Why Redefining Beauty Campaigns Won’t Work (part I)

In the past several years there has been a growing backlash against Western media portrayals of women. Media outlets, and even actresses themselves, have not been remiss in pointing out digital nips and tucks. To counteract this barrage of picture perfect female forms, there is a trendy movement to redefine what beauty looks like.  These movements vary from going without makeup,  to daily self-affirmations of just how beautiful you are,  to athleticism as beauty, to the well-known marketing campaign by Dove.  Amazon and other book dealers carry many titles on the topic like Redefining Beautiful, Beauty Redefined, and Girls and Self-Esteem. Within the Mormon community this trend also promises to help women and girls feel more beautiful as they accept their bodies.  Besides the grassroots effort of firesides on redefining beauty, Church leadership has approached beauty in a similar fashion. In April 2000 General Conference, President James Faust encouraged young women,  “As you seek to know the will of our Heavenly Father in your life and become more spiritual, you will be far more attractive, even irresistible.

More recently, In April 2010 Elaine Dalton, President of the General Young Women Presidency, redefined beauty with inner beauty, by having the companionship of the Holy Ghost and by being virtuous.

We have been taught that “the gift of the Holy Ghost … quickens all the intellectual faculties, increases, enlarges, expands and purifies all the natural passions and affections. … It inspires virtue, kindness, goodness, tenderness, gentleness and charity. It develops beauty of person, form and features.”  (Emphasis hers)  Now, that is a great beauty secret!…It is the kind of beauty that doesn’t wash off. It is spiritual attractiveness. Deep beauty springs from virtue. It is the beauty of being chaste and morally clean…The world places so much emphasis on physical attractiveness and would have you believe that you are to look like the elusive model on the cover of a magazine. The Lord would tell you that you are each uniquely beautiful. When you are virtuous, chaste, and morally clean, your inner beauty glows in your eyes and in your face…There is no more beautiful sight than a young woman who glows with the light of the Spirit, who is confident and courageous because she is virtuous.

The premise of these campaigns is to help girls and women feel good about themselves by telling them they, too, are beautiful. While I laud the effort to help women feel good about who they are, and to choose the right, all of these campaigns are   misguided less effective as a way to teach both self worth and gospel principles. First and foremost, they don’t work. Secondly, these campaigns ironically reinforce the definitions of women they are striving to stamp out. Because this is a Mormon blog, I’ll focus on Mormon examples. [note: edited in response to reader comments]

Part I: Why they won’t work

A recent article in LDS Living, Beauty Redefined: Rejecting the Media’s Impossible Standards, sisters Lexie and Lindsay Kite write:

You will never see an average American woman represented in the mass media as a “beauty ideal.” And it is completely reasonable to assume that every image of women you see in the media has been digitally manipulated. So why is that where we get our standard for what is normal and beautiful? (Emphasis theirs)

The authors’ are right in asserting that we will never see an average American woman represented in the mass media as a “beauty ideal.” However the authors’ question assumes a false paradigm, “So why is that where we get our standard for what is normal and beautiful?”  The answer is we don’t. We don’t get our standard for what is normal or beautiful from women portrayed in the media. Research shows that humans universally decide who is beautiful, and who is not.* In some sense, the idea that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, is nonsense. Women instinctively know this as well as men. Telling women that women in the media aren’t normal doesn’t make the rest of the female population like being normal.

The second stipulation under the authors’ false paradigm is that, “it is completely reasonable to assume that every image of women you see in the media has been digitally manipulated.” Despite as much media frenzy over digital photo enhancement as there is actual photo enhancement, not every woman portrayed in the media is photoshopped, and we know it.  Watching Transformers, we assume that Megan Fox is not digitally altered in every frame. We also know most of us don’t physically measure up. But telling women they are as beautiful as (insert favorite celebrity here) in their own way, makes about as much sense as telling a child who is learning to play the piano that she sounds as lovely as Rachmaninoff. Likewise, telling a woman she can be beautiful by being chaste, makes about as much sense as telling a woman she will be a great runner by reading a book. When appealing to beauty, women want to be physically beautiful, not beautiful in some ethereal sense.

I do not want to downplay the harmful effects of, nor ignore the onslaught of objectification of women in the media. However, the perpetuation of the idea that eating disorders are caused by media images (although I do not deny they are a factor), and that redefining beauty campaigns  will cause eating disorders to fade away is a dangerous oversimplification of what causes them. It is also a painful oversight of the reality that eating disorders existed long before thin was in.**

And we find ourselves with this dilemma; Salt Lake City is America’s vainest city.

Either there is something inherent in the Utah/Mormon culture that makes girls and women more susceptible to media messages; or two, Mormon girls and women are receiving messages about what it means to be beautiful from influences besides media; or third, a combination of media influence and Mormon religious culture compound to make a bigger impact on girls and women about what it means to be beautiful and desirable.

Next up: Part II: How Redefining Beauty Campaigns Reinforce Our Notions of Women and Beauty

Footnotes:

*Maxims or Myths of Beauty? A Meta-Analytic and Theoretical Review.   Psychology Bulletin. 2000 Vo. 126. No6, 390-423. Judith Langlois, Lisa Kalakanis, Adam J Rubenstien, Andrea Larson, Monica Hallam, Monica Smoot. University of Texas Austin. In examining over 1,800 studies in addition to their own work, researchers concluded that people around the globe find the same physical features attractive. This conclusion is backed by other researchers.

**I won’t belabor the point that trendsetters in Utah spreading the gospel of redefining beauty do so by proclaiming the BMI unjust and unfair to women in classifying them as overweight, while at the same time using the BMI to classify women as underweight.

Comments

  1. John Mansfield says:

    Years ago I saw a pretty girl on a bus. (Cue Mr. Bernstein from Citizen Kane.) She was far enough away that I could discretely consider what exactly made this particular girl so strikingly attractive. It was interesting to notice, for example, the value of a short distance between nose and upper lip—the kind of topography that makeup artists and cosmetic surgeons no doubt have examined in detail using calibers and filled lab notebooks with.

  2. Latter-day Guy says:

    Fascinating stuff — looking forward to pt 2.

    Particularly interesting/amusing was the notion that if young women are virtuous (or, putting it more offensively, don’t put out) they will become more beautiful, “even irresistible,” which, one would think might make the not-putting-out business more challenging.

    Anyway, I wonder if this is our new version of the righteous-living-will-make-Native-Americans-gradually-more-pasty meme from which we have (thank heaven) distanced ourselves.

  3. Hrmph. Sounds like they want all of us women to aspire to being “sweet spirits.”

  4. I’m a little — no, more than a little — tired of the breezy way people label Salt Lake City as vain because of the ratio of plastic-surgeons-to-population. We’re a relatively small city, as state and regional capitals go, yet we have three huge regional hospitals — Primary Children’s, University, and Shriners’ — who (especially Shriners’, with their burn center) provide reconstructive surgery to hundreds of patients every year, most of them, of course, not normally residents of Salt Lake. Yet that “vanity” label implies that every other woman here is stopping for a nose job on her way to work (or, as so many critics prefer to couch it, on her way to the drug store to pick up her anti-depression medication).

    It’s hard to look past that slur to consider fairly any other part of an argument

  5. So why is that where we get our standard for what is normal and beautiful?
    The overwhelming presence of not just extreme, but literally impossible, portrayals of beauty all over the place skews the curve. All the extremely beautiful women are seen as ‘normal’ and all the normal women are ugly, and no one that really exists is thought of as extremely beautiful. That we will have a curve is inevitable- I don’t dispute that. However there is value in making the curve more realistic.

  6. Ardis, You are right that plastic surgeons aren’t there solely to do boob and nose jobs, I don’t think that was the only way Forbes determined who was the vainest. Tenessee came in second.

  7. Starfoxy,
    Not true. I know real live breathing people, some have been in my wards, who are just that beautiful.

    We hardly think it’s normal. That is in part, why we find Hollywood women beautiful. If their beauty was commonplace, they wouldn’t be stars, they wouldn’t be famous, they wouldn’t be considered that beautiful. I think it is probably in part their uniqueness that makes them beautiful. They don’t look like the rest of us. They aren’t normal, and we know it.

    That isn’t to say the constant flow of images of beautiful people are also a constant reminder of our own ordinariness, nor to say that we as women don’t want to be that beautiful, or that it doesn’t drive us to do terrible things to our bodies to try and look that good, no, not at all. But I don’t think the media is trying to get us to look like that either. They know we want to look like that. So they market their products to us, preying on our own vanity. They are just following the money.
    What’s the value in putting less attractive people on display?

  8. According to the linked story, mmiles, that is *precisely* how the “vanity” ranking was established.

  9. Looking over the Kite sister’s site, I’m struck by how many of the images they display at firesides attack “skinny”. It seems the message isn’t one of not being consumed with looks, but instead perpetuates an idea of right and wrong looks. Their message seems to make it wrong to be skinny. I’ve never suffered from the problem myself, but I have known quite a few girls who really can’t help being very skinny. I would imagine they would feel quite awkward in such a setting.

    Shouldn’t the message be about combatting the idea that beauty is worth instead of just finding a new way to package the same old crap?

  10. Ardis & mmiles, I honestly can’t tell who is arguing what as the basis for the rankings, but it’s fairly clear that the rankings aren’t based in any way on the type of procedure that is done. It’s a really simple (and really meaningless) metric on the number of licensed plastic surgeons per 100,000 residents over age 18.

  11. Ardis, they also accounted for an average of 1/3 of plastic surgeries being reconstructive and removed those under 18 from the pool. And SLC can’t be the only city listed with burn centers and such. Even so, if you could control for all factors, I think SLC would still rank high on the list- which is the relevant factor in relation to the OP.

  12. To be clear–the fact that the rankings do not account for procedure type is explicitly pointed out when you click on the “Full List” and look at Salt Lake’s entry, where it notes that the high proportion of plastic surgeons to population is “could be attributed to the University of Utah’s School of Medicine, which offers residencies in plastic and reconstructive surgery.”

    This isn’t to say that there isn’t merit to the general argument here against equating beauty and worth in any kind of twisted fashion, but rather to say that these statistics and rankings don’t say diddly about Mormon tendencies toward plastic surgery.

  13. observer (fka eric s) says:

    Thank you. You hit at a disconnect that exists between women as a media product and women in non-market context (e.g. Everyday life). One is market driven, and the other is usually different than the market version.

    Its dangerous for a guy to comment here, but I have two daughters I worry about. Seems like the church is most concerned about sexual transgression, so they frame beauty as a function of chastity. I imagine that is a confusing message, given that LDS youth see that some of the most universaly beautiful women are very sexually active. Its a mixed message.

  14. Scott and Ardis,
    Agreed. But let’s admit we’re vain anyhow.

  15. Scott,

    I think the question can be settled in the most scientifically sound way:

    Let’s have a poll!

  16. Sunny,
    Yes, they have no problem telling girls they are too skinny according to the BMI, but hate the BMI for telling girls they are fat.

  17. Sunny,

    Ardis, they also accounted for an average of 1/3 of plastic surgeries being reconstructive and removed those under 18 from the pool.

    They removed the under-18s, but did not “account” for the 1/3 of surgeries. They simply note that such is a trend–the actual statistics used include all plastic surgeries, regardless of type.

  18. Agreed. But let’s admit we’re vain anyhow.

    Show me the data, and I’ll believe it. :)

  19. observer (fka eric s) says:

    I imagine its dificult for LDS youth to reconcile the message that beauty is a function of chastity when they observe that some of the most universally beautiful women are sexual active.

  20. I want to look better by losing 10 pounds. Also, I wear make-up to look good, and exercise sometimes. Is that good enough data for you?

  21. But Scott, recognizing 1/3 across the board cancels out 1/3 in all results, no?

    Anyway, I don’t care. The OP stands alone without that tidbit. Let’s quit being distracted by the fake boobs and discuss the matter at hand.

  22. Ardis, I agree that the criteria for “vainest city” is pretty silly. That said there are plenty of women around getting plastic surgery. I remember one ward I attended in Provo where at least half the Relief Society had obvious work done to make themselves fit some idealized model appearance. I don’t want to turn this thread into a repetition of the ever popular “is plastic surgery bad” discussion. But it is there. On the other hand I also know lots of women who had a tummy tuck to repair damage to the abs from childbirth. It’s pretty hard to see that as horribly vain to simply want a tummy that doesn’t stick out no matter how much exercise one does. Given the rate of pregnancy in Utah I suspect that biases results as well.

    Regarding the original post, I have to agree. Further there is this sense in which some portray it as wrong to be attracted to attractive people (whether men or women). There’s clearly some social aspects at play (people without much food will find heavier people more attractive than people with lots of food, historically) and westernized appearance is over-valued. That said there’s also a ton of instinctual behavior here that’s almost certainly programmed into our DNA.

    While our behavior isn’t determined by our genes, it seems silly to assume we can just wish the genes away. Now I think we should consciously work towards appreciating more than our genes tend to tell us.

    All that said though it’s funny how the ideals for females by females (say Vogue) are quite different from what men appear to want (say Sports Illustrated Swimsuit or the typical Maxim model) While there’s some crossover (and I don’t read any of the above magazines) I think it safe to say that Vogue models tend to be near anorexic whereas men desire women who are fitter and with a bit of muscle tone. This is a place where I think redefining beauty campaigns could work and should work. While I don’t think Vogue or the fashion industry is single handedly responsible for eating disorders I suspect they contribute a lot to it, even if ultimately other factors are key.

  23. But Clark, shouldn’t women want to care for their bodies for the sake of caring for their bodies, not to garner attention?

  24. annonforfamilytoday says:

    I almost snorted when I read “even irresistible!” Apparently I’ve been missing the boat by paying little attention to whether I’m sweet or “irresistible.”

    Purely anecdotal, but of my female sisters and cousins who turned 20 between 1998 and 2005, 2/3rd of those permanently living in Utah have had cosmetic plastic surgery; as far as I know, none of us settling outside Utah have. All this surgery was done in their 20’s (or earlier!) with girls that are quite pretty anyways. While one is pretty obvious, the others are tasteful enough that you probably just think they “are beautiful” people, whatever that means.

    It has changed the standard of beauty within our own family – I imagine there must be a macro social change as well. I think twice before attending a family event without makeup even though more days than not I don’t even get out the makeup bag (something one of them marveled at when visiting me in my Pacific NW city). Who wants to be the fat, unkempt family member at Thanksgiving? It is a vicious cycle.

  25. “This is a place where I think redefining beauty campaigns could work and should work.”

    It depends on what their goal is. Is it to make all women feel beautiful? or more women feel beautiful? The question is, why are we defining women around the pivotal point of beauty, especially when it comes to chastity? Why can’t we just accept the fact that if our bodies are temples; some temples are the San Diego temple, some are the Ogden temple (and the Ogden Temple is getting a facelift)–and move on? Why insist on all of us being beautiful?

  26. mmiles (20),
    So does every single woman in my office (explicitly–they’re all on diets, all wear make up, and all exercise their brains out), but none of them are LDS. I don’t think I’ve ever more than a handful of women–anywhere–who wouldn’t claim the exact same things you claim in 20. So where is the evidence that this is disproportionately an LDS problem?

    Don’t get me wrong–I’m not saying that we don’t have a problem here–I’m just saying that the evidence being cited doesn’t really do it for me.

  27. Sunny (21),
    No, it doesn’t–quite the opposite. In a small population center like SLC (relative to, say, San Diego or San Francisco), the presence of a burn center like the UofU virtually guarantees that the 1/3 rule of thumb is wildly inaccurate for SLC. The fact that the national trend is 1/3 simply means that larger population centers–like SD and SF–have lower rates of reconstructive surgery (and consequently higher rates of boob jobs than SLC).

  28. Sunny (#23), I don’t think so. Of course we should care for our bodies to care for our bodies. But am I wrong that I’m trying to get back into shape both for intrinsic health but also to look attractive to my wife? And also so I can do the sports I want to do that require a high level of physical fitness? Why on earth would one be wrong and not the others? — and once again I’ve avoiding the overdone plastic surgery discussion. Just that I don’t see why it was wrong for me to want a six pack and big muscles when I was single. Yes, part of my working out when single was to attract attractive young women. I don’t think it was wrong then and I certainly don’t think it wrong to do the same directed to my wife.

    Right now, primarily due to health issues with my children, most of my disposable income goes towards them. But I certainly want to be able to afford nice clothes again so I can go out on the town with my wife. Not over the top, but perhaps better than the jeans and t-shirts that typically characterize my existing wardrobe. Once again one could attempt to redefine down what constitutes attractive dress, but honestly I don’t think it’d work nor do I think it wrong to dress nicely (within limits of course).

  29. As the co-author of the “Beauty Redefined” story you are referencing and the co-editor of Beauty-Redefined.org, I’m compelled to respond to this posting! My sister and I are doctoral students with master’s degrees and double bachelor’s degrees in media studies and women’s studies, and our eight years researching this topic you flippantly discuss can be better served by explaining what “Beauty Redefined” aims to do in our own words. We have thousands of pages of research to back up our claims that what people perceive as attractive and beautiful has shifted with the way media has positively portrayed specific body types and shapes. From the “ideally robust” Lillian Russel at the turn of the century to the 1920’s flapper “boyish” ideal to Marilyn Monroe and Bette Davis to Twiggy in ’60s, Glamazons in the ’90s and Angelina Jolie today. To claim we do not get a standard of what is normal and beautiful from media images that inundate our lives is quite a false statement. Along with demonstrating the increasing prevalence of the thin ideal across all mediums, the past 15 years alone have brought a wealth of research on the effects of thin-ideal media on viewers’ body perceptions. These studies offer consistent evidence that exposure to thin-ideal television programs and magazines is associated with problematic body perceptions in adolescent and adult females, including body dissatisfaction, distortions in body image, internalization of the thin ideal, the drive for thinness, increased investment in appearance, and increased endorsement of disordered eating behaviors (American Psychological Association, 2007; Grabe, Ward, & Hyde, 2008; Harrison & Fredrickson, 2003; Levine & Harrison, 2004; Myers & Biocca, 1992; Stice & Shaw, 2002).

    Our work in providing media literacy for the only industrialized country without such literacy in public school curriculum will not “cause eating disorders to fade away,” and that is something we never claim. But teaching children and adults to look critically at media and understand the harmful and profit-driven nature of unrealistic ideals is a potential solution that a wealth of research shows us has positive effects, especially on young women – including a decreased drive for thinness, less motivation to look like the models and actresses they see, greater body satisfaction, higher self-esteem, etc. To discredit our work through a smear campaign that perpetuates serious misrepresentations of our years of research on behalf of men and women everywhere is doing a serious disservice to this cause, which you claim to defend as a vital issue.

