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Beauty,Spring 2005
Fifth Web Papers
On Serendip

A Beautiful Woman

Amanda Glendinning

Beauty is an integral part of a woman's life, whether or not she is beautiful. The thought process, by both the woman and the world, about her appearance and other instances of beauty, affects how she portrays herself and is viewed. Women are affected by beauty and the pressures related. Part of this is due to the historical and national correlation between beauty and femininity. But, I believe, and have discovered through the class, "Beauty: Chemistry and Culture", that external beauty is not the defining aspect of a woman's life.

Internal beauty is just as important as external beauty, especially as it radiates out. Attitude is more important than appearance. At Bryn Mawr especially, even if a woman is feminine, she is not necessarily beautiful and vice versa. The advertising industry and media portray the concept of ideal beauty as a woman who is "young, skinny, with big boobs, white, blonde, tall, no personality, smiling, a.k.a. 'Nazi Barbie.'"(1) This woman is "a narrow-hipped, high-breasted woman with flawless skin."(2) The media believes that women want "the Cosmo package [which] seems to offer everything: sexuality, success, independence, and beauty." (2) In America, women are exploited and demanded to be similar to the ideal.

American women are brought up in a society which emphasizes physical appearance. For example, fairy tales portray beauty as good and ugliness as evil. Take "Snow White" for example. Snow White is described as beautiful with red lips, "skin white as snow", and raven-black hair. Her stepmother, who also portrays herself as beautiful, asks, "Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?" When the mirror states that Snow White is, the evil witch turns herself into an ugly hag to reach Snow White, demonstrating to the audience that she truly is ugly inside, and thus externally as well. Bruno Bettelheim explains:

The story of Snow White warns of the evil consequences of narcissism for both parent and child. Snow White's narcissism nearly undoes her as she gives in twice to the disguised queen's enticements to make her look more beautiful, while the queen is destroyed by her own narcissism. (3)

Snow White and her stepmother both desire to be beautiful. They demonstrate that external beauty is necessary as it displays internal beauty.

"Beauty and the Beast," on the other hand, tries to demonstrate that a person can still be beautiful, even when ugly. Despite this, the fact that Belle learns to love Beast even though he is ugly is nullified when he becomes handsome through the transformation. From a woman's childhood, physical beauty is emphasized, and people assume that women want to look like the pages of Cosmopolitan, Vogue, and Vanity Fair.

Advertising is important in an American's life, influencing social decisions. The average American spends about two years of his or her life watching television ads, which create a "toxic cultural environment." (4) This forces people to "sacrifice our health for corporate profit." (4) The media has a good deal of influence, despite the fact that only eight percent of an advertisement's message is taken in by the conscious mind. (4) For example, advertisements are created to influence women's body image. The thinner the models, the more diets are advertised, and the more eating disorders are created. Jean Kilbourne stated, "advertisements create a climate where disconnect to our body is normalized." (4) While I don't believe that is completely true, Kilbourne has a point. Advertising disconnects people from the dangers, but I believe that it connects people to the expectations of their bodies.

A few weeks ago, I was flipping through the May issue of Harper's Bazaar and opened up to the "Best Dressed: Bazaar Parties in Paris" photographic article. On the second page, alone in the largest picture of the "society type pictures" was a smiling blonde girl with dark eye makeup. "Lydia Hearst-Shaw in Emanuel Ungaro." It read. I couldn't believe it! Lydia and I went to middle and high school together until she transferred in 10th grade. Lydia Shaw, as we all knew her, and I had been friends who carpooled and now she was a model who had been featured on the cover of Italian Vogue. While Lydia is gorgeous physically, the reason I was drawn to her when we were friends was her personality. She was fun and took the time to see how people were doing. Her beauty was not just physical, though that helped. Her physical beauty was common among the girls at my high school, which in turn caused pressure.

Partially because of the social context of beauty, women have varying self-esteems. One way that women have manifested low self-esteems is through eating disorders. I went to a socially intense high school, Greens Farms Academy. There were fifty-two seniors in my graduating class. Out of the twenty-nine girls, I calculate that 93% had eating disorders. Only two of us, my friend and I, did not. In fact, two of my best friends would compete over who could throw up faster after a meal and exercise more. I know it's not pleasant but it was reality where I was from. As a size 8, I was too fat, even if I was one of the few natural blondes. Jane Fonda once said:

Society says we have to be thin, and while most of us don't have much control over our lives, we can control our weight, either by starving to death or by eating all we want and not showing the effects...I love to eat, but I wanted to be wonderfully thin. It didn't take long for me to become a serious bulimic—binging and purging fifteen to twenty times a day! ...bulimia was my secret 'vice.' No one was supposed to find out about it, and because I was supposed to be so strong and perfect, I couldn't admit to myself that I had weaknesses and a serious disease. (2)

In a place like GFA, anorexia and bulimia are control mechanisms that allow a woman to have a feeling of success. When parents and peers are pushing a girl to be smart and look good, eating disorders emerge. Dr. Wooley, a psychologist, stated in a Glamour study, "Dieting is often a self-cure for depression and other ills. It gives women a sense of control, of doing something about problems...that may have nothing to do with their bodies." (2)

I arrived at Bryn Mawr and expected that a high-stress place such as this would be another breeding ground for eating disorders. I was pleasantly surprised to find that eating disorders are distinctly less apparent. While there are still women with problems, including some of my friends, I believe that Mawrtyrs take their mental independence to a level which includes an independence from classic beauty norms. Despite this, I do see that Bryn Mawr women compulsively eat, either socially or when stressed. Women in general do this. Friends and I were joking that it's not the "freshman fifteen", it's the "thesis thirty." A number of friends gained weight during their senior year by eating as either a procrastination device or from stress.

When I look at that, it reminds me of being at GFA. My sisters are thirteen and in seventh grade there. Their friends have begun worrying about what they look like, and not only dieting, but also taking it to the next level. They are taught from the Westport, CT society that appearance is socially important. This is a common US theme that is taken to an extreme at home. "Today, many young girls worry about the contours of their bodies—especially shape, size, and muscle tone—because they believe that the body is the ultimate expression of the self." (5) The girls are taught that people judge based on appearance and that they should live up to that. "The body is a consuming project for contemporary girls because it provides an important means of self-definition, a way to visibly announce who you are to the world." (5) I think that women at Bryn Mawr, even though they still use their bodies, don't allow themselves to be subjected to the judgments. My friends have said multiple times that they like the break that Bryn Mawr has allowed them about feeling self-conscious.

At Bryn Mawr, there is a feeling of body acceptance. If one wanted to (and was crazy enough in the cold), she could go skinny dipping every day of the year. Nudity is accepted, no matter what size a person is. The beauty of Bryn Mawr allows for bodies to be appreciated. Where else could women streak at every major school event? It is different when women see other women naked than when men see women naked. Even if women see each other as potential lovers, they do not see each other as sexual objects. My friend made a joke, "By and large, Bryn Mawr girls are bi and large." As everyone laughed, I realized that people are more comfortable about sexuality and body image at Bryn Mawr. In class, someone stated that there is "a community here that wants to subvert the norms." Bryn Mawr women consciously attempt to go against the "beautiful" found in the outside world.

Body hair removal, or the lack of it, has been a common theme for women expressing their femininity or as an expression of feminism. 85% to 90% of women have unwanted facial or body hair. (2) This has stemmed from a long history of women being taught that hair is bad and that getting rid of it is feminine. Women were not allowed to display body hair as it was not acceptable or sexual. Some feminists determined that leaving their hair where it grew was a form of rebellion. Today, especially at Bryn Mawr, it is more acceptable to make that choice. Some of my friends here don't shave on principle or because they like how hair feels, or because they get lazy. Other friends still shave all the time. My friend had not shaved for a while and then at the beginning of this school year, she began waxing and increased her entire hair removal regimen. She made a comment regarding this:

I love plucking my eyebrows, not for any change in overall appearance, but I just find I really fun and rewarding to remove unwanted stuff. Kinda like Biore strips and flossing and wax hair removal. It's sorta like taking hygiene to the next level—not only being clean but feeling clean on the surface.

Our conversation had gone from what people were wearing out that night to a bizarre story that my friend had told regarding the intense pain she felt while plucking her eyebrows due to the fact that her twin sister was getting her eyebrow pierced at the same moment. Another friend had turned to the first and was surprised that she would pluck her eyebrows. My friend's reaction about getting rid of "unwanted stuff" really emphasized that society teaches what is and is not acceptable.

Is it though a case of nature versus nurture? Are we bred to find certain appearances beautiful and others ugly? In class, Krystal stated, "Everything we admire is fate." Does society teach us that or is it in our nature? I believe it's a combination, as we can seat Bryn Mawr. Megan stated that the "Bryn Mawr look is different from the standard" which can be true or not depending on a background. It is certainly true for me, as I have discussed. The Bryn Mawr environment is unique. As we discussed in class though, there is a common thread of beauty of appearance, which some people state leads to the Golden Ratio.

