The Tyranny of Beauty

This photo in the Daily Mail is accompanied by the tragic story of twins who have suffered from anorexia for twenty years.   It’s a disturbing story that touches on sibling rivalry, parental enabling, and the failure of all mechanisms to heal the victims of our culture’s obsession with beauty.

If you read the story, you’ll notice images on the right-hand side of the page, mostly celebrities chosen by the Daily Mail to ridicule for their weight gain, plastic surgery or cankles.   The message is clear: There is no escape from the search for physical perfection. No escape and no winning either.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a photography exhibit called Beauty and Culture that examines the many ways that images work to influence our concept of beauty. The exhibit featured a short documentary that was truly devastating. Five year old beauty queens, cancer survivors, ancient women still trying to look young, and a history of evolving thinness in fashion models…it leaves you sickened by the shit we go through to measure up to a stupid restrictive ideal of beauty.

The documentary points out that only 2 percent of women are built like fashion models. Why do these models have so much power over us?!

You know the “It Gets Better” campaign for gays? We also need a campaign for women that says:YOU LOOK FINE! Maybe if we were reminded 100 times a day that we are okay as we are, we could forget about the size of our butts.

When we left the exhibit, my friend and I looked for somewhere to have coffee. We found a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, where they display calorie counts with their pastries. Naturally, I freaked out and ordered a reduced-calorie muffin, because no matter what I know intellectually, deep down in my psyche I’m an unlovable fat pig.

I would like to thank Vogue, Glamour, the fashion industry and most of all my dad, who loved to drive around shouting “Look at the fat ass on that one!” I can relate to those poor  emaciated  twins, even though I’m a normal size. Accepting  yourself  can be a lifelong project.

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50 Responses to “The Tyranny of Beauty”

  1. Make Do Style Says:

    YOU LOOK FINE is a post we can all do. I’ll do one for next week. I do think it is time we all moved on xx

  2. dust Says:

    make do- I LOOK FINE as well, next week it will be.
    Personally, i like that there is finally a calorie count at display at restaurants, but for other reasons, makes it easier to count insulin.
    My opinion on beauty ideal is still the same, i don’t any of obese people being scared of skinny models. I don’t think that skinny models look nice at all.
    Statistically, more women relate to oversexed image of porn stars, specially young girls.

    The issue is broader than a narrow world of a fashion, but for people who are damaged by it, it hurts all the same.
    Maybe FINE is not good enough, shall we make it YOU LOOK GREAT! instead?

  3. RedHeadFashionista Says:

    I agree with Make Do. Sort of. More on my warped relationship with my image later…
    But it’s the Mail. What do you expect? Stupid mass-media. And stupid fashion magazines. Stupid, stupid, all of it.

  4. RedHeadFashionista Says:

    And I don’t think being told 100 times will quiet the little voice in the heads of these twins saying ‘I must be thinner than my sister’. Sad what we do to ourselves.
    And It’s not just women. The only two people I know with eating disorders are men.

  5. RedHeadFashionista Says:

    Just checked that article on the Mail site. In the neighbouring sidebar (of shame, as a fellow blogger dubbed it) there’s a story about Coleen Rooney’s love handles. I despair.

  6. annemarie Says:

    but anorexia is a psychological disorder. if there weren’t skinny models, perhaps these women wouldn’t starve myself, but they would just do something else that was equally destructive.

  7. David Duff Says:

    I have tried to cast my mind back over the years I have been reading your blog, ‘Sis’, and I think that photo is the must nauseating you have ever displayed – and that’s saying something!

    To cheer you and your readers up may I suggest you all visit Donald Pittenger and view a gallery of truly beautiful women – especially #2, she rocks/she’s hot/she’s cool, or whatever it is you say ‘over there’, but I say she is simply gorgeous!

    http://artcontrarian.blogspot.com/2011/06/useful-paintings.html

  8. dust Says:

    Thank you David for pointing out to another unachievable beauty ideal!
    The point of this discussion is that there shouldn’t be just one example of beauty ideal, but as many as possible.

  9. Eleanor Says:

    Beauty comes from within. It shines from people’s eyes and is expressed in acts of kindness and joy. It’s not about weight or clothes or hair or makeup or nice skin or muscles. They are just props.

  10. Maja Piraja Says:

    I just realized that they way those twins look, if you manage to overlook the arms, face and legs? That’s exactly how every woman in every magazine looks once they’ve been “beautyfied” by photoshop. You’re then left with an anorexic torso with a relatively normal-looking face, legs and arms. That’s our ideal. Teeny tiny with no protruding bones and a youthful-looking face.

