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Make Me Feel So Damn Unpretty

essietee's picture

"I Feel Pretty/Unpretty" -Glee Cast

“Or was there nothing? nothing but an incomparable beauty which she lived behind, and could do nothing to disturb?” – Virginia Woolf

Several summers ago, I was privileged to obtain an internship in New York City working in the Beauty Department of a major women’s magazine. While attending meetings with editors, I took notes on trends and studied patterns that arose for different seasons and makeup lines. Sitting in a closet (literally!) for eight hours each week day gave me a lot of time to research the products that were sent for the editors’ consideration. Within the samples that sent to the magazine were numerous advertisements, marketing strategies, and notes about how to pitch products.

Part of my internship required that I complete an academic independent study once back on campus; I chose to look at how trends in fashion and beauty carried across several other women’s magazines, being that I had first-hand experience working in the area. It’s pretty safe to say the Bryn Mawr fashion is a little bit different than that of Manhattan, being that we’re students and can get away with wearing pajamas or heels to class.

Growing up in a small New Jersey suburb, my idea of beauty was very different than what it is today. I used to think that it was better to fit in the a mass of people that wore a specific brand/style of clothing, only wore their hair straight, and caked on several layers of thick makeup. Coming to college, specifically a women’s college where academics are prized over appearances, completely changed my thoughts on the subject. To me, knowledge is sexy. To me, confidence is attractive. These are qualities people have, rather than physical characteristics. Yet I still wonder: why does our society continue to reinforce this ideal of feminine beauty, one that excludes, to use current “Occupy” lingo, the 99% of female-identified people and glorifies the 1% who have a specific physical presence?

The “right relationship” I was thinking about whilst making this collage was that of mass media and American society. I’ve found that a lot of magazines and companies target “real” women, but just how “real” are they? It took me the entirety of my teenage years to accept my body, find my own style, and really be comfortable in my own skin. But I’m still surrounded by advertising on television, the radio, in magazines, and on the Internet that reinforces a societal desire for tall, skinny women with stick-straight hair and raccoon eyes. There are no disclaimers, as we discussed in class, and anyone who uses these forms of entertainment (and let’s be real – everyone does) is subject to them.

This collage is a compilation of magazine images and Internet pictures that I think show different qualities of beauty. Some of the people are young, some are old; some are alive, some are dead; some are real, others are not. I think that there is something beautiful about all of these pictures, it just depends on how you choose to see them. I concluded that beauty truly is within the eye of the beholder: we have different sexual orientations, religious affiliations, and cultural beliefs, all which affect the ways in which we see the world.


Anne Dalke's picture

in the beholder's eye

I'm quite drawn to your collages, essietee, both as representing variety and difference in beauty, and as representing what you have to say (a la Margaret Price) differently than in the conventional academic form; they put me in mind of what we've created when we've done silent board discussions in class this semester--which, too, are graffiti-like, more in-process, less finished, collage-ish.

Where I'd like to go on talking is @ the moment of the cliche: "beauty truly is within the eye of the beholder." Not sure that tells me much....I taught a course once years ago called Beauty: A Conversation Between Chemistry and Culture --take a look @ the provocative quotes on the syllabus (if not @ some of the links therefrom?) and let's explore this notion together a little more.....?