the Idea of Beauty

Elizabeth Rosales Cultural Anthropology-A18: Yi,Zhou April 21, 2011 Response Paper: Killing Us Softly Who are we? Who am I? With the average American exposed to approximately 3,000 ads a day they all remind us of who we are not and who we should be. The images we are constantly bombarded with by the mass media don’t just sell products they “sell values, images, concepts of love, sex, and normativity”, standards to which we so often compare ourselves to.

Ads reinforce gender binaries, all making a statement about what it means to be a woman in this culture of thinness stressing a particular importance on physical beauty. Jean Kilbourne’s film Killing Us Softly explores and exposes the detrimental effects of the objectification and dehumanization in the representation of women in the popular culture, specifically advertisements.

With only less than five percent of women of the entire population that reflect the images of the women advertised, the majority of women are left to feel ashamed for not trying hard enough. Women’s bodies are increasingly subjected to strict scrutiny under a magnifying glass by our superficial culture, these actions bring forth and further feed the shame and embarrassment women associate with their bodies, their sexuality, their size, and their weight.

Spending self-conscious days, weeks, months, and even years in front of a mirror and scale, inspecting our bodies in front of a mirror comparing ourselves to the images spread over magazine covers as women we are repeatedly reminded that our bodies are home to imperfections and there is always room for improvement whether that be through exercise, plastic surgery, dieting, or over the counter “beauty and health” products. Rosales 2 Is this self-improvement or self-destruction?

Today, 1 in 5 women are likely to develop an eating disorder and cosmetic surgery is more popular than ever before. More and more women each day are going under the knife for breast enhancements losing all sensation in their breasts. Such procedures dehumanize and objectify women transforming them from “subjects to objects”, all because as women we are conditioned by the dominant culture to want to feel desirable and seek the approval of men. The breasts, therefore, become a source of pleasure for the men and not the women who undergo the procedure.

These internalized feelings drive many to strive to obtain an unattainable beauty and live up to certain impossible expectations whether it’s consciously or not. We fail to recognize that most of the images we are exposed to are computer generated, they are not real women they have been photo shopped and manipulated to look like that and yet we continue to perpetuate these images as the standards for beauty. Much more, the standards that women are expected to live up to is a paradox of ideas, we are to be both “innocent and sexy, virgin and experienced” child/doll-like and sex objects simultaneously.

Can that be any more absurd? Gender is a performance that the mass media is largely responsible for defining, if we are not thin or beautiful enough then we are not feminine enough. The oppression and misrepresentation of women is not limited to gender though, race plays an active role in the representation of women. Asian women for example, are depicted as docile and passive lovers, whereas black and Hispanic women are hyper sexualized and portrayed as exotic promiscuous “creatures” dressed in animal prints.

The perfect ideal woman was manufactured and it’s time we recognize this, she is an illusion that doesn’t exist outside of caricature. Instead of altering our Rosales 3 bodies to fit those Barbie doll like measurements we need to start portraying the large diversity of women accurately and stop condemning those who are not thin enough, tall enough, light enough, as not being beautiful because they aren’t trying hard enough to fit those categories.