  11. Jill Says:

    My Dad used to call me “jug butt”…it’s stuck with me ever since.

  12. thrift store lawyer Says:

    today is the 20-year anniversary of my graduation from eating disorder treatment. it DOES get better, if you have good insurance and a fairly supportive family. and if you get help before it completely destroys your mind (I was 16 at the time). of the two women i met in treatment, one is still anorexically thin, and the other is dead. today i’m “normal” by most accounts (read: too fat to have a fashion blog), but worries about weight and the concomitant obsession with food will dog me forever.

  13. Ann Says:

    I can’t even envision a time that I will look at something I am eating and not immediately know its calorie count. Or not scrutinize my appearance on my way to the beach in a bikini. Or not freak out if my clothes are getting too snug. Or not vomit after what I deem overeating. It is a way of life for me and has been since high school. I don’t know how to even begin to fix this mentality within myself, let alone the world. I personally don’t know any women who are happy with their bodies. Not a single one, and I know some truly beautiful, beautiful women (yourself included, Sister).

  14. liz Says:

    Paparazzi mags and celebrity mags make me sick. They are so contradicting and disgusting “beach winners and losers” Do you remember the whole Mary Kate Olsen thin, one week it’s “Mary Kate Olsen Anorexic” and then a month later, “Mary kate Olsen double chin?” They’re so damaging, as are women, to each other. It’s sad.

  15. Artful Lawyer Says:

    Getting to the point of not giving a shit really helps. I’m too busy trying to stay employed and keep everyone and everything afloat – and then have a little “me” time so my boring, male job doesn’t give me a breakdown – to care any longer. I could use weight loss, my shoes are comfortable and conservative but not “hott,” and right now I carry a Sportsac for all of my crap. I just do not care any longer about how imperfect I am when compared to models. Snap!

  16. Eleanor Says:

    You can totally fix your eating problem – look up EFT on the internet and go and find a good therapist. Everything is sortable with EFT. It’s just an old pattern you are running – a package of self esteem issues, shocks and traumas, childhood beliefs etc. Nothing is set in stone. Go free yourself, you deserve so much better. xx

  17. Eleanor Says:

    That last comment was for Ann..

  18. Suspended Says:

    I saw these two on TV and couldn’t believe my eyes. It’s desperately tragic.

    My wife has a very clever logic regarding personal appearance and, as always, is spot-on. It goes something like “Why should I waste time worrying about how I look, no-one cares, they’re too busy obsessing about themselves to notice what’s wrong with me.”

  19. Suspended Says:

    Oh, and it’s been YEARS since she asked me if her bum looked big in anything. She knows how to dress, she knows what suits her figure, knowledge is power (and confidence.)

    Women in general have a tendency to obsess over anything were the grass might be greener, even when they know it isn’t. They think they should be able to wear/suit everything and anything and they can’t. It’s impossible! There is a style to suit every shape but certainly no shape that suits every style.

  20. Priscila Says:

    No one cares what models looks like. People love to say models look like boys, skeletons, etc..
    What people want is to look like those actress : big boobs, big butt, tiny waist, tonned legs. How many people actually read Vogue? Now how many people watch TV/movies?

  21. misfitina Says:

    I’ve been chubby since being a kid and am now rather large. I just don’t understand anorexia and don’t know if i ever can. I’m self-conscious and self-loathing and have to endure a lot of uncomfortable exchanges, ridicule and conventional “humor”- even discrimination. But i feel like I have privilege in not starving myself and wish it was just something they could turn off and stop living with.

  22. Jaimi Says:

    Thank you for this. God this is sad.
    I’m scared I’ll be worried about this shit forever, too. I’m 23, almost 24 now and feel way too old for this shit but I’ve relapsed in a pretty bad way.
    I was dating a guy for a bit who was a professional athlete and it got me thinking, aside from double stanards for women and all that, what if in all this time I’d spent obsessing over my body, I’d instead taken up some physical sport or other hobby? I’d wanted to learn how to skateboard since I was 9 or 10, and learn how to play bass since 14. Why didn’t I? It is what it is I suppose. Doing it for love at this point is still possible, not that I’d want to be pro anyway but man, all that time…

  23. Jaimi Says:

    *standards

  24. baba Says:

    this is a honest post

  25. Cricket9 Says:

    The picture is scary and heartbreaking. I wonder how the hell I escaped from all this! I want to say it out loud – at 61, I am happy with my body! Is it perfect? No, and I don’t look like I’m still 21 either. But it’s a pretty good body, doesn’t give me to much trouble and I do like it! I need to take better care of it by exercising more, so I’m going for a swim tomorrow.
    I always thought that somewhere there is someone more beautiful than I am, and someone more ugly than I am, so why worry, and anyway, who cares? Suspended, your wife has a very healthy point of view, good for her!
    I would count calories only for medical reasons – and I refuse to eat calorie-reduced made from sawdust anything, I’d rather not have the damn muffin at all. People, it’s all in your heads – these beauty ideals, the thinness, the “you must look like this to be attractive” and so on. You don’t have to give in!
    Fuck, I LOOK GREAT AND SO DO YOU!

