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Beauty,Spring 2005
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The Power of Beauty

Meera Jain

"Get a perfect bikini line with no pain", "The best two-piece for your body", "Look amazing on your lousy day", "Get sex-kitten hair and skin", "Secrets to a buttery body!" --these are May's feature articles in Cosmopolitan magazine. Imagine this multiplied by 138 articles and 5 magazines spread across the front shelf at Borders. For some women, these types of cover stories are what drive women's choices to diet, highlight hair, wear makeup and purchase a $3.99 item. Glancing at the glossy covers with skinny celebrities it was hard not to grab and turn to a page full of beautiful, dolled-up white women sporting the newest fashions. But I couldn't help and think that maybe I could be a more powerful and capable woman if I had a perfect bikini line or had eradicated the cottage cheese on the back of my thighs. Fortunately, I was capable enough to put it down and continue with my day of classes and work without letting these articles influence my thoughts. However, for a large majority of women the messages from the media play like a broken record in their head. What forces women to become influenced by the media, and are there societal pressures to conform to an ideal?

"Beauty is the still birth of suffering, every woman knows that." It is easy to understand the social implications surrounding beauty because as a woman I am constantly surrounded and influenced by it but it gives me the opportunity to tell it from a woman's perspective. Although I would like to say that women chase beauty for their own pleasure, women do it because of the feeling of power they get when regarded as feeling and being beautiful. Ted Chiang confirmed my hypothesis, one of his interviewers Maria de Souza said, "For me, one of the things that attracts me to a guy is if he seems interested in me. It's like a feedback loop, you notice him looking at your, then he sees you looking at him, and things snowball from there." The "snowball effect" gives women a feeling that they can achieve anything now that they are regarded as beautiful. The power women attain, lets them gain respect and admiration in communities, they become well known and perceived as trustworthy. They also go on to use their beauty in positive way to enhance other women's experiences. I agree that feeling beautiful is a powerful effect on your attitudes and habits, but it has to be in balance with reality. Unfortunately, sometimes this power we achieve can become an enigma for women who are unable to balance it with reality, especially the younger women when they are most susceptible to outside pressures.

Women are perpetually influenced by the media at a young age because of the over stimulation we receive from our environment. We see it everywhere, and the beauty mentality stays with the pre-teen generation and becomes more serious as they progress to middle and high school. The role models we are constantly examining are on television shows; movies, magazines and they hold a certain standard for women to follow. The environment of physically appealing women is a competitive one, each one outdoing the next in their quest for skinnier hips, larger lips and firmer bottoms and we start to have a new respect for these women. Or at least I do; some might disagree that pop culture idols are a terrible role model to have, but their hard work and determination are what got them where they are. Their fortitude and perseverance is no different than women that have intellectual beauty, both groups had to give up certain things to attain that level and are now enjoying the power they get from feeling and being beautiful.

After researching what the social implications of beauty are, I looked at the intellectual environment and saw what their definition of powerful beauty is. Examining the websites of many Fortune 500 Companies, I saw that all the women in high executive positions are beautiful and had achieved a power position from feeling beautiful. They were likely to be respected, idolized and could achieve a lot more in their male dominated industry because of their feminine beauty. Their profiles on the websites displayed a smiling, bubbly, controlled and powerful woman with the smarts to run a company. It is true that our society places a huge emphasis on physical beauty, because we are all beings that enjoy working and seeing beautiful things. Therefore based on society's belief, these women who were at the highest positions in their corporations were at that level because they had been beautiful.

In Christine Koggel's Concept of Beauty, she makes a fundamental point that all women who are beautiful are white and rich, but I disagree because across the spectrum you see Condoleeza Rice, Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou, Chitra Banerjee, Yoko Ono and the list continues. All these women hold beauty and are able to be a huge force in producing enjoyable movies, books, songs and discourses because of the power they get from being beautiful. Therefore, I think that wanting to attain an ideal of beauty is a positive attribute because it drives women to desire a power. Koggel goes on to say "a beautiful object has a property or set of properties that makes the object capable of producing a certain sort of pleasurable experiences." It is this belief that supports my theory that physically, intellectual and inspiring beautiful women are more likely to have a powerful effect on their surroundings.

Even though there will be certain women who go to such extremes of contracting an eating disorder or other body-image problems, as long as the women are aware of the benefits and pitfalls of conforming to an ideal, there should be no problems. I think it's important to have an ideal that society approves of because it helps both genders appreciate the people who keep to it and they do so through hard work and not giving into distractions. By appreciating the women that are keeping to an ideal because they want to attain a goal that beautiful women before them have attained, it lets all types of women be appreciated. Feeling beautiful is being beautiful; each of us has that power to feel like we are worth every minute of pain and pleasure that we underwent to be that beautiful.

Beauty is seen as a pervasive and negative force in society, but I think it has a positive influence on women of different ethnic backgrounds, size, height and skin color. Koggel makes a ubiquitous statement "being bombarded with messages about paradigms of beauty means not measuring up and often going to great lengths to attempt to measure up in some way." Yes, it is true that the media bombards us with messages of beauty, "try this new product, wear a belt so your waist looks smaller, exfoliate dry skin and etc" but these messages are what help motivate us to attain some sort of ideal that helps us feel powerful. All the women executives at the Fortune 500 companies had to go to great lengths to measure up so that people can admire and respect them, such as undergoing pain of working long nights, giving up a social life, be in constant limbo between family and work life so how is it any different than wanting to feel and be beautiful? Good things only come with sacrifice, but understanding the sacrifice is how we can balance the power from being and feeling beautiful.

There will always be a societal norm that women covet for, and I think that it is a positive ideal that initiates women to push them for something because it involves hard work. Being and feeling beautiful can be a difficult task but a much-wanted one, because it affords women a power. The power we ascertain from being beautiful can be used in a positive way, like to empower other women or make a contribution to society or start an organization. Most women, who want the power from feeling and being beautiful, will go through hurdles because they want to live up to that ideal that society approves of. Being intellectually and physically beautiful are very similar attributes, each comes with sacrifice and are respected in every environment, what makes it unique is the women who can effectively balance the both and use their power from feeling beautiful, to achieve goals that inspire women like me.

Koggel, Christine. "Concepts of Beauty: A Feminist Philosopher Thinks about Paradigms and Consequences" Beauty Symposium, March 23, 2004.

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