This is the second in a series of guest blogs ranging from short prose pieces to poetry composed for member, Chelsea Nabozny’s, high-school creative writing class.
Nabozny explains, “Over the past eighteen weeks, I have been using my senior elective Creative Writing class as a space for students to explore ideas and issues that are important to them and reflect on their ideas through various types of writing. After several weeks of talking as a class about generational issues, technology, and media, I noticed that many females in my class were particularly interested in the way women are represented across these mediums. As a culminating project, I asked my students to create a written piece on any topic that we discussed that they felt particularly passionate about. The students below are a select group who decided to share their thoughts, opinions, and beliefs about what it is like to be a young woman in 2015. The way that this group of students articulated themselves through a variety of writing styles allows for a truly fascinating glimpse into the minds, thoughts, and daily struggles that these young women face. Through these pieces, I hope that other teachers find the confidence and trust to have conversations about gender in their own classrooms and allow their students to explore and grapple with these issues.”
January and February pieces have been submitted by secondary and post-secondary students interested in gender. If you are interested in submitting a piece, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the subject line, please mark the message for the webmaster.
Define beauty. Beauty. What is beauty? Does anyone really know what it is? Google gives a definition. Beauty is a noun. The first definition is, “a combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight.” The second definition is, “a beautiful or pleasing thing or person, in particular.” Who is determining what the perfect shape, color, and form is? This topic of beauty in media raises a lot of controversy. Because of this, I decided to do a project that raised questions concerning the opinions of beauty. I compared society’s version of beauty to media’s perception. This is also a good way for people to do some self-reflection on their idea of beauty.
For this project entitled “Define beauty,” I asked sixteen people to send me a picture that they felt beautiful or confident in, a picture in which they personally liked the way they looked. With these pictures I asked them to also give me one word that in their opinion describes what beauty is. I pasted these words on their pictures. Then I went online and studied different commercial ads and websites involving celebrities. I picked out about eighteen pictures of some of the most famously recognized and loved faces of the decade. Some of these people include Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Adam Levine, and many more. With these pictures, I pasted words that describe what the pictures portray beauty to be.
Society and the media are constantly pushed against each other. The questions that may be raised while looking at this poster are, “What is beauty,” “Am I beautiful enough,” “How do the different sides of the poster differ?” and “What is the media trying to show what beauty looks like?”
To get to the point, everyone’s opinion of beauty varies from person to person. In this poster, Media’s perception of beauty is that beauty is, “intense, altering, innocence, photoshopped, fitness, revealing, sexual, tough, interpretive, athletic, erotic, and much more. How can someone expect another to hold all of these attributes? It’s impossible. What are celebrities trying to tell younger generations? As stated by Ivana Trump, “Gorgeous hair is the best revenge.” What is this quote teaching teenagers as they read this? That they have to have “perfect” hair in order to be respected? The media and celebrities need to think about how they are coming across to society. Are they even aware of this? I don’t know how they couldn’t be.
Just as the poster shows the media’s perception of what beauty is, society’s opinions are also portrayed. When asked what beauty is, kids said, “confidence, happiness, fearlessness, self-assuredness, uniqueness, comfort, strength, kindness, security, love, self-respect, personality, and much more. Now, why are these words so much different than the media’s? Is it because we feel as if we have less pressure to be role-models? Is it because inside these are the words we believe make someone beautiful? Most of these words are words that describe feelings on the inside, not how you look coming across to others. Media’s words describe how beauty looks on the outside. So the question is, “What type of beauty is more important?” Interior beauty or exterior beauty?
In addition, society’s pictures are quite interesting. Many of them are professionally taken by photographers. Did the people in those pictures pick those ones specifically because they think they looked most like professional pictures celebrities take? Or is it because they sincerely feel confident in how they look? I wonder. The words society chooses to represent beauty are the words they want beauty to represent, but do the pictures match up? Some of these pictures portray society trying to look like they are modeling like media tells us how we should pose to look our best. It’s not what we think looks best. Also, one thing I realized about the pictures from society is, most have filters. Eyes are brightened, blemishes erased for “embarrassment” reasons, and the naturalness and uniqueness of people are washed away. I think the amount of pressure society feels has become so intense that it is programmed into our heads we are supposed to be a certain way. We are unaware at how we try to be like the media tells us to be. Isn’t that crazy?! Tina Fey could not describe any better the amount of pressure society feels from the media. She says:
“But I think the first real change in a women’s body image came when JLo turned it butt-style. That was the first time that having a large-scale situation in the back was part of mainstream American beauty. Girls wanted butts now. Men were free to admit that they had always enjoyed them. And then, what felt like moments later, boom- Beyoncé brought the leg meat. A back porch and thick muscular legs were now widely admired. And from that day forward, women embraced their diversity and realized that all shapes and sizes are beautiful. Ah ha ha. No. I’m totally messing with you. All Beyoncé and JLo have done is add to the laundry list of attributes women must have to qualify as beautiful. Now every girl is expected to have Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, a Jamaican dance hall ass, long Swedish legs, small Japanese feet, the abs of a lesbian gym owner, the hips of a nine-year-old boy, the arms of Michelle Obama, and doll tits. The person actually achieving this look is Kim Kardashian, who, as we know, was made by Russian scientists to sabotage our athletes.”
Tina Fey was right on point. There is an amount of pressure society feels from the media. Society is confused, not wondering what beauty means to them, but being brainwashed by the media’s perception. This is sad. Media could argue that they have to look certain ways for people to like them. Well, why can’t people in media be liked for different reasons other than looks? It’s ridiculous. Why not be beautiful in your own, imperfect way? I think being real is what makes people most beautiful. While doing this project I thought to myself, “Media is pressured by society, society is pressured by media.” When does this vicious cycle end?
It starts within society. When people wake up in the morning, they should feel healthy and happiness from within. Are they contributing to society in a positive way? Are they making people laugh? Are they setting enough time for themselves to be pampered? As said by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, “People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.” People have to find that light from within to show others their realness and beauty.
As for the media, I think it’s important for celebrities to show their naturalness a little more. Show that you aren’t perfect. Show people you understand the everyday struggles that people go through, physically, emotionally, and mentally. Out of many of the celebrities I see every day, I fully respect Jennifer Lawrence. I think that because she is newer to media, she understands the amount of pressure in being famous but also remembers how it feels to be a normal citizen. She says, “I don’t really diet or anything. I’m miserable when I’m dieting and I like the way I look. I’m really sick of all these actresses looking like birds… I’d rather look a little chubby on camera and look like a person in real life, than look great on screen and look like a scarecrow in real life.” To a person in society, this is looked at as being quite positive for a star to say, as well as quite inspirational. It seems as if she connects to everyday people on a level different than other stars.
Time will only tell how society and media will act upon the topic of beauty. But for now, it’s everyone and themselves. They have to decide for themselves what beauty truly is in their eyes and keep it. I don’t know if the media will ever stop their vicious cycle of pressuring kids to look a certain way. I can only hope that someday someone will stand up and things will change. I want to see real people on magazine covers. Real people on television with maybe not the best teeth. I frankly don’t care what they look like. I want to connect on a personal level. That’s what this should all be about. Beauty on the inside. Showing your light shining through.
As I continue throughout life, I want to inspire people and let them know how beautiful they are. Inside and out. I want to celebrate the uniqueness in every single person. No one is the same in life and we should embrace that. Be yourself, be-you-tiful.
Piece by: Leah Ratterman
Leah Ratterman is a senior at Springville Griffith High School in Springville, New York. She hopes to attend a college in New York and study Occupational Therapy. She enjoys expressing herself through writing, music, and sports.