  26. kellie Says:

    I used to weigh 110 pounds at 5’7. I was sick all the time, any illness that floated by grabbed me by the throat. Being small didnt matter to me then, it was just how I was. I didnt NOT EAT, but was you know 20 years old!!!

    I am now 170 pounds. Working on/thinking about maybe being 150 pounds again. I have boobs and hips and dont look like an emaciated freak. Although I am not sure I did before, but people always said “oh, you are so thin”.

    I dont ever want to be that small again, and I dont think I am huge now, but it would probably not hurt any to lose a bit.

    It makes me sad that these people have lived their lives in misery. At least when I was thin I was happy.

  27. Cricket9 Says:

    By the way, I do have an issue with a milk ad running on Canadian TV: a young, slim, good looking women opens the fridge and takes out a beautiful, huge, luscious chocolate cake. She carefully cuts a microscopically thin piece of the cake – it could be thinner only if she cuts it with a laser. She then eats it with a glass of milk.
    Each time when I see it i want to yell “Eat a normal size portion, you stupid bitch! Enough of this fucking guilt manipulation!”

    I’m going to stuff my face with ice cream, NOT FEELING GUILTY AT ALL.

  28. kellie Says:

    ps, just read the whole article.
    THEY ARE 33 YEARS OLD???

    they easily look 50+
    and are DOCTORS???

    My head hurts.

  29. Cricket9 Says:

    It should be “woman”, not “women” – there is only one with the cake in the ad.

  30. Bevitron Says:

    Great post, Sister Wolf.
    Comes some kind of epidemic, biological terrorism on a grand scale, etc., it probably wouldn’t take long for us to stop bothering with all that shit. I guess we’re “fortunate” that we can. Count me out, though.

    I can’t speak about anorexia, but I tend to think there are two broad categories of overweightness (is that at word, I just despise “obesity”): diehard compulsive eaters, who usually get started early in childhood, and adults who were normal sized in childhood but are overweight now due mostly to decreased exercise and non-decreased portion sizes. Both are a bitch, but I think of them as two entirely different breeds of cat. I’m no expert, it just looks that way. And God I hate those weight loss TV shows. The biggest loser, Christ almighty damn. Only somebody who’s been at a stable, normal weight their entire lives could think that’s some kind of cure or fix. Weight loss is the de-tox, rehab is the rest of your life.
    Ah, I’m just in a shitty mood.
    YOU LOOK FINE – what a great campaign!

  31. Tallulah Eulallie Says:

    Sister, your psyche is full of shit. I SAW that picture of you in the sequin pants. If I were you, I’d put that sucker smack-dab in the middle of the refrigerator door so every day I could be reminded that this is what a hot-ass woman looks like!

  32. Cricket9 Says:

    I second that, Tallulah!

  33. RedHeadFashionista Says:

    Suspended – your wife is fabulous.

  34. Dru Says:

    I don’t know whether it would work – I’ve heard “You look fine!” from tons of people in my life, and found ways to dismiss it (whoever was saying it was a lot older than me, or bigger, or just didn’t get it, or was obviously lying/just trying to placate me).

    Doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be tried though, and I for one would like to be able to pick up a fluffy magazine like Vogue or Grazia without having to read about how slender the random celeb on the front is, or how she “has curves” but isn’t fat. That shit is way more poisonous than the writers of those profiles realize or care to acknowledge.

  35. dogma Says:

    Could you provide any more info about the documentary you mentioned? I’d love to see it.

  36. SACRAMENTO Says:

    Fantastic post. From today I will try and spread: YOU LOOK FINE!!!

  37. sheri Says:

    This is sad, and tragic, and awful, and a topic I write about often. But the pictures don’t look real — I know that anorexia can cause people to look like bobble-head dolls, but the skin tones on their faces don’t match their bodies. Is it possible that, like the infamous photo of Filippa, they’ve been photoshopped to look even WORSE than they do in real life?

  38. undeadsinatra Says:

    youlookfine.org is available. Some one less of a symbol of the patriarchy than my self (white, straight, male and bald/chubby at that) should snatch it up and get this campaign rolling.

