Musings of an expat grad student... oy vey.

Thursday, September 15, 2005


I've been thinking a lot about female beauty. Its myths, its consequences. There's been a lot written about beauty in the media lately; some argue that, with things like Dove's "Campaign for Real Beauty", we're experiencing a backlash against the gaunt, unhealthy heroin-chic ideals of the 90's, and some argue the opposite: that as Americans get fatter and fatter, models and celebrities get skinnier and skinnier, an ever-widening gulf between the thin and the fat that mirrors the gulf between the rich and the poor. It's a well-documented phenomenon that people who live in poor areas have less access, both financially and mobility-wise, to fresh, healthy food, and therefore obesity has an ironic inverse correlation with wealth.

To be honest, I think the Dove ads are a bit of a breath of fresh air; even though they're selling something like everyone else, at least they're using people to sell it who aren't at one very extreme end of the spectrum. But it's still problematic. By using the term "Real Beauty", they're still suggesting that there is a particular type of body that is beautiful and one that is not. They're still postulating a divide between objectively beautiful and objectively non-beautiful, and the fact that their presented concept of "real" beauty covers a different bit of the spectrum than other advertisers do, and probably includes somewhat more women, does not make it any less troublesome. The suggestion, as it always is in advertising that uses female beauty as a lure, is that if you resemble these people, you're beautiful; if you don't, you're not. And hell, Dove's actually come out and said it.

Not to mention the fact that they've put up ads which have a checkbox so that passersby can vote on whether the model is beautiful, and included things like freckles, which are indelible. Way to place women into a subaltern subject-position, presenting them openly for public judgment...

okay, maybe I have more problems with that campaign than I thought I did.

Notice, also, that "beauty" almost always correlates to "body size" in these arguments. Not health, not facial structure or good hair, not even body shape. For women, at least, the amount of space one takes up in the world determines one's level of beauty: the less, the better. It's an interesting, insidious form of anti-feminism, in a way. Women are still pushed by male fashion designers and male-owned media - and even some other women - to take up as little space as possible, literally rather than metaphorically. And the sway that beauty holds in our society means that too often, to many, the words coming out of a woman's mouth are not as important as the size of her body.

I wonder if part of the reason I've decided to become an academic is that it seems like the only place where beauty or lack thereof is, if not of no consequence, of less consequence than one's intellectual production.


  • Bad news I'm afraid. My dean in my last position directed me to the rate my professor site (apparently she read faculty ratings on them - a contract violation!) as she wanted me to see how many chili peppers I had indicating how 'hot' my students thought I was. As a junior faculty member in my first position it felt humiliating.
    FYI, I am a Londoner immersed in academia stateside. I'm glad I found your site!

    By Blogger Fish Out of Water, at 1:19 PM  

  • Jesus Christ, are you serious?! I'd honestly report behaviour like that. How very odious.

    And thanks - glad you like the blog! :) I've blogrolled you as well.

    By Blogger Lonely Londoner, at 3:21 PM  

  • What gave/gives me the $hits about that dove ad, is the fact that the models are so cute, quirky, cheeky, funny etc. It's like they live up to the myth that "round" (as if they are) women can't be sexy - that they have to "excuse" their body parts (- my buddha belly -). Why can't they just run normal ads with those models? I reckon that would be much better.

    I'm new here, hope ok to comment!:)

    By Blogger elisabeth, at 2:09 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home