Intern Blog, Neelam Mahtani - Measure Someone by Their Heart, Not Their Image

“Talk to your daughter before the beauty industry does!”

– The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty

My sister and I come from a mixture of ethnicities, which results in physical traits that do not match the stereotype for each of the many ethnicities we identify ourselves with. Once when my sister was in elementary school, one girl attempted to overpower her in a situation by saying, “Well, you are way too skinny and way too dark, you look like a twig.” Distraught at this comment, my sister cried to my mom later that day and my mom angrily told her to go back and defend herself by telling the bully she looked like a big white cow. My sister did so, also throwing my mom under the bus, which resulted in my mom being called into the principal’s office. The unfortunate reality of this situation is that both sides of this argument failed to appreciate and acknowledge the importance of beauty in any size and color. We live in a society where we find it okay to use these differences as a resort of attack and defense. Women and men are often told what they are expected to be like. We experience this in all aspects of identity development including culture, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and generally fitting to whatever ‘norm’ society provides us. How are we supposed to find a true self identity during developmental periods when we are told we cannot be beautiful? Successful and secure identity development, which is a person's self recognition, can serve as a protective factor for many mental health issues. How can we ensure a healthy mind with a target on our own self identity?

I want to highlight the influence of these expectations on children and adolescents, because the impact of the issue of cultural beauty and thinness is one that is prevalent in any culture and ethnicity. Having a strong and positive body identity as a young person can highly influence your adulthood. The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty is a marketing campaign to, “celebrate the natural physical variation embodied by all women and inspire them to have the confidence to be comfortable with themselves.” (Dove).  The following video shows how the culture of beauty and body image across all ethnicities have an effect on a young girl’ identity: 

        The previous video from Dove's campaign stresses the influence a mother's identity can have on their daughters. Take for example the woman of Asian ethnicity, who says that she does not like her eyes and her nose. Her negative identity has influenced the way her own daughter identifies herself. This video shows the importance of a positive image of beauty, and the consequences of not being able to have that. On the other hand, the Caucasian mother who loved her legs because she could run with them, had a daughter who embraced her larger sized legs as well. I love this video because it makes us more aware of how our own identities can affect others around us, and also makes me upset that it is so easy for young girls to have a negative identity based off of a society with unrealistic norms.

              Additionally, a New York Times article “Why Does the Beauty Industry Ignore Curvy Models?” emphasizes the lack of size diversity in marketing of the beauty industry. To have such a large, powerful and influential industry portraying an unrealistic identity for women, men and children, results in a society with normative views that are distorted and dangerous to the mental health and stability of so many people across so many cultures. I loved the creative director and senior vice president of MAC cosmetics view on this issue: “There is no formula… if a model has confidence in who she is and how she carries herself, size is irrelevant.” This is the mindset I wish that most companies had. The problem, however, is that the issue of body image acceptance becomes a cycle – how are these women of different color and size supposed to reach that level of confidence when the rest of the industry tells them they can’t? Much of these ‘idealistic’ elements of patrician features, height, white and thin, as stated in the article, can tie back to class and racism of the 1920s when American consumer culture and the modeling industry grew. Luckily, we are in an era where light is being shed on to this culture of beauty.

Beauty does not only come in different colors and sizes, but gender and sexual orientation too. Take former male Olympian, Caitlyn Jenner, who transitioned into a woman after being male for 60 years. While society has not yet reached a full sense of appreciation, some campaigns show us hope for the future. MAC paired up with Caitlyn for her campaign in designing a lipstick named ‘Finally Free’. Even though this campaign was highly controversial, it is amazing to publicize beauty in all forms, and it speaks out to our 'idealistic' society that beauty doesn't have a single image!

It is unfortunate that this narrow mindedness affects identity development in so many children, teenagers, and adults across all races and cultures. As stated by Arden, “It takes lots of fearlessness, courage to love and like yourself, to measure yourself by the size of your heart and not some preconceived image of perfection and beauty, in any race, gender, sexual orientation, and culture”. All sizes, colors, genders and disabilities are beautiful! Embrace it.