asks Violet, the girl living in the murder house and dating Adelaide’s brother, to make Adelaide “a pretty girl” for Halloween. Violet does Adelaide’s makeup and hair. Adelaide is so happy with the results: she feels beautiful. Constance doesn’t see her daughter’s non-conventional beauty, but sees an “ugly” down syndrome girl in makeup and curled hair as a joke: she plops a Barbie mask and wig over her daughter’s head and sends the girl on her way. Watch the following montage to see what happens. (Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a better video. If you find one, post it in the comments. Thanks.)
As is alluded to, Adelaide is hit by a car because she can’t see well through the mask, and later dies. Though as Adelaide is dying, we see Constance’s love for her daughter, it is easy to surmise that Adelaide is dead because of Constance’s superficial view of beauty.
I wonder how many other people have died from suicide and eating disorders, or are walking around completely depressed and miserable because of the shame of not adding up to a perceived standard of beauty.
A few days ago, I watched Monuments Men for the first time. First of all, I loved it: I laughed; I cried; I was entertained. And as with all movies about World War II, I was reminded of the horrors of the Holocaust. (There are no spoilers, if you keep reading.)
In one scene, one of the main characters finds a barrel of small gold pieces, which are gold teeth from Jews killed in the concentration camps. The concentration camps were places of sheer demonic horror and cruelty. As I thought about the ideology of the Nazi’s which derives a person’s value from their race and “perfection,” I realized that Nazi way of perceiving a person’s value has not been completely wiped out.
Nazism as defined by good-old Wikipedia is “the ideology and practice associated with the 20th-century German Nazi Party. Usually characterized as a form of fascism that incorporates scientific racism and antisemitism . . . racial hierarchy and social Darwinism, assert [ing] the superiority of an Aryan master race, and criticized both capitalism and communism for being associated with Jewish materialism.”
Jews, though one of the majority, were not the only one’s imprisoned in the camps: Poles and other Slavic people, prisoners of war, the physical and mentally disabled, homosexuals and transgenders, social deviants, those who helped the Jews, non-Aryans, Christians and others were killed in the camps. To quantify what was lost in World War II and the concentration camps is impossible. The numbers of those lost vary from source to source, but below are the some statistics from one source:
Ukrainians 5.5 – 7 million
Jews (of all countries) 6 million +
Christians 3 million +
Russian POWs 3.3 million +
Russian Civilians 2 million +
Poles 3 million +
Yugoslavians 1.5 million +
Gypsies 200,000 – 500,000
Mentally/Physically Disabled 70,000- 250,000
Homosexuals Tens of thousands
Spanish Republicans Tens of thousands
Jehovah’s Witnesses 2,500 – 5,000
Boy and Girl Scouts, Clergy, Communists, Czechs, Deportees, Greeks, Political Prisoners, Other POWs, Resistance Fighters, Serbs, Socialists, Trade Unionists, Others Unknown
Pop culture worships perfection and beauty. People are either respected, and put on a pedestal because of their beauty, or dismissed, made fun of because of they’re fat or ugly. Just look at the fronts of gossip magazines: stories about celebrity breakups, drama, and vacations. They are filled with pictures of celebrities, who are the gods of our society, dressed for the red carpet or going about their daily lives. Also, look at the number of fashion and health magazines in publication and the number of TV shows about people losing weight— Biggest Loser, Extreme Weight Loss— or about getting a makeover? Or on the ABC shows The Bachelor, or Bachlorette, how many ugly or fat people do we see on the show?
Fat people are dehumanized: called stupid and thought to be lazy. People are baffled by the confidence of large or chubby young women, women who aren’t the size-zero ideal, like Lena Dunham who is frequently naked in her show Girls. In a recent cover story for Glamour, Dunham remarked that she is tired of talking about her body. Jezabel an off-shoot of Reddit with feminist overtones leaked her unretouched photos for Vogue saying “[Dunham’s] body is real. She is real. And for as lovely as the Vogue pictures are, they’re probably not terribly real.” All cover pictures for magazines are doctored, why single out Lena Dunham’s? Oh it’s because she isn’t a size zero. Other confident young women who carry more weight are Rebel Wilson and Gabourey Sidibe who recently responded to a reporter asking how she as a large woman could be so confident saying, “Go ask, fucking Rihanna.” All of these women are incredibly talented, so why are they bombarded with superficial questions? Why aren’t they asked about their creative process, or what inspires them, etc.? I admit I do find cover stories that tell an actress’s beauty and health regime interesting, but the cover pieces I enjoy the most are those that talk about who the woman is, what makes her who she is, what is important to her. . . .
