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Self/body-esteem problems in relation to the promotion of feminine beauty
This is being posted with revised and updated FAQ and solutions pages. The solutions page addresses steps that can be taken to solve the problems that this site is addressing. In attempting to solve some problems, this site will be unintentionally creating problems of a different nature, which would need to be taken care of. A previous entry sketched the outline of how one could promote feminine beauty and avoid increasing or diminish discrimination against unattractive women. This entry addresses body image problems among women resulting from the choice of models in glamorous settings.
Whereas the purpose of this site is to address the looks of models and beauty pageant contestants, it is difficult to get women in general to avoid evaluating their own looks in light of the discussion here. I recall a conversation with a woman a couple of years ago when I was explaining the facial features of fashion models vs. normal women, and she started touching her face, apparently to see how she measured up. It was awkward for her and me, but how does one get women to judge models and beauty pageant contestants but not themselves? Anyway, to get to business...
The Dove campaign for real beauty
The following image shows some models that Dove has used to address body image problems -- among girls and women -- related to the dominance of skinny fashion models.
What are the prospects that using models such as above will improve body image among girls and women? For starters, the ordinary-looking models would need to possess high status among female models in order to have a significant impact. However, one can forget about the fashion industry voluntarily switching to the model types shown above; the only way to make the fashion industry comply would be via legislation, which could be justified in so far as enforcing the minimum body mass index (BMI) demarcating the medically underweight from the medically normal goes (BMI = 18.5) , but not for compliance with other aspects of looks if one is to use the thumb rule that minimal involvement of the government in people’s affairs is desirable. Of course, apart from the BMI issue, it would be difficult to drum up support for legislation forcing compliance with other looks norms. If a BMI cutoff of 18.5 is used, the fashion industry will surely not use models exceeding a BMI of 19, i.e., Dove’s models above would be rejected. In addition, the prospects of Dove’s ordinary-looking models ending up being popular with heterosexual men are nil, which eliminates an alternative possibility of making the ordinary-looking models acquire high status.
The high status issue is important. Women influenced by fashion imagery and at risk for developing anorexia are often looking for standards of perfection to emulate, which they happen to find in the typical skinniness of high-fashion models, and this is because of the high status of high-fashion models. In short, Dove is wasting its resources in so far as doing something about the body image issue goes. Saying that “Every girl deserves to feel beautiful, just the way she is” sounds nice but good luck trying to get every girl to feel beautiful.
If one could create a competing standard of “perfection” that cannot be achieved via unhealthful practices, then at least the problem of models inducing unhealthy behaviors among some women is reduced if not solved. The most obvious competing standard of “perfection” that cannot be achieved by negative health behaviors is the feminine beauty ideal, which is something that most people intrinsically harbor, which in turn implies that to attempt to create a feminine beauty competing standard of “perfection” is to do so only in the public realm, not also in the personal realm of most people.
Cosmetic surgery in relation to the promotion of feminine beauty
Negative health behaviors such as unnecessary dieting, overeating, excessive exercise and smoking diminish femininity. Therefore, the promotion of feminine beauty should diminish the incidence of negative health behaviors; at least no negative health behaviors could be indulged in to acquire feminine beauty. However, will such promotion increase dissatisfaction with one’s body and prompt an increase in breast implants and other cosmetic surgeries? Whereas one would expect increased dissatisfaction with one’s body on the part of many women, cosmetic surgery is a different matter.
Large breasts are neither necessary (Table 1) nor sufficient (Table 2) when it comes to looking feminine and attractive. Femininity/beauty does not lie in a single variable or a handful of variables, but in overall appearance, and beauty is more than the sum of its parts.
|Jana K. from Twistys|
|Natala from Domai|
A rudimentary attempt to provide examples of feminine beauty is the attractive women section of this site. The models shown within this section range from small- to large-breasted. Therefore, women going through this section will not come up with the impression that large breasts are the key to feminine beauty, and many women will realize that even with extensive cosmetic surgery/pharmaceutical treatment, they will not end up with the looks that would place them within the attractive women section. Since at the time of this writing one is forced to select the majority of the models shown in the attractive women section from nude models, the quality of the women shown within this section isn’t as high as what it would be if there were a mainstream outlet for the appreciation of feminine beauty.
