A Look into Beauty

A Look into Beauty
By Lauren Cohen, MS Nutrition and Dietetics Candidate
Hey moms and dads, with bathing suit season around the corner, we need to be sensitive about our children’s body image. Read on for our Laura Cipullo Whole Nutrition Services student volunteer’s take on body image.
Photo Credit: iron_smyth48 via Compfight cc
Google must read my emails—that is the only explanation.  The pop-up advertisements that I regularly endure are riddled with images of weight loss, new diet fads, and ideal ways to get fit and fab in time for bikini season. Even with everything I know about nutrition and health, it can be overwhelming and tempting.
Body image is a big component of health. It’s easy to feel pressure to lose weight or tone-up when every magazine in the stand has “The Best Way to Cut 10 inches in 10 Days!” The Internet can be a firestorm for Photoshopped images of celebrities and friends trying to reach a threshold for beauty and health. In a now infamous quote from Cindy Crawford, she laments how she “wished [she] looked like Cindy Crawford.” The most important fact we can take with us as we move forward is that images on a screen do not reflect reality. They are airbrushed, red-eye removed, filtered and can only speak to a flash of a moment. Social media pages like Instagram and Pinterest are created with the sole purpose of making our lives appear beautiful through a filter. And while they continue to be useful tools in our professional and personal development, a certain type of pressure comes along with the territory—a pressing need for beauty.
It would be of little value to try and work a definition of beauty into this blog post when its reach extends so far beyond our simple understanding of it. I like to think of beauty as a complex, personal, and intimate experience of appreciation for something. But even that is too specific and too general at the same time.  So when photos and quotes surfaced of a girl calling herself The Human Barbie, I felt a compulsive need to learn more.
Valeria Lukyanova, a 5’ 7” Ukrainian Model, boasts measurements of 34-18-34. This is a very dramatic hourglass shape. Just to put that into perspective, Judy Garland (one of the many women Lukyanova cites as an iconic image of beauty) was 4’11” and measured out to 33-25-31. Lukyanova began to pop up onto my radar through ads on body image; I didn’t click on anything until a quote appeared from a GQ Magazine interview.
“Everyone wants a slim figure. Everyone gets breasts done. Everyone fixes up their face if it’s not ideal, you know? Everyone strives for the golden mean. It’s global now. Remember how many beautiful women there were in the 1950s and 1960s, without any surgery? And now, thanks to degeneration, we have this.”
Photo Credit: Charles (dollstuff.net) via Compfight cc
After this I was hooked. Her sweeping generalizations and overwhelming misunderstanding of health (and humans) was intoxicating. How did her opinion of beauty become so superficial and why does she assume we all feel this way? I loved my Barbie Dolls growing up; does this mean I was programmed to believe that beauty is strictly superficial? Is Barbie a sin against body image? Or does an interest in her just mean I loved playing dress up?
Certainly Barbie can take some of the blame—the same way that pop-culture and our Instagram accounts can—in that they generate an ideal concept of physical beauty. It forces us to think that beauty is a series of dimensions that, if we work out enough and become an Breatharian (someone who lives on air and sunlight alone as Lukyanova preaches) we will attain the ideal look. It perpetuates a theory that beauty and wellness is something that we can see rather than feel, experience, or share.
Beauty is one part physical but a great deal more emotional. Consider Disney’s newest film Frozen. While the film still features two slender female leads, it takes a bold step towards understanding the emotional elements of beauty. It’s the story of two sisters; one of which harbors a secret talent to freeze the world around her. While at first, it seemed like an ugly and dangerous compartment of an otherwise beautiful girl, she was able to overcome her fear and learn to love this unique trait that was distinctly her. It wasn’t just beauty she could see, it was beauty she could feel. It was a love for herself, just as she was.
So how can we sift through the ads and the images around us? The trick has to be learning to strike a balance. These ads aren’t going anywhere. We aren’t about to delete our Facebook pages, or Instagram accounts. We are not going to stop purchasing People Magazine. There will always be a Heidi Montag or Valeria Lukyanova (and don’t worry, men, there is also a Human Ken!) We have to remember that when we look at them, we are not looking into mirrors. Keeping in the very front of our minds that beauty and wellness aren’t only defined by how we look and our body’s dimensions but by a combination of who we are and how we choose to conduct our lives and choices.
How do you think beauty and health is portrayed in social media and pop culture? What changes would you like to see made to improve the concept of beauty and wellness?

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