  39. David Duff Says:

    Please, PLEASE, ‘Sis’, write another post because everytime I click on your site, usually first thing in the morning, I see they two ghastly-looking creatures and they make me feel queezy. Pretty please?

  40. Witch Moma Says:

    i can’t believe this pic & love the idea of “You Look Fine.”

  41. Roz Says:

    I definitely agree on the hypocrisy of the Daily Mail – berating ‘celebs’ on their appearance one minute, and then publishing articles like this the next. However, I find the whole premise of the piece a little disturbing – apart from them being identical twins, why does this merit being news? I know we’re talking about the DM here, where anything goes, but this is a story based all around a horrendous psycholoical disorder. All I can wish the twins is the best wishes that they can start on the road to recovery, but does telling a tabloid help?
    I love the idea of a “You Look Fine” campaign – as I definitely agree that everyone should feel comfortable and confident in their own body – whatever size, colour or height. However, talking as an ex-model (I left the industry because I had serious back surgery), I hope that the 2% could be included in the drive for celebration too. I’m not glossing over the fact that there are models with eating disorders – as has been noted many times – but there are people who are naturally slender and tall too. Although I much prefer to be praised for my writing rather than my looks, I feel just as ‘real’ as any other woman. The scar on my back is now just as much a part of me as my height.

    I thought you might be interested in this article written by a swedish blogger (and ex model herself) – http://accordingtoannika.blogspot.com/2011/06/thin-girl-vs-real-girl.html

  42. Elena Abaroa Says:

    Amazing post Sister Wolf, I´m totally agree with you.

  43. Elena Abaroa Says:

    But, dont you think that in this case (the twin sisters) the begining is it not just about “the ideal of beauty”? I mean they wanted to not grow up, they started starving theirselves at 11 because they didnt want to look women, they wanted to be kids for ever… I have a friend who had anorexia for the same reason, she didnt care much about weight, she wanted being a child forever… (sorry for my English).

  44. Eliza Says:

    As someone who has been diagnosed with an ED, I wish people would just shut up about everyone’s bodies and focus on something that actually matters. The media conflation of disordered eating with eating disorders trivializes a mental illness on par with the self-distortion of schizophrenia. Why have a real beauty campaign at all? How about, WE REMEMBER YOUR BRAIN AND YOUR SMILE AFTER YOUR BODY ROTS. Stop telling women they’re beautiful no matter how they really look. They still hear that they need to be beauty. They just need better cultural priorities.

  45. Eliza Says:

    *need to be beautiful

  46. Rackk and Ruin Says:

    I’m sure that many women out there who are larger than me would envy my shape, but that doesn’t do a damn thing to stop ME from envying those thinner than I. I’ve never done anything unhealthy to lose weight but I do think about being skinnier way more often than i’d like. over the past two months i’ve actually been eating responsibly, getting frequent exercise, and i’m feeling great for it. I wish that these twins could snap the fuck out of it and realize that life is too short for their bullshit. but it’s just not that easy.

  47. Holly Says:

    Anorexia isn’t about being pretty to fit into ~society’s tough standards~. For some, perhaps most, it’s about control. Someone above mentioned they wanted to be childlike – innocent. It’s possible they were abused and wanted to regress into a childlike state. Either way I’m pretty sure it has little or nothing to do with The Evil Media.

    It’s incredibly stupid and lazy to just blame everything, including extensive psychological disorders, on “the media” and “society.” Beauty standards have existed since long before any kind of Western media came about. I’m sure the women with bound feet in China and neck stretchers in Africa would kill for such ~awful~ beauty standards that we apparently have no choice in.

  48. acd Says:

    I find this post hilarious in light of your more recent post declaring that Gabourey Sidibe is TOO FAT for her role as some skinny white guy’s girlfriend…surely the casting directors, producers, and everyone else involved in giving her a paycheck for portraying a fictional character are doing something wrong!

    If you could publicly reconcile those two posts– which came from real places, I know– then that’d be a real accomplishment. I feel alot of post-feminist-types are all for body acceptance when it fits into their still-narrow-but-slightly-wider conceptions of what’s okay and what’s not. We’re still mired in the society we bemoan, whether we like it or not or know it or not.

  49. Sister Wolf Says:

    acd – I have no trouble reconciling the two posts. Gabby is too fat by all standards and she will drastically shorted her life if she stays this fat. And, the creators of that show ended up having the skinny guy exploit the “fat girl” for a green card.

    There is no contradiction in observing that some people are alarmingly fat, and decrying the forces that cause girls to starve themselves to death.

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