Oriella Caszzenello, an 85 year old Italian woman paid 10,000 Euro to a Swiss clinic for assisted suicide because she was no longer beautiful. Her picture was posted and she was, in my opinion, still very beautiful. Caszzenello’s family did not find out about her death until her lawyer delivered her death certificate and ashes to them.
Early this year, Sandra D’Auriol leap to her death just a day after undergoing a 13 hour face-lift procedure by one of L.A.’s top plastic surgeons. Though the reasons for her death are uncertain (a psychotic break, drug reaction, etc.), one can speculate that, despite her procedure to become more beautiful and youthful, she was not happy. Regardless of the cause, I truly feel sorry and sad for her and her family.
Beauty isn’t a bad nor is self-improvement, taking care of ones body, and spending time on one’s appearance. The problem is accessing a person’s value based on their beauty, weight, popularity, and relationship status.
I have seen older people, large woman, and other people who “don’t measure up” treated poorly. In my experience I’m generally treated better, given better service when I am wearing makeup, versus when I don’t.
The problem is qualifying beauty is impossible. What is pleasing to the eye to one person may not be pleasing to another person. The ideal has changed. In the mid 1900’s, women with an hourglass shape were celebrated. Today, models who are stick thin, without boobs and hips are celebrated. Statues of Greek and Roman woman whowere considered most beautiful, today would be seen as carrying an extra 20 plus pounds. In ancient China, fat women were considered beautiful, and in parts of Africa having an unnaturally long neck is considered beautiful. Most woman know of the elusive thigh gap; Beyonce doesn’t have a thigh gap and she is considered one the most beautiful women in pop culture.
How many middle schoolers do we see on Instagram “pimping themselves” by taking sexually suggestive pictures. They’re in middle school, and probably haven’t even had their period! How many young woman are consumed with their weight and their beauty, and are completely miserable, because they can’t seem to reach their ideal BMI?
Enough is ENOUGH! How many people have to die from an eating disorder before we wake-up to the extent of the problem? When is just being a fellow human being, enough of an “excuse” to treat a person with dignity? Is beauty so important that we want to exterminate other human beings that don’t measure up? Well, then we might as well “Heil Hitler.”
The root of the problem rests in the means of measuring a person’s value. How do you measure a person’s value? And what reason do you have for measuring a person’s value in that way? What’s your belief system and what is your foundation for that belief system?
My foundation is based on what God has made known through the Bible: every single person, no matter their race, sexual orientation, or past is a valued person to him. He carefully “knit” every person together in their mother’s womb. Each person is a result of intelligent creativity, with a purpose and the capacity for great good and great evil, therefore I should treat everyone with dignity, even if I don’t like them for one reason or another, or think they are pleasing to look at.
A few months ago, I asked myself, what would happen if for one day everyone’s outer appearance mirrored their virtue the condition of their heart: if he/she is a good person, he/she would be outwardly beautiful, if he/she isn’t nice, then he/she would be ugly . I wondered what I would look like. What would you look like? Who would be the most beautiful? Would those who are outwardly beautiful remain beautiful?
If you aren’t buying into pop culture’s pursuit of the ideal, congratulations! If you are working on having a healthy view of yourself and your body, that’s really awesome! If you try to treat others well, that’s another congratulations for you! While trying to live right everyday and those little interactions with strangers does evoke change, how do we change the culture? How do we help the problem on a larger scale?
We may never wear fatigues, but we are in a war for our hearts, for our minds, and for our very souls. The phrase “heil Hitler” may (and let’s hope) never uttered in it’s true sense, but if we as a culture continue as we are, perhaps much of what we lost in that great war was for naught.
© Kristen N. Rea and WildFire Dreams, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kristen N. Rea and WildFire Dreams with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.