Now, we consider an extreme example of body makeover in a woman, comprising of liposuction, chronic hormonal treatment, facial feminization surgery, breast and buttock implants, and leg bone lengthening via a bone implant. If there were a mainstream outlet for the appreciation of feminine beauty, the beautiful women showcased would, on average, look better than the women currently showcased in the attractive women section of this site, and the vast majority of women looking at the beautiful women would know right away that even with the aforementioned extreme body makeover, they will not come close to matching the attractiveness of the beautiful women. Of course, even with the financial means, few women would be willing to put up with the pain and time involved in the extreme body makeover, and very few women would have the financial means to undergo the extreme body makeover to start with. Just as breast implants have not helped masculinized Victoria’s Secret models look feminine (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), women would know that only a few of the procedures involved in the extreme body makeover would be of almost no help. Therefore, it is unlikely that the promotion of feminine beauty with an emphasis on high aesthetic standards will be prompting a sharp increase in cosmetic surgery given current medical technology. If I were responsible for setting up a mainstream outlet for the appreciation of feminine beauty, I will exclude women with breast implants, nose jobs and other cosmetic surgeries, which will take care of the possibility that some women will try to be included among the beautiful women showcased via undergoing cosmetic surgery.
If a cheap medical technology with minimal side effects existed in the form of implantable bone devices that can mold any bone from inside or gene therapy to help women acquire a feminine form, one could expect the promotion of feminine beauty to cause a notable increase in women undergoing such procedures, but then something like this will happen even if there is no promotion of feminine beauty given the cheap costs and minimal side effects.
This site does not morally judge women who undergo cosmetic surgery to improve their looks; it simply argues that these women do not belong among beauty pageant contestants and women who are supposed to be examples of feminine beauty. I will rarely and reluctantly add women with breast implants to the attractive women section, and only if they have otherwise outstanding features, but there will be a policy against using women that have undergone cosmetic surgery when it comes to a mainstream outlet for feminine beauty appreciation.
One should also note that a number of people who undergo cosmetic surgery do not do so for vanity purposes or under societal pressure, but because they harbor high standards for themselves and are disappointed when they fail to meet their own standards(1). A psychological examination can reveal who are the right candidates for cosmetic surgery improving not just their looks but also their self-esteem.
The roots of body image problems among women
People have a basic aesthetic sense, and those who fall short of their own aesthetic standards will not be pleased with their looks. This should be intuitive, and should not be blamed upon society:
In a number of societies such as the typical Middle-Eastern society, marriages are arranged and the women wear a veil in public. These women should not be too concerned about their looks, but is this the case? Abdollahi and Mann compared eating disorders in 59 female Iranian students from a major public University in Tehran (BMI = 22.36, SD = 3.32) and 45 female Iranian students from a major public University in Los Angeles (BMI = 20.66, SD = 2.44) who had resided in the U.S. for a mean of 14.8 years (SD = 5.0 years, range = 4-22 years)(2). The two samples were hardly different with respect to eating problems even though the Iranian women in Tehran were living in and had been raised in a society where Western media had been completely banned and women forbidden from putting on any apparel that may attract male attention. Where differences emerged, Iranian women in the U.S. were more likely to have eaten an unusually large amount of food during the past month, while those in Iran had desired an empty stomach more, exercised more vigorously to control weight or shape, and expressed less satisfaction with their body size. This example alone should suffice to show that some sense of aesthetics is innate in women. Even if one were to argue that a number of the sampled women in Tehran may have somehow managed to view Western media, the women fully well knew that altering their looks would not raise their status in the very least given the veil they have to wear in public. Besides, what is so infectious about Western media that brief exposure to it would counteract years of social conditioning?
A basic aesthetic sense can be honed by exposure to better looking people, which is inevitable given enough time, especially in modern society. Apart from a basic aesthetic sense, inter-female competition for access to men of high quality(3) is another factor implicated behind body image problems. For instance, one expects body image issues to be less of a concern for women in a stable relationship than in single women.
The typical heterosexual woman generally harbors high standards for a male mate, and these high standards are mostly shared with other women, forcing women to compete with each other to access high quality men, of whom there are few in number. These high quality men have their choice of women, and will naturally choose the most attractive ones, which in turn forces women to improve their looks. It is futile to blame heteropatriarchy for this.
The problem is that if one hones the aesthetic judgment of the general heterosexual male population, which would be inevitable if feminine beauty is promoted with an emphasis on high aesthetic standards, the pressure on women to conform to high looks standards will increase, which they will resent. Imagine a scenario where men considered highly desirable – by the vast majority of women – generally have a poorly developed aesthetic sense. If not-so-attractive women can bump into these men, their chances of getting such men interested in them and eventually having these men emotionally bonded to them is greater in this scenario than if these highly desirable men generally have a well-developed aesthetic sense. Therefore, women in general should resent a system that hones the aesthetic judgment of men in general.
When looks are of limited use in attracting highly desirable men, women have the option of using their sexuality, i.e., become looser with their sexuality. Basically, men are less particular about looks when it comes to casual sex than when it comes to a long-term stable partner. Therefore, a not-so-attractive woman could try her hand at, say, bumping into attractive men at nightclubs and being easy for them, hoping that the sexual contact may help emotionally bond a desirable man to her. However, this option will generally not appeal to women. It is in the best interests of single women to restrict their sexuality as it increases their value by 1) forcing men to acquire resources to impress them, thereby allowing them to avoid the “losers” who are either unwilling or unable to acquire the resources to impress women and 2) to obtain men who are genuinely interested in them rather than in sexual contact only (related:4, 5). Increasing one’s value by restricting one’s sexuality is an option most extensively available to attractive women since they attract many male suitors, i.e., the less attractive women will have to be somewhat looser with their sexuality if they are to end up with highly desirable men, but honing the aesthetic judgment of men in general serves to more assuredly send not-so-attractive women toward the option of becoming looser with their sexuality in the hope of ending up with highly desirable men.
Even if I were to argue in my defense that regardless of whether men in general have a poorly or highly developed aesthetic sense, given that men considered highly desirable by the vast majority of women are few in number, the vast majority of women will not be getting them, it can be seen that the odds that a woman at random will end up with a highly desirable man are greater if men in general have a less developed aesthetic sense. Therefore, a number of women should dislike the feminine-beauty-promotion part of this site and in general any system that hones the aesthetic judgment of men.
I had planned on adding a prominent “deception” section to this site, which would address tricks employed to present women as more glamorous than they are, with the intention that this would help promote high aesthetic standards, but have decided against this section. The major and often exclusive shortcoming in the looks of many models and beauty pageant contestants is their masculinization, and this site should be focusing on the deception used to present masculinized women as feminine rather than other types of deception. Women use make-up/hairstyling tricks to camouflage their flaws/make themselves more appealing; it is in their best interests to not have men see through the deception, and there is no need for me to make it harder for them.
Some ways of ameliorating poor body image or the problems underlying body image issues
An obvious way of improving one’s body image is to improve one’s looks. There are a number of ways one could improve one’s looks in a manner that benefits health, too.
The body image problems of some people are related to mental illness, and professional help from a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist is needed for such people. Mental illness can be suspected by a layperson if the affected person believes that a minor aesthetic shortcoming or normal physical feature represents a grotesque deformity.
The typical woman desirous of having a child wants a highly desirable man for, among other things, providing quality genetic material. The problem of obtaining quality genetic material for the typical woman can be solved in at least three possible ways in the absence of a highly desirable male long-term stable partner:
- An ovulating woman can come onto an attractive man in a nightclub. The obvious negatives of this option are risk of catching venereal diseases or HIV, and not being able to judge the man’s quality properly. After all, the man picked could have some personality problems or hereditary diseases that have not affected his looks.
- A second option is in vitro fertilization after finding a suitable donor from a sperm bank. The shortcomings of this method are that the woman does not get to examine the donor up close and there is a slightly increased risk of birth defects among children born of in vitro fertilization.
- Another option is currently not available, but it awaits an entrepreneur to set it up. This option would provide the equivalent of a live sperm bank, i.e., an agency will maintain a list of men that it has screened, using high standards, for diseases, personality, intelligence, looks and other variables that women are interested in, and set up a female client on a date with a man in its database that has caught her fancy. If the woman determines that this man is capable of providing the quality genetic material she is looking for, around the time she is ovulating, she can have the man masturbate in private and immediately thereafter use the ejaculate to inseminate herself; the idea is to avoid sexual relations, which is not necessary, but if the woman in question has a boyfriend/husband, then by avoiding sexual relations she will only cheat on her partner reproductively, not also sexually.
As a side note, it should not be assumed that high self-esteem is necessarily good(6, 7).
A brief defense of the main goal of this site, i.e., promotion of feminine beauty
Promoting feminine beauty and high aesthetic standards among models and beauty pageant contestants can be justified on multiple counts:
- Given the unlikely scenario of a general education curriculum in school/college teaching about the gay factor in order to counteract the negative influence of skinny fashion models, it is imperative that high aesthetic standards be emphasized toward the promotion of feminine beauty so as to establish a powerful competing standard of “perfection” in the public realm; most people already harbor a feminine beauty ideal in the personal realm.
- Heterosexual men have a strong interest in feminine beauty and have a right to appreciate the highest expression of it.
- The achievements of top-ranked athletes and outstanding intellects are beyond the capability of most humans, yet are well-rewarded in the form of Olympic medals, Nobel prizes, etc., and can hardly be said to denigrate human athletic ability and human intelligence, respectively, since they represent the relevant human abilities at their best. Likewise, notwithstanding the fact that great beauty is beyond the achievement of most humans, it represents the human form at its finest and should be fully honored. Some religious individuals are not pleased with the focus of beauty contests on flesh, but focusing on flesh in some situations does not undermine the importance of spirituality. Besides, the Gods have not created beauty for it to be kept under wraps. There is much destitution and misery in the world, and the Gods have surely meant beauty to partly function as a sight for sore eyes.
- Advertisers have a right to use attractive individuals to add glamour to their products and make them stand out.
This site is attempting to solve a number of problems but is unintentionally creating some problems, too, but successful implementation of its goals will, in my opinion, solve more problems than it creates, and the problems solved will be of a more serious nature than the problems created. There is no reason why one couldn't simultaneously promote feminine beauty and diminish discrimination against unattractive women. The only problem that cannot be fully solved as a result of the promotion of feminine beauty is reduced body-esteem among a number of women, but unlike the fashion industry at least this site is not promoting a body type that is at odds with the preferences of the vast majority of people and also at odds with health.
Many people have a reasonably correct idea of where they stand on an attractiveness scale, and those who incorrectly estimate their attractiveness disproportionately overestimate it rather than underestimate it, i.e., exposure to very attractive women is not going to make most women feel less attractive than they are, though being disappointed with their looks is another matter. Regarding being dissatisfied with one’s looks, to some extent one can improve one’s looks, and to the extent that one cannot, one should remember that almost everyone falls short of most of the best achievements/characteristics found among humans, and one has to learn to make the most of what one has rather than sulk about the hand dealt by nature.
There are a number of unflattering comparisons within this site and what would appear to be extensive criticism of the looks of a number of models and beauty pageant contestants, but the actual criticism is of the circumstances/people that have been responsible for putting these women in scenarios where they don’t belong; there are not a whole lot of nicer ways of bringing the aesthetic issues to public attention. I have nothing personally against the women whose looks have been “critiqued.” A woman mentioned hurt feelings after going through this site, and this is something that I dislike about this site, and hence apologize to all women who are disappointed to learn after going through this site that they don’t meet high standards of feminine beauty. These women should hopefully understand that this site is not anti-women or even anti-masculinized women; it is just there to establish mainstream feminine beauty appreciation, which is not the same as some kind of denigration of masculinization in the looks of women, though people inclined to see a half full glass as a half empty one will probably see it as some form of denigration. What can I do? Leave comments if you have suggestions for improvement.
- Davis, K., Reshaping the female body: the dilemma of cosmetic surgery, Routledge, New York (1995).
- Abdollahi, P., and Mann, T., Eating disorder symptoms and body image concerns in Iran: comparisons between Iranian women in Iran and in America, Int J Eat Disord, 30, 259 (2001).
- Campbell, A., Female competition: causes, constraints, content, and contexts, J Sex Res, 41, 16 (2004).
- Baumeister, R. F., and Twenge, J. M., Cultural suppression of female sexuality, Rev Gen Psychol, 6, 166 (2002).
- Baumeister, R. F., and Vohs, K. D., Sexual economics: sex as female resource for social exchange in heterosexual interactions, Personal Soc Psychol Rev, 8, 339 (2004).
- Emler, N., Self-esteem: the costs and causes of low self-worth., York Publishing Services, U.K. (2001).
- Baumeister, R. F., Campbell, J. D., Krueger, J. I., and Vohs, K. D., Does high self-esteem cause better performance, interpersonal success, happiness, or healthier lifestyles?, Psychol Sci Public Interest, 4, 1 (2003).