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We Can't All Be Beautiful

Feb 4 2014
Why does our obsession with self-acceptance focus so much on appearance?

Cate Blanchett is beautiful. I am not. Most of us are not. Most of us are average-looking. And I'm okay with that—far more than those who suggest we can all be beautiful, if only we change the definition of "beautiful" to include everyone.

Take the latest installment in the ten-year-old Dove Campaign for Real Beauty. The short documentary, Selfie, which debuted last month at the Sundance Film Festival, insists that if we angle, crop, preen, pose, distort, and bend ourselves enough—along with the very definition of the word—we can all be beautiful. The "power to change and redefine what beauty is," the film purports, is in our own selfie-taking hands.

Some aspects of the documentary, to be sure, deserve praise. It depicts mothers and daughters talking about self-acceptance. The daughters' negative self-images are exposed as echoing their mothers' own insecurities. At the end of the experiment, the girls come to see and appreciate how their unique physical features are part of their very identities.

While Dove tries to help everyone become—or at least think they are—more beautiful (perhaps with the assistance of a few of the company's products), the rest of us might reconsider the meaning and value of beauty itself.

Certainly, our sense of what is beautiful should reflect the generosity and diversity of God's creation. Yet, while what is truly beautiful is by no means uniform, both classical tradition and scientific studies suggest judgments of beauty adhere fairly consistently to a mathematical proportion of perfect symmetry known as the Fibonacci Sequence. This "golden ratio" constitutes an objective (although not comprehensive) standard for beauty that is found universally throughout nature, art, architecture and even in the human face.

If God had asked me if I wanted him to make me beautiful, I'd certainly have said yes. Even so, if he'd asked me to list in order the personal qualities I desired to possess, beauty would not have been first. It wouldn't have even been second or third (though probably in the top 10). But God didn't consult me.

Part of the value of beauty is, in fact, its rarity. So it's not surprising that only 4 percent of women across the globe describe themselves as "beautiful," in a study commissioned by Dove. Yet 72 percent of the girls in the survey reported that they "feel tremendous pressure to be beautiful." Nearly two-thirds of the participants strongly agreed with the statements, "Women today are expected to be more physically attractive than their mother's generation was" and "Society expects women to enhance their physical attractiveness." Women feel overwhelmingly that beauty and physical attractiveness are increasingly mandated and rewarded in today's society, a perception backed strongly by other research.

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