By Eboná Mais
At Duane Reade two young women, in their early twenties flip through the glossy pages of Marie Claire and Elle magazine. As they wait in line they pick up and place back several magazines, showing each other the beautiful gowns, smiling celebrities and pouting models on nearly every page. This picture perfect world only exists within beauty magazines, yet somehow it has become the standard and socially accepted guide for what a woman is and what she has the capability to be.
From Kim Kardashian to Katy Perry, women are constantly being pinned up against each other. “Who’s more beautiful? Who wore the dress better? Who does the world like better?” These are all actual questions beauty and fashion magazines ask and poll readers to answer, yet they advocate female unity and love for oneself in all its flawed glory. It seems that somewhere the mission of serving women with a platform to enjoy and share the life, love, knowledge and experience of other women has been given up nearly entirely. We hate Kim Kardashian, but pick up everything with her face on it. We’ve become the victims and the perpetrators.
Brittany Jones doesn’t buy magazines, but she reads them. The 23-year-old likes to skim through them while she waits in line at a store like Duane Reade or Key Foods. Jones does this often if something on the cover catches her eye. “It’s not always a [celebrity], sometimes it’s just the articles” says the aspiring business woman, before going on to say, “Rihanna thinks she can wear whatever she wants,” and putting that particular magazine down. She reaches for another and reads some of the cover stories out loud: “How I lost 100 pounds and became a total player” and “How to make your crush drool.” She chuckles and turns toward her friend, “I know how to make a guy drool,” she says then turns away from the magazine stand entirely. Her friend, Nia, continues to laugh and says “They will really do and say anything to sell a magazine these days.”
And she’s absolutely correct. It costs to sell print these, a lot more than people care to spend on a frivolous thing that will be out-of-date in a week. Headlines have to be eye-catching, pictures have to be overly photoshopped or absurdly unattractive , exaggerated statements have to be placed in all caps, bold writing with exclamation marks to wrap it off. Because then maybe all the fabrication will seem true.
“Perfectionist makeup.” “A more beautiful you.” “No more ugly dark spots.” “Be a better you.” These are slogans from current makeup and fashion advertisements that you’ll find in your typical magazine. Yet, the ultimate effect of viewing these ads are socially, emotionally and physically negative. Women don’t feel as though they can actually look Gisele Bündchen or Beyoncé, they feel as though they’re reminded they don’t look as good in comparison.
“I’d kill for a shape like that,” she says Kadiya Boswell pointing to a picture of Nicki Minaj, “I want more curves, but I can’t afford it.” She flips a page then sighed loudly, “Ugh, she’s so pretty, I hate her.” She talking about actress Lauren London. She explains that she does not actually hate her, but instead admires her. “Hate” is just a term she uses when she sees a good picture of her, “It’s sounds dumb, I know” she says.
“The media—magazines, TV, films, advertising, music videos—not only emphasize that female self-worth should be based on appearance, but present a powerful cultural ideal of female beauty that is becoming increasingly unattainable” says Daniel Clay, Vivian L. Vignoles, and Helga Dittmar in “Body Image and Self-Esteem Among Adolescent Girls: Testing the Influence of Sociocultural Factors.”
The study was done to see if body satisfaction and social compassion with media models had an effect of young women. Their findings stated, “it seems reasonable to theorize that increasing awareness and internalization of sociocultural attitudes toward appearance, and increasing social comparison with media models, may help to explain the decline in body satisfaction and self-esteem typically observed during early to middle adolescence among girls in Western cultures.” That means yes, media in its unrealistic attempt to push perfection as the norm has negatively affected young women into thinking critically about themselves.
Jones has a membership at Planet Fitness, which she visits several nights a week, and does aerial yoga once a week, religiously. She’s also thought about investing in a waist trainer. She insists that it’s not insecurity, but the realization that, “You can always look better.” This is the very media-induced mindset that has made the makeup and skincare business a billion dollar industry.
“Perfectionist makeup.” “A more beautiful you.” “No more ugly dark spots.” “Be a better you.” When asked how can you be a better you, Nia responds, “I thought that was what you was doing going back to school.” But this ad states it’s by investing in flawless foundation. The slogans from makeup and fashion advertisements are subliminal messaging. You can only hide for so long before you become a person that doesn’t care about their looks. On a Tumblr blog dedicated awkward and embarrassing interview moments one confession reads, “On a job interview I was asked if I hadn’t had the chance to put on makeup [that morning] or if I just didn’t care about my appearance.” We live in a society where women are judged on their worthiness by their decision to wear makeup on a job interview, but a male news anchor Karl Stefanovic wore the same suit for an entire year (in protest of the double standard between female and male journalists) and no one noticed.
