Dove’s mission to get us in touch with real beauty started with this video released over six years ago. The company is still at it, recently releasing another video. It documents an experiment that begins with several participants talking to the camera about their appearance. These participants then describe themselves to a forensic artist who sketches them accordingly. Another person then describes these participants to the same forensic artist, who draws a second sketch. Both sketches are placed side by side, and the difference between how the participants describe themselves and how others describe them becomes clearly visible. All agree they look more beautiful when described by strangers. The video concludes “You are more beautiful than you think.”
This video is already contributing a lot to the online discourse on beauty. It has both great potential and great limitations. When it is seen as an end, we can only hope to remain stuck on its limitations. For example, we could endlessly debate how the video features only certain types of females and the vocabulary used to describe them is limited to a certain type of beauty. Such conversations would limit the potential of the video to contribute to a lasting, positive change in the discourse on beauty.
To take advantage of this potential in a such a way as to elevate the discourse to the next level of understanding, we should use this video to increase our awareness of the cruel limitations of our current definition of beauty. Posts such as this one help identify how these limitations affect even our attempts to redefine beauty for the better. These conversations help us avoid getting stuck within a limited understanding of what beauty is, and help us continue to advance on a path of ever-increasing understanding.
It is only normal that this newest Dove video both breaks some barriers and remains contained within others. On the one hand, it directly challenges the image we construct of our own selves. We are all aware how negative one’s self-perception tends to be, compared to others’ perception of us! On the other hand, despite what it is trying to achieve, the video remains limited within a narrow definition of beauty. As jazzylittledrops.tumblr.com mentions, “the majority of the non-featured participants are thin, young white women as well.” And as for “the descriptors the editors chose to include: When the participants described themselves, these were some of the things that were implied as negatives: fat, rounder face, freckles, fatter, 40— starting to get crows feet, moles, scars… Whereas some of the implied positive descriptors used by others were: thin face, nice thin chin, nice eyes that lit up when she spoke and were very expressive (my actual favorite), short and cute nose, her face was fairly thin (this was said twice), and very nice blue eyes. So… I don’t know if anyone else is picking up on this, but it kinda seems to be enforcing our very narrow cultural perception of “beauty”: young, light-skinned, thin. No real diversity celebrated in race, age, or body shape. So you’re beautiful… if you’re thin, don’t have noticeable wrinkles or scars, and have blue eyes.”
If we remember that this video is a stepping stone that can help elevate the discourse on beauty, we understand that it is not a magic pill that will instantly clean up our tainted perception of beauty. Rather, this video can be used as inspiration to adjust our thoughts, speech and actions regarding this topic. We of course have to keep in mind that the discrepancy between how we perceive ourselves and how we are perceived by others is influenced by many factors—including culture, age, emotional well-being, and the control our ego has over us.
The challenge is, well, kind of very big, and we are only beginning to address it. Perhaps we can start by using this increased awareness—regarding our limited understanding and appreciation of beauty—to alter our speech and/or behavior in such a way as to address this discrepancy. Simply put, we should strive not to describe ourselves with descriptors we would not use on our loved ones. We could also reflect on our personal discomfort with compliments, perhaps by accepting that this is how people see us, even if we do not see it ourselves.
We might also consider reflecting on the conception of beauty as not merely physical. After all, it is our spiritual self that matters most. Truly happy people are incredibly beautiful, whatever their body shape, hair type, or facial features. And we know that true happiness is spiritual happiness. So why not reinforce that in our speech? For example, why not add to the compliments we make about physical characteristics by emphasizing the virtue linked to it? Instead of telling someone that they have a beautiful smile, why not also emphasize the virtue of joy linked to it? That way, we might begin learning how to put emphasis on the important type of beauty.
We should also be careful not to become fanatical. Describing someone as “thin” does not mean we are shallow or superficial; some people are thin, just like some people have brown hair and others have blue eyes. We have to be careful not to make anyone feel bad about how they look. Just like we cannot let someone who is of a higher body size feel ugly, we cannot let someone who is of a lower body size feel ugly, either. It seems like more and more girls who are naturally thin are becoming self-conscious, and even feel guilty about their size. A friend of mine used to overeat on purpose to gain weight, because she was often labeled as anorexic. Because of her metabolism, all that served to do is make her skin break out. The situation was very disturbing to me: while so many of our friends were struggling to lose weight to feel beautiful, she was trying to gain weight for the same reason.
Another danger of a narrow-minded approach to broadening the definition of beauty is forgetting that some things are just plain unhealthy. Broadening the definition of beauty to accept all people does not mean forgetting the health hazards of certain body types. Being too thin or too fat as per our genetic makeup does not make us ugly. However, it does make our body not function at peak efficiency. Just like beauty, physical health is not related to a single, homogenous body size for all. And just like with beauty, we need to learn to have conversations about our health with relation to our body size. A friend of mine, a doctor in a family clinic, told me how the mother of a teenage patient threatened to sue her for psychological damage when she told the young patient to change her habits (she did not exercise, and her diet mainly consisted of fast food) else her hypertension and her type two diabetes become out of control. How could she be expected to care for her young patient, she was telling me, if she could not address her weight, which had been ballooning over the last couple of years?
It is now up to us and our daily conversations with others—including men, the lack of which is another limitation of this video—that will define the success of Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty. It is clear that change is not needed but rather, a transformation is. So I hope that Dove continues its campaign, slowly breaking one barrier at a time, helping us to advance along the path of understanding what true beauty is.
A lot of people, when they think about intensity, think this:
So let me start this post by giving an example that reflects what I mean by the word “intense”: the last month before a week long international event, the planning of which you are intimately involved in. When things you have planned for said event go wrong; when all the little steps, so meticulously planned, are just not syncing up as they are supposed to. When a staff of 25 goes down because of various illnesses, and those that are taken down are the key people that help everything move along smoothly.
Now that is what I call intense!
In general, when there is intensity involved, an unspoken rule writes off certain things we normally do as temporarily unnecessary. For example, in intense times, the use of greetings and other forms of social graces in emails sharply declines. As the deadline approaches, even a simple “hi”, “bye”, “hope you are well”, all seem to disappear, and emails tend to only state what needs to be said/done, that’s it. The theory seems to be that being straight to the point to such an extreme lends to a much needed increased efficiency.
However, this theory might be completely wrong; sometimes, I even wonder if this theory decreases efficiency when it is most needed.
In an office where bonds of friendship abound, work will always be done more efficiently, as consultation can be frank and honest, while respectful and loving. In times of increased intensity, maintaining the outward signs of respect and love for one another (perhaps in a little quicker, more efficient way, such as writing “hi!” instead of “good morning”, “bye!” instead of “have a great afternoon”, etc.), help maintain the bonds of friendship when they are the most needed, i.e. when it is easiest to become so focused on the task that we forget about these bonds of friendship.
Love is the most efficient way to create and maintain unity, for it inspires us to let go of our ego to truly understand and work with someone else. In times of intensity, when we are pushed to our limits, love is what will keep our lower nature in check, and, instead of snapping at someone, will have us lovingly but directly ask for something. Love has the power of keeping a team united even when the intensity is so incredibly high that members are cracking. And unity, as we know it, is vital to any endeavour, as discussed in my post about unity being essential to global peace.
It might seem like a lot of work at times, just adding a simple greeting and farewell in an email or stopping, be it for a couple of seconds, to smile and say hi to someone. But it seems to be a great way to learn to be loving in extremely difficult situations. And, perhaps, just like the family unit is an amazing laboratory in which we can learn the skills needed to contribute to community building, perhaps an office can become a similar laboratory. After all, learning to maintain peace in an office amidst a stressful situation just might be precursor to learning to maintain peace at a level higher than the family unit and, thus, closer to the global level…
We are very lucky to be living on planet Earth, because beauty surrounds us. However, it sometimes seems we have forgotten to appreciate it. One of the beautiful things we seem to have forgotten to appreciate is the beauty of the human body.
The media constantly reminds us of this sad fact. For example, the article 20 Celebs Criticized for Their Curves is a horrifying collection of almost abusive comments about the weight of 20 female celebrities, who rank from pretty to downright gorgeous. These comments include: America Ferrera, a size 6 or 8, being a spokeswoman for curvy women in Hollywood, Kelly Clarkson’s curves being mocked on numerous websites, Mariah Carey being fat or pregnant, Scarlett Johansson’s curves making her look too sexy, Tyra Banks being called fat by Janice Dickinson… Need I add more?
This is not to say that we should never watch our weight. After all, it is one of many indicators of good health. But the line between watching one’s weight for health reasons and watching one’s weight because of societal pressures is a very fine one. There is also nothing wrong with wanting to look good, as long as it does not become the central focus of one’s life. The challenge is in determining what “looking good” means. The current definition of beauty as portrayed in the media is so narrow, that trying to achieve it can – and does – become the source of many physical and emotional ailments.
When one believes that there is a God, and that humans were created to know and worship Him, then concerns about one’s weight should be mainly related to our health, so that we can fulfil this purpose. However, because of the immense pressures exerted by mainstream media (the same that calls the size 6-8 America Ferrera “fat”), it seems like a large part of our day to day life is ruled by concerns about our weight. How interesting that the average human being, a creature endowed with a soul, exerts so much mental energy on maintaining the weight of its body within the limits of an unrealistic definition of beauty.
How can we rid ourselves of the pervasive, unjust influence of this limited-to-the-point-of-cruelty definition of beauty? The first step is awareness. Thankfully there is an ever-increasing amount of that! Next is action at the level of society, a powerful example of which is the recent, successful petition asking Seventeen magazine to stop airbrushing its models. Boycotts are also often called: of tabloids that denigrate women by focusing on size, of fashion magazines that also focus solely on image, of clothing companies that market their wares through models that belong to only one very limited category of beauty.
Society can only advance if change happens at both the level of society and at the level of the individual. What can we do, then, at the level of the individual? We know that we were created in the image of God. We have a right to want to look good, in part by wanting to reach and/or maintain a certain weight. However, we should filter out decisions that have to do with our lower nature from those that have to do with our higher nature. To want to look and feel good by losing weight is not a problem; to forget that the primary way to look and feel good is by achieving emotional and spiritual balance is. To define oneself primarily according to one’s weight is a problem. We should instead primarily define ourselves by our virtues.
We should also remember that man’s reality is his thought. This means that the words we use to talk to others, or even to ourselves, defines our reality. When we greet each other by focusing on how we look physically, it limits our reality to our physical selves. We are telling each other that our physical selves is what deserve the focus of our attention. What if instead, we changed our words to reflect the fact that the focus of our attention is on each other’s souls? Instead of seeing the weight lost, what if we saw the extra bounce in their step, the shine in their eyes, or the way they are holding their heads higher?
So while we should pay attention to our physical well-being and beauty, we should strive to remember that, despite the media’s strong emphasis on the contrary, our main focus should be on our emotional and spiritual well-being. And maybe we should be more interested in the fact that America Ferrera is concerned with the advancement of women and girls, that Kelly Clarkson is involved in the organization “Houses of Hope”, that Mariah Carey donated the royalties to her song “Save the Day” to charities that create awareness to human rights issues, that Scarlett Johansson visited African as a Global Ambassador for Oxfam, and that Tyra Banks founded the TZONE Foundation which aims to empower girls and young women.
Maybe it is time that we focused on the many reasons why these women are beautiful, and not just on their bodies – which are, by the way, beautiful as well, in all the sizes we have seen them in.
March 29, 2013
I previously blogged about how stifling it can be, having too many ideas, and how it has led to periods during which I would not post much, if anything. I have entered such a period again. I blame my awesome friends for the amazing, eye-opening conversations we have been having! One recent conversation in particular struck me. We were talking about the prerequisites to peace: should we eliminate religion? Should we condemn materialism/consumerism/Lady Gaga? Do we need to have everyone agreeing on everything to have peace?
At first, we had a very, very long list; someone then suggested that we distil it into its core values, and we were left wondering if perhaps, there are only two things that we all really need to achieve peace, two things that feed into each other and create the environment in which all the other prerequisites we had initially listed would naturally emerge.
The first is the unshakeable conviction that we are all noble human beings. We did not feel that everyone has to believe in God to believe in the nobility of man. Rather, everyone has to believe that man has the capacity to create heaven on earth because of its inherent nobility.
The second is the ability to communicate, to be able to listen to radically different ideas without feeling threatened, to be able to accept that a person we disagree with makes sense within the framework they are operating in. For example, the views of an atheist, a Buddhist and a Bahá’í about life after death are different; do we need to convince each other of who is right? Imagine if instead, we would accept that we are different, and focus on understanding the truth of each person’s opinion within the atheist/Buddhist/Bahá’í framework.
Accepting that everyone is a noble human being leads to the belief that differences between different people do not imply a hierarchy of who is right and who is wrong. Rather, it makes us understand that differences are related to just that: differences. When we realize that we can each have our own opinions, we open ourselves to understanding them, and accepting them, even if we disagree. Through conversations meant to understanding one another, we can then learn to create a world within which people with different ‘life prescriptions’ can live together, without anyone imposing anything on the other.
And then we would start working our way steadily towards world peace.