Submitted by Amisha Upadhyaya
What women don’t do for beauty — says she in the entertainment industry — but I’m not talking about my glycolic peel.
Elizabethan women covered their skin with ceruse (lead-based) makeup, which caused peripheral neuropathy, gout, anemia, chronic renal failure, and disfiguring scarring requiring more ceruse…including Queen Elizabeth. She may have defeated the Spanish Armada and heralded a new age of art and literature but she obsessed about her skin and love handles like any peasant. She was scarred so badly by ceruse that she banned all mirrors.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, wealthy French women used belladonna eyedrops to dilate their pupils to get dilated pupils and possibly also glaucoma, blindness, and retinal damage.
And let’s not even get into body shape. From corsets to foot binding, women were either forced to or, more often, underwent extremes of their own initiative that make anorexia and bulemia seem like a picnic. Since the gay ’20s, suffering at the altar of beauty is slightly less — not in procedures but in options. Our freedom to choose our form of torture was presented. Women’s lib included the freedom to cut hair, shorten skirts and unstring the corset.
Have we come far, baby? More things change…Except now, of course, men are climbing the charts vying women as the clientele. Americans spend more on the $160-billion beauty industry, not counting cosmetic surgery ($1.9 billion), than on education.
Today, we have no corsets except the ones we choose. 75% of girls as young as 9 years old have dieted from 2 to 5 times in a given year; one-third of high school girls have Body Dysmorphic Disorder (distressing thoughts are about perceived appearance flaws).
Perhaps it’s cultural, perhaps a byproduct of mass media, or maybe it’s just human instinct. Charles Darwin noted a “universal passion for adornment”, often involving “wonderfully great” suffering.
The scales are balanced between society and Darwin. On one hand, good looking people are known to get better jobs and some other perks after years of fashion rags and television get to us. But, long before job hunting begins, studies even show that in the animal world, cuter babies — chubbier cheeks, rounder and bigger eyes — are given more attention. Darwin noted it was so the weak, unhealthy ones of a litter would die off. Not only do adults have preferences, but so do babies. They will react more to symmetrical, pleasant faces than to “ugly” ones (imbalanced or deformed features; asymmetrical faces).
How do we raise our daughters to even the scales towards a healthy body image? More than any other factor, children learn simply by watching and listening. So make sure YOU are healthy with your own assessment of yourself. If not, get help but along the way, watch what you are communicating to your child.
There is a HUGE difference between a normal teen with normal insecurities not feeling good about her appearance and teaching her essentials about health (periods and puberty changes), the importance of exercise and eating right, hygiene, beauty products, and appropriate fashion. All of this will boost her confidence by showing her all the things in her life she can control for a safe, healthy life. It may not completely combat the stuff thrown at her by peers, media, and other societal or genetic factors but it can at least empower her over her own body image.
Resources — please add those which you know of to be reliable and accurate: