The Problem With Beauty
It is to be expected that come January of every year advertisers go nuts promoting weight loss campaigns for their respective clients. Gyms, diet products, health-related materials, images of celebrity bikini bodies, and diet secrets bombard the media space making it impossible to escape them and making us hate our own body image.
It’s insane to me how much time, money and marketing resources is spent in trying to pressure us into wanting to fit the standard of beauty and physical attractiveness that is often sold under the guise of “fitness”.
My self-perception growing up was greatly affected in this way. In the 70s and 80s I remember taking mental notes of the celebrities and I wondered why none ever looked like me. Granted, as a young Latina of color, there really was no one, not even Maria from West Side Story – the closest thing to a “Latina New Yorker” on the screen back then.
But all of this was made worse by what my family saw as the acceptable look, the image that would keep me from being an outcast in society and marriage material when I got older. My father drank the kool-aid. He believed that beauty is and was thinner and less curvy.
Thus, for as long as I remember I was “fat”. All through my childhood, I was fat. During my teenage years, when my mother complained that my rib cage was protruding too much and worried about my eating habits – in my father’s eyes, and according to what was marketed as beautiful, I was not only too dark, but also fat. Even now, as a woman who works out almost daily and has learned to embrace her jiggly bits and is adored by the man of her dreams – society says I am fat.
Jennifer Hudson, who used to be known for her incredible voice is now most celebrated for her weight loss. Gwneyth Paltrow who is notorious for her drastic colonics and other cleansing strategies to maintain her physique has a cookbook out giving us tips on how and what to eat. The Golden Globes this past weekend was a display of skeletal celebrities who will be featured on fashion and beauty magazines for the next few days as astonishing beauties to be admired.
The problem with beauty, as defined and displayed by the media and most of society, is that she doesn’t look like me, or my children, or anyone I see on a daily basis and it makes me want to scream. I want to fight back. I want to protect my children from falling prey to it all.
Every once in a while a story will come along and give me hope. Like when the Madrid Fashion Show banned models for being too thin or most recently, when Plus Size Magazine featured model Katya Zharkova in their latest campaign to dispute what others are telling us healthy and beautiful is.
But these protests seem to be few and far between, leaving us to feel the demands to be thin almost daily, not only for ourselves, but for our children as well. And while everyone seems to be obsessing over the obesity problem our nation faces, no one – politicians and investors alike, seems to want to invest in improving the way food is produced in this country or the choices offered to our children in school lunches. While we label low-income communities as unwilling to change and improve unhealthy habits, we do nothing to provide them with accessible, affordable, and healthy choices. Instead, we market, price, and provide those options to the elite few.
As a mother I worry for my children, for how these messages and images will affect not only their self esteem but also how they view and label others. My hope is that I can teach them what is wrong with what they see and hear, educate them on where beauty truly lies and instill health and fitness into their lives in a way that is positive and truly effective.
Maybe they will do better than we have. Maybe they will succeed where we have failed. Maybe they will be the change we seem unable to make. And maybe, just maybe, there will be more moments in their life when the image looking back at them in the mirror is someone they can admire and appreciate, no matter what size.