Here is a GuestPost by Rediet Yibekal on the perception of beauty.
Every culture has its own understanding of beauty, which is often biased as skin color (or tones) and physical appearances remain the measuring sticks that define who is beautiful and who is not. Add to that the history of slavery, colonialism, racism, and various wars of conquest.
Nowadays, beauty (both masculine and feminine) has been standardized in such a way that those (from diverse cultural or racial backgrounds, particularly the “people of color”) who fail to meet that (superficial) standard are forced to feel ashamed of themselves, or feel worthless. The mainstream media—movie industries, tabloid magazines, romance books, soap operas, music videos, TV shows, “Ms. World” contests, modeling agencies, cosmetics ads, etc.—bombard both boys and girls, men and women, with distorted versions of “beautiful.” No wonder skin bleaching has become troubling issue in many countries, especially in the continent of Africa and the Indian subcontinent (The US, China, and the Middle East are also in the top list).
Rediet discusses this sensitive topic after watching a Dove ad that made her reflect on women’s take on beauty.
Beauty and Perception: “When did you stop thinking you’re beautiful?”
By Rediet Yibekal
I came across this Dove ad (Dove Camera Shy: When did you stop thinking you’re beautiful, Be your beautiful self) for the first time this week as I was trying to watch a music video by Christina Perri on YouTube:
Usually, I couldn’t wait to skip the ads on youtube videos, but yesterday I decided to watch that ad because something about it caught my attention.
In the video, women of various ages are seen shying away from the camera. Their moves and reactions are different from one women to the other. They are hiding their faces behind books, hands, pillows and even hats. First, I was enjoying the contrasting reactions. Then I noticed that those women are actually beautiful, at least for me. I say “at least for me” because “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” You may not agree with my definition of beauty. But then, what is the definition of a beautiful woman?
Though I won’t be able to fully cover this topic in this short piece, it always interests me to discuss the definition of beauty with fellow girls from every background. It helps me understand their perspectives. Many people have different criteria to consider one person as beautiful. For me, beauty is not just what I see at the surface. Though everyone is differently made, one is not superior or inferior based on looks. The black kinky hair and the blonde silky hair is equally beautiful as long as it is groomed nicely. Whether you have hawk nose, fleshy, celestial or snub nose, you are beautiful. My brown skin is no less or more than the white one. The same goes with body types, be it small size, medium or large.
Who defines who is more beautiful than the other one? Based on what? We should ask ourselves that question everyday. Especially, when we engage with little girls, pre-teens, and teens who get so confused with so many biased media and internet coverage of beauty.
Young Girls, Women, Insecurity, and Camera
So many young girls grow up while they are insecure about how they look. Of course, this problem can be a result of so many added factors. However, in most cases, at least children love the camera. It is easy to say that they hardly shy away from the device as it captures their image. One example can be the Dove ad I’ve shared above.
You see that the women hide from the camera as an adult while the little girls love it, which may mean age is the undeniable factor on how we look at ourselves. Which is why before you see the children enjoying their moments in the spotlight, the ad asks, “When did you stop thinking you’re beautiful?” The end of the clip purposely shows the various reactions little girls have when they are filmed.
Fair to ask: What changed for the older women to stop thinking they’re beautiful? One can think of plenty of answers. My immediate answer may be that they became too conscious of their looks as they grew older due to external and internal pressures. The moment we define our imperfections, that is when we hide ourselves in a box and our insecurity grows. Moreover, women are constantly told by men (boyfriends, husbands, colleagues, bosses), the media, culture, society, etc., that they have to fulfill certain standard to be considered beautiful. Young women are mostly victims of such standardization and the insecurities that come as a result of it.
That leads to another question: If we young women who are soon to be mothers, are insecure about our looks, how are we able to teach our young daughters to be self-confident and secure about their looks?
The Camera Shy Women
The Dove Global research (on camera shy women) confirms that women are their own worst critics when it comes to beauty. For example, the research shows that 57% women believe that the more they worry about their looks the more the negative impact on how they feel in front of a camera. About 65% of women say that having their photos taken gives them uneasy feeling as compared to public speaking (47%), going out on a first date (44%), or going to a job interview (41%). Generally, according to the research, 36% of women become camera shy between the ages of 11-20 years of age.
As a photography lover who enjoys capturing moments every now and then, I can say that most of my fellow women are missing out as shown in the above finding.
The Dove campaign: Just a marketing strategy or genuine movement for self-esteem?
I think the Dove campaign is the smartest campaign with social mission that tries to boost women’s self confidence that I have seen so far; good example of corporate social responsibility, perhaps. They also have another ad campaign which shows diverse beauty sketches. The message of this video also relates with the way how women see themselves; it says: You are more beautiful than you think.
The Dove campaign for “Real Beauty” aims to help women realize how beautiful they truly are. On the official Dove website, there is a message that says, “Imagine a World Where Beauty is a Source of Confidence, Not Anxiety.”
The vision to create a Movement for Self-Esteem has gone through different phases. Though, I have to admit, usually marketing campaign is not quite altruistic, the message of the Dove’s Real Beauty campaign is no less useful. I would prefer to think that their effort is genuine.
I commend Dove’s efforts to instill confidence in women, and there is more to be done by other companies, mainstream media, and social ventures.
I have to point out that everyone is responsible in shaping a better future for young girls everywhere. Whether in a slum in poor countries or in a villa in the wealthy neighborhoods, girls are constantly victims of insecurity and (self, other) abuse.
Though there are different circumstances that lead to worst case scenarios, educating young girls and increasing their self-esteem positively is the right way forward, and brings happiness and healthiness. It should be an on-going project.
The key is raising awareness consistently, so that girls and boys can fully realize their potential and believe in themselves.
Dove’s another recent research reflects that only 4% of women worldwide consider themselves beautiful. I hope this figure will increase in the future. Parents, schools, society, corporations, the media have huge responsibility to shape and change biased perceptions of beauty.
Check out the official Dove website to learn more about their campaign: Positive Self-Esteem Makes Girls Unstoppable!
Kweschn’s bonus: Why you shouldn’t believe everything you see: