Beauty and the Beast

This has been one ugly week.

Ugly news. Ugly weather (rain, snow, really?). Ugly stomach bug that hit me in the middle of college cello lessons: “Please don’t worry if I run out of the room suddenly, I’m feeling a little funny.” My dog soon shared the bathroom floor with me. She is so perceptive that she at one point smelled my face (yum), then smelled the toilet, sniffed me again and sympathetically put her paw on my arm as if to say, “Go for it, do what you have to do, but get better fast.”

After spending two days wondering if food would ever look beautiful again to me, I graduated to toast, weak tea, and Pepsi Saturday and made it through two ballet performances of Prokofiev’s “Cinderella” with Orchestra Iowa.

Sunday I started thinking a bit about beauty. I got into one of those long, drawn-out Facebook “discussions” about the new Dove commercial that uses a forensic artist who sketches both how several women perceive themselves and how total strangers perceive them. The strangers use much kinder words. More beautiful words. This makes some of the women cry when they see the sketch based on other people’s perceptions. The basic message: feel you inner natural beauty.

Dove markets beauty products. There is no illusion here: they still want us to buy them. But they have taken a huge step in recent years to using models of all sizes, ages and ethnicity to send a basic message: let’s get real. No more airbrushing. Beauty is healthy. Beauty is self-acceptance.

A well-written blog from a feminist perspective took apart the recent ad, however. Don’t tell us what beautiful is! Don’t tell us we have to beautiful! More racial representation, less focus on being thin…she had some very valid points. However, it bugged me that she would take down a company that is trying to take a stand.

One friend of a friend on FB commented angrily,  “Dove even tries to make a deodorant that will make our armpits look beautiful! They can eat their armpit commercial.” This started making me laugh. Not because she was funny, but I started thinking about the ugly armpit commercials Dove could start making. Embrace the stubble! Enjoy armpit breakouts and clumps of deodorant hanging from your pit hairs!

I did go to Oberlin College. I did go through phases of shaving/not shaving. Heck, I still do! But I never took my beauty directions from a company. I appreciate learning about a product that will help me as I have extremely sensitive skin and break out easily, so I don’t mind getting barraged by the media a little. I kind of enjoy the beautiful sensation of smooth skin gliding on clean sheets and not feeling the wind in my arm pit-hairs as I run, so I do shave more than I don’t.

But it all made me think: Do we need beauty? Do we need to feel beautiful?

I do. My beauty always has to radiate outwards, however. When I feel good about myself because I’ve taken time to pick out an outfit I like or fix my hair, I just feel happier and more confident because I shine. I don’t need others to confirm this.  We don’t need one anorexic model of beauty to be the only standard, and media needs to embrace variety and acknowledge that beauty is not a solid state: it’s an organic, flowing, interconnected mass of our personal health and happiness. But you can’t sell that. You can’t put clothes on that.

Rose and I just completed a beautiful run. It was a gorgeous spring day with sunny daffodils. We were beautifully drenched in sweat and panting with happiness. The question is, which one is Beauty and which one of us is the Beast?

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