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Beauty,Spring 2005
Fourth Web Papers
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Changing Beauty


Liz Paterek

Athletic activities have the potential to add to the increasing diversity of beauty; however, all sports must first be perceived as requiring focus and athleticism and the media must portray athletic women in a more favorable light. Figure skating and dance both have stigmas of femininity that make the athletes who participate seem less fit than they are. This also makes them more susceptible to societal standards of beauty. Tae Kwon Do is seen as masculine, which likely decreases female participation and limits its impact. Therefore the world view of the aesthetic beauty of the sports must evolve before they can make a greater impact.

I found that athletics have two types of beauty, the immediate pleasure they give to an observer and their ability to change world views. The external beauty is immediately apparent. The simplicity of movement in dance, figure skating and Tae Kwon Do can all be referred to as the external beauty. This attracts the eye of the viewer and makes them interested. It can be competitive as in football or wrestling or aesthetic like in dance. Without this initial impact it would be impossible for people top find the inner beauty. Like a book, the cover attracts may catch the eye but the content ultimately leaves the largest impact.

Tae Kwon Do is perhaps the most unique of my activities from the eyes of the outsider. As a competitive self-defense art, which is seen as rewarding aggression and physical skill, it is viewed as a masculine activity. It involves competition and many observers look at the fight rankings rather than the beauty of the motions. They may see it as a blood sport because of the connotations of extreme violence that Kung Fu movies generate. However, the art actually trains people not to harm others and to control their movements making it aesthetically beautiful to watch. As prowess increases, individuals learn how to defend themselves with the least amount of motion possible. This allows them to fight for longer periods of time without exhaustion and is the corner stone of being a successful martial artist.

Tae Kwon Do is not the masculine activity that it has the stereotype of being; however, in order for it to gain more female participants, women must learn this. Martial arts do not reward brute force. Tae Kwon Do requires the concept of focus. It is almost impossible to explain this notion in words, as there really are none that adequately describe it. A very terse definition could say that it is the simplest way to generate the most power and the ability to control every motion that the body makes. This concept removes gender from the equation. Women are equally capable if not more so than men to use this. In fact women's smaller size and greater endurance is advantageous. This makes it clear that if stigmas were altered, female participation would increase.

Tae Kwon Do has the power to positively change the stereotypes of beauty that world places on females or at least to add a new dimension; however, this must happen because gender stereotypes are expanded. As Robinson stated, beauty ideals are broader in Western culture than ever before (1). Perhaps if women who had a high degree of athleticism were represented by the media as beautiful, strength would be synonymous with femininity. Some theorists believe that all of Western culture's beauty notions result from the media and whether or not this is true, it is clear that a large portion of what we like or dislike is influenced by movies and television (1). These athletes would create a healthier ideal. It would aid in breaking down the walls between feminine and masculine. This would also be helped by tournaments not being segregated by sex.

Figure skating and dance both have the stereotypes of being "feminine" activities, which involves the external observer's view of the simple motion of beauty. They have primarily female participants and people often view them as light and airy. However, performing a five minute dance or skating a four minute program is extremely exhausting and requires a large amount of muscle strength. The competitive and physically demanding nature of these activities is often pushed to the side because they are seen as forms of aesthetic entertainment. Knowing about torn ligaments or lost toe nails, might detract from that sense of calm beauty that a viewer perceives.
The feminine stereotypes in these sports allow for society's feminine beauty ideals to have a greater impact upon the participants. Due to the fact that a person without muscle tone could perform the activities, the ideal of thinness becomes one of extreme athletic leanness. This obviously generates unhealthy body ideals. Even though figure skating is a very competitive activity, competition is very aesthetic and subjective. Judges have the right to give a lower score due to the overall look of the program. This gives them freedom to mark down skaters that they dislike. The dance world is almost entirely aesthetic, and performers like actors need specific looks. There is no argument, that anorexia is prevalent in the dance world. Movies like Center Stage touch on the subject of both rejection for not being the ideal of thinness and the "perfect" people who hurt themselves to reach that goal.

The main difference between the bad body image in aesthetic athletics and that in larger society is that for athletes, there is a clear goal of financial gain or self-success. Women in society may hope they will appear more attractive and that this will benefit them in some abstract manner. However, in speaking with figure skaters who have been bulimic or anorexic, weight loss aids in jumps ability and speed, which can make all the difference at highly competitive levels (2). Overweight figure skaters will be unlikely to perform these, and even if they are capable, they will have a much more difficult time trying to win at competitions. Dancers over a certain weight likewise face criticism and may not find work. This, however, gives hope that if a more healthy and athletic ideal were favored, women in these sports would feel less direct pressure to lose weight. This would positively impact women's health by allowing them to be simply healthy, a power that figure skating has above many other sports. As my skate instructor said to me the other day, "It's [skating] one of the few sports you can stay in your whole life." (3)

The way that the media portrays the external beauty of the sports must change to emphasize the focus and athleticism before they can impact the world view of beauty. Masculine sports often have an emphasis on the competition whereas feminine sports often emphasize a performance. Therefore, an emphasis by the media on the beauty and grace of male sports and the athleticism of female sports would be beneficial to changing participation in the sports. By giving boys and girls strong women as a beautiful ideal, we set them up to mimic this ideal later in life. It is clear that our nurture plays in a role in what we find beautiful. Therefore exposure to strong beautiful females and portraying feminine activities as requiring strength can excite a change and make healthier beauty ideals.

Works Cited
1) Robinson, Julian. The Quest for Human Beauty. W.W. Norton and Company, New York. 1998
2) Anonymous Interviews and Conversations. 2000-2005
3) Pamela S. Figure Skating Coach. April 12, 2005


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