Yet, the ultimate effect of viewing these beauty ads and fashion magazines are more than just unfortunate stories that you can laugh at later or envious comments directed at celebrities that seem to have it all; it’s the socially, emotionally and physically distorted women that truly believe they are incomplete as they are. These pictures that showcase beautiful models, performers and actresses, looking like perfect specimens does not empower.
But then again it all makes sense. People that love their freckles and speech makes don’t spend money on creams and concealers, but low self-esteem is very lucrative.
“Many reports show that women who are insecure about their bodies are more likely to buy beauty products, new clothes, and diet aids. It is estimated that the diet industry alone is worth more than $100 billion per year…,” writes Genevieve Morse for the Socialist Alternative.
This industry has become huge off of pinning the world’s most physically attractive models, singers and actresses against the working, studying, growing females that already have or have had problems with their self esteem. Showing teenage girls and young women in their early twenties that they aren’t their best selves is detrimental to the self-confidence and health of the people viewing the ads, seeing that it’s not their face or body plastered across every magazine and poster admired by many.
“Instead of women working together to fight against this, the beauty industry creates competition between women. Women learn to compare themselves with other women, and to compete with them for male attention,” says documentarian Jean Kilbourne. This is why Kim Kardashian is the most hated-loved woman on the planet, as were other socialites before her. She fulfills an unrealistic standard of beauty that is flaunted to the mainstream public as necessary to be attractive. When you don’t look like this “beauty” at all, you feel attacked and intimidated, and so you react with the same emotion towards the individual that is the basis of this bias. But Kim Kardashian never said she was physical perfection, we did.
Ironically, it’s the same magazines that profess women need to love themselves “as God made them” that offer tips and tricks to help them look better and thinner and more like the women in the magazines. They falsely declare female empowerment like Seventeen magazines “Body Peace Pledge”, which has young women pledge to love and accept their selves in all there flawed glory. It seems like a great action for the Americas largest “teenage” publication, though if you turn a couple pages a beauty guru will show you step-by-step demonstrations of ways to get eyes like Selena Gomez or lips like Kylie Jenner.
By showing a shiny ad with a gorgeous subject alongside their merchandise, people don’t see what they could look like, they only see what they don’t look like—what makes them imperfect, but this is old news. “Ads for beauty products make women feel worse about themselves—falls squarely into the category of duh, along with “Clumsy Kids Less Popular” and “Eating Healthfully and Exercising Is Good For You,” writes beauty blogger Autumn Whitefield-Madrano.
So why haven’t we stopped it?
Because we’re its biggest pushers. South Park did an episode on the media’s pressure to attain extreme beauty, then the social media peer pressure to at least keep up with the people around you.
“Growing up, I didn’t like one thing about myself. No matter what compliments I received from family or friends I only heard criticisms, I only saw flaws,” Star Wiley said. She would read magazines her mother brought home from work. “All I did was dream about looking like one of those models. I guess my only consolation was that I wasn’t the only person that didn’t look like one.” says the 23-year-old student. “I don’t blame Glamour and Vogue because at the time it was the only thing I had, but looking back all I really had was hopes of being anyone except me, a feeling that these magazines sort of intensified.”
Wiley admits that even now she sets some of her body goals by attaining the features of others. “By summer I want hair like this person, a stomach like her, a butt like another,” she laughs, “It seems so silly to make my desired look the physical features of some total stranger. They don’t even look like that.”
And that’s very true, as the leaked ads and photo shoots of celebrities will demonstrate clearly. Still, it’s more then their beauty, it’s essentially who they are: a famous person, admired by millions, on the cover a national magazine.
“That why most girls want to be the models and singers. It’s because they’re confident and famous, not just beautiful. So yeah, if you put Beyoncé’s face on something and say that she likes it, people will want to buy it because it will make them feel as though they have something in common with Beyoncé,” says NYU Alum Alyssa Evers. What makes this tactic of using a pretty face to sell products to an insecure person even worse is that the person only ends up feeling worse when said product doesn’t make them look or feel like Beyoncé.
Loving yourself is not something you can learn from a ten-step guide or a decision to lose winter weight. It’s ignoring the glossy pictures that tell you being imperfect is fixable, when it’s your flaws that make you the beautiful person you are.
“As you mature you realize that it’s okay to be you, sometimes it’s even great to be you,” says Jones. Then she chuckles and says “because really, nobody’s Beyoncé.”