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Why We Care So Much About Our Appearance: Our Obsession With Looks

Our constant obsession with our appearance has been a very important topic to me since I became aware of how intensely it is affecting females and our lives. Let me ask you this question: How much does your mood depend on how you look today? How much does your self-worth and self-confidence depend on your physical appearance? Do you only feel good about yourself when you feel pretty? And does it make you cringe to think of going out of your dorm room without makeup on?

If you answered ‘no’ to all of these questions you’re one of the lucky ones that has been able to avoid this growing fascination with beauty. If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to any of the above (like me and about 1 billion other girls on this planet) you have fallen into the false allusion so prominent in our youth (and adolescence) that physical appearance is the prime female asset.

Everywhere we look we see things that are supposed to make us prettier: the newest makeup formula that promises not only even skin but a natural glow, acne treatment that is supposed to magically make all your spots disappear and lip tints that make your lips look not so pale. 

So is this what makes you “pretty”? Have you ever thought about the things that make us pretty? What it means to be pretty? Pretty. What does pretty even mean? Has anyone else ever wondered who invented pretty? Has anyone else ever wondered where the idea of pretty came from? Was there a person who set the parameters of “pretty”? Who was the one who said: “Oh, long hair and full lips are pretty”? Who ever got to decide what is considered pretty and what is considered not pretty? Let me phrase it differently: Why do we think the things that are pretty are pretty? Why is it pretty to have long lanky legs rather than short stubby ones? Are they just “prettier”, like the sky is “blue”?

My answer to you is: I don’t know. I don’t know where this notion of “pretty” came from; why pretty people are considered pretty and others are not. I just know that there is no logical or acceptable reason why our universal idea of beauty is the way it is. It has nothing to do with biology or the way our brains work.

I have a homosexual friend who has the most interesting taste in men.  One day we were chatting about hot guys and he was telling me about his ultimate celebrity crush. When I didn’t know his crush I expected him to show me a picture of some hunky, young, scruffy heartthrob that every teenage girl swoons over. Instead he showed me a picture of a middle aged overweight bald guy. I thought he was a joking! It turns out he was being serious: this is his “type”.

Believe it or not, chemical reactions in our brains are what make us lust over someone that has somehow struck our fancy. There is no actual physical formula that someone must possess to make our brains react that way to some people instead of others (depending on their looks). Some people, my friend for example, have not been affected by the universal idea of beauty, and perceive people according to their own physical preferences. Others (like most of us) follow the trend of “pretty” and perceive everyone and everything we have been told is pretty to be pretty.

Fact: There is actually no “universal” idea of beauty. Each country’s beauty ideal is different. Most westernized countries share very similar ideals of beauty. Eastern countries for example find a rounder, healthier body more appealing than the “stick figure” that is so popular in our current society. Many Asian countries prefer pale skin as opposed to our popular glowing tan. Ancient tribes favored strange looking piercings, tattoos and hairstyles we wouldn’t dream of wearing in today’s America. Beauty is deeply rooted into society. There is no single beauty ideal that sets the standards for the whole world. I guess each society decides what is beautiful and what is not. And sadly, this standard becomes extremely inaccurate, narrow-minded and completely and absolutely unrealistic and ridiculous.

So why do we care so much about our appearance? We care because of other people. We want other people to think we are physically appealing. Why do we want that? Because we think that if others think we are pretty, they will treat us better, like us more and think more highly of us. Sad but true.

Now you might say: “But I want to look good for me. It makes me feel better about myself to look good. I do it because I want to feel good.” Well, think about it this way: If it were attractive to have acne, would you wear make up every day and scrub away your spots every night with a high-formula acne peeling? No. Do you apply make up and style your hair when you stay in your room for the day? When nobody else sees you all day? No. We try to be more physically appealing to please others. We feel better about ourselves when we look better because we feel like others perceive us better. That is why we care so much about how we look. We want others to accept us and we think the only way they will do so is if they think we adhere to standards of beauty in society.  

But why do we think the only way we can gain other people’s attention, attraction, friendship etc. is by being beautiful? This is the false misogynistic message the media has distributed throughout society that tells girls and women that the only value they have is their appearance. Beautiful women are glamorized to ridiculous extents in the media. Rarely do we hear about female achievements in politics, medicine or science. Instead we get bombarded by tabloids on Kim Kardashian’s new butt implants and “How To Achieve Your Dream Body Before Bikini Season”. We are sent the message that the only goal a female should have is achieve extreme and unnatural beauty. That is, the “beauty” society has created for us.

So what can we do to stop obsession about out appearance so much? Women need to start realizing that there is more to them than lashes that were meant to be extended and breasts that were made to be pushed. There is more to their life than the endless struggle to become some beauty ideal an unidentified source has created to destroy our self-esteem. Beauty isn’t the way to female success and definitely not the way to happiness. There is so much more we need to strive for. Our goal is not beauty; our goal should be to make a difference in life, in history. Our goal should be to achieve the great, whatever that means to each individual. There is so much more to a woman than just her physical appearance.  

My beautiful fellow ladies, there is no ideal of beauty. There is no one perfect woman we all need to strive to become. As soon as we stop giving into false standards and understand the reality that “beauty” does not exist, as there are no real parameters to describe beauty, we can release ourselves of the false notion that beauty is the ultimate goal of a woman. There is so much more.

Take a deep breath in and see the world the way it is. Not the way you were told to see it. Enjoy all these things the way they are and you will see life, your body and your beauty in a whole other way: simply in your way. And that is the real way.

Roxanne is a 21-year old Boston University student from Düsseldorf, Germany, who is majoring in Film & TV and is currently completing a semester in Los Angeles, California.
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