As someone who has been very involved with art, I distinctly see the make-up for this concept. We were taught that the human face is a combination of three shapes: it is an upside down triangle, within a square, within a circle. We were also taught other common proportions of people: the middle finger is the width of the hand and also one-third of the forearm. The face, if divided in thirds, can be from the hairline to the eyebrow, the eyebrow to the nostril, and the nostril to the chin. The height of the ear is the height of the nose and width of the mouth is one and a half times the width of the nose. As each of these ratios becomes closer to the Golden Ratio, the person is supposed to be more attractive. While we do not know if this is globally true, it has been found to be commonly true in the United States.

Despite the common conception of beauty and beautiful people, I have found that at Bryn Mawr, this is not the defining factor in beautiful. There are a multitude of beautiful women here, and as I have become closer with them, they have become more beautiful to me. I look through my photographs and see that none of my friends are ugly, even though they may not be conventionally beautiful. I think that Bryn Mawr's environment allows for that.

At Bryn Mawr, gorgon women have been described as beautiful before. They may be absolutely ugly, but they still draw people. Others cannot turn their heads away, usually due to the fascinating personality emanating from the woman. Likewise, women that others might find masculine or "butch" are found to be beautiful here, demonstrating the beauty and femininity do not necessarily correlate at Bryn Mawr.

Historically, women have found that they demonstrate not only their sense of selves, but also their sense of beauty through clothing. Part of this is that it boosts a woman's confidence or hides her imperfections. Efrat Tseëlon wrote, "...dress has a profound effect on the woman's sense of self-worth and well being. Clothes both confer a sense of self worth and help creating it." (6) At Bryn Mawr, I believe that women's façades, while different from the outside world, still affect the way that she presents herself, and thus her beauty. I find that the most beautiful women at Bryn Mawr have the strongest personalities. They emit an inner beauty, which is necessary for me to find anyone beautiful.

Bryn Mawr cultivates that inner beauty. The school was set up as a place for intellectual and social growth for women. The school prides itself on emphasizing education relationships between faculty and students, as well as relationships between women who are mature in their thought processes. Bryn Mawr was not a finishing school, like a number of other all women's institutions. It did not focus on society and manners, even though they were taught. M. Carey Thomas stated, "...a woman can be a woman and a true one without having all her time engrossed by dress and society." (7) This has been applied to Bryn Mawr.

Part of Bryn Mawr's attitude stems from the fact that there are no males. Women are encouraged to focus on only other women and themselves. There is no societal expectation that women will be feminine, beautiful, and focused on men. Bryn Mawr women are independent thinkers. Scarlett O'Hara states what I see as a common feeling of Mawrtyrs:

I'm tired of everlastingly being unnatural and never doing anything I want to do. I'm tired of acting like I don't eat more than a bird and walking when I want to run, and saying I feel faint after a waltz, when I could dance for two days and never get tired. I'm tired of saying "how wonderful you are" to fool men who haven't got one-half the sense I've got, and I'm tired of pretending I don't know anything, so men can tell me things and feel important while they're doing it. (8)

Mawrtyrs have an opportunity to escape those expectations for four years and blossom because of it.

Today, I realize that I have grown with my confidence and my view of myself. Because of this sense of self, I have made myself more available to friends. It is an ongoing cycle of learning to find yourself beautiful and thus making friends who make you feel better about yourself. I use Helen Keller's famous quote to demonstrate Bryn Mawr's atmosphere. "The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt from the heart." Bryn Mawr, by subconsciously encouraging this, demonstrates that women of all shapes and sizes are beautiful.

I realize that beauty, to me, is more of an internal measure than external. Whether my pupils dilate or not (what eyes do when they see something attractive), I have found beauty at Bryn Mawr with my friends. Emotionally and mentally attractive, my friends exude beauty on the outside. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross said, "People are like stained glass windows—the true beauty can be seen only when there is light from within. The darker the night, the brighter the windows." (9) After going through a rough semester, my friends have held strong and helped me. Because of that, they are more beautiful than any fashion model could be to me, unless of course, she was my friend.


1) Naomi Wolf Talk at UPenn. 2/17/05.

2) Wendy Chapkis. Beauty Secrets: Women and the Politics of Appearance. South End
Press, Boston; 1986.

3) Bruno Bettelheim. The Uses of Enchantment. Alfred A. Knopf, New York: 1976.

4) Jean Kilbourne. Slim Hopes. Talk 10/27/04. Bryn Mawr College.

5) Joan Jacobs Brumberg. The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls.
Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, Inc, New York: 2000.

6) Efrat Tseëlon. The Masque of Femininity. SAGE Publications, London: 1995.

7)Famous Creative Women

8) Margaret Mitchell. Gone with the Wind. MacMillan Co., New York: 1945.

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