    Our message is NOT that “everyone is beautiful in their own way” as you assert, but that media depictions and definitions of what is beautiful and healthy are not attainable ideals, and in fact it sets up a false standard of average in our minds, which is reflected in the lengths so many females will go in trying to reach those profit-driven ideals. I’d suggest joining us for an upcoming presentation, even one of our religiously oriented firesides, to see and hear for yourself what impact the LDS church teachings have on our perceptions of female worth, physical appearance and priorities. The fact that SLC has been ranked the vainest city in the nation is the product of a variety of factors, including the fact that this is a destination for cheap plastic surgery for people from all over the country, the U of U pushes out many graduates of this field who stay here to practice, and the “mommy makeover” offered across the Wasatch Front as a cosmetic fix to years of having babies so young can be attributed to those rankings, as well. If it is true that the Mormon culture compounds this issue with media messages to make girls and women more susceptible to harmful media messages, then slamming our critical and necessary academic work is a serious step in the wrong direction.

    Our purpose is not to attack “skinny” or creat “fat acceptance” in any way. It is to show people the changing definition of beauty in media through the past several decades and demonstrate the simultaneous health crises for females. Numbers of diagnosed eating disorders have soared to new highs in the past 25 years, with the incidence of bulimia in U.S. women tripling between 1988 and 1993. Approximately 10 million women are diagnosable as anorexic or bulimic, with at least 25 million more struggling with a binge eating disorder (National Eating Disorders Association, 2010). Though these two extremes in the current status of women’s health might seem opposite and unconnected, I argue that they may in fact both be related to the same phenomenon: that many women have come to accept a distorted idea of what physical health entails. We attribute this rampant misunderstanding of what defines fitness to a dominant ideology that equates health and fitness with mediated beauty ideals characterized most prominently by thinness. This type of awareness, along with an understanding of critical media literacy and the reality of how profit-driven media ideals of beauty and health truly are, is a very promising step toward reframing the way people see and value women. It is all about getting PAST appearance obsession and focusing on actual health and productive pursuits, not defining new physical beauty ideals.

    I suggest you, and others who have read this posting, read up at beauty-redefined.org, where we publish our research on sexual objectification in media and its dangerous consequences, women’s magazines and their conflation of “health” and “beauty” in the No. 1 source for health information for women outside the doctor’s office, and other pertinent and academically sound research. The full version of our story in LDS Living Magazine can be found in the hard copy of the magazine, not the blurb cited in this story.

  30. Scott/Ardis
    Do you live here? I’m not sure how accurate Thr study is but purely based on anecdotal evidence I believe it. The fact is we have a culture that teaches women their main role on earth is to get married, have children and strengthen home and family. How do you get married and pregnant? Superficially by being hot and sweet and getting busy. And then the focus becomes being a good wife and mother. There are deep spiritual ways to go about doing that, but the easiest way is to look the part. The real answer ro teach our daughters their worth in this world is based on usug their specific gifts and talents and intelligence however they feel fits them best, instead of fitting those talents somehow in a prescribed role.

  31. So where is the evidence that this is disproportionately an LDS problem?

    Scott, I’m not sure there is a bigger problem. There may not be. I jumped off that bridge because that was the point the Kite sisters try to run with (citing Forbes). But I am focusing on the LDS problem because this is BCC. Also, we clearly have some unique ways of supporting our beauty obsession with spirituality.

  32. I’m so vain, I probably think this post is about me.

  33. In my rushed response above, I failed to mention that alon with a sharp increase in eating disorders over the last 25 years, the prevalence of obesity is a health crisis all its own. In this, we see a correlation between what media sells as a healthy ideal body and the extremes women choose upon internalizing this ideal. They often resort to a drive for extreme thinness (supported by a multi-billion dollar diet and weight loss industry) or they believe it is a standard they will never measure up to, and often resort to a more sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy eating choices. The critical media literacy we teach in a country that desperately needs to learn how to critically examine profit-driven media, is a powerful step toward reclaiming our own self worth and moving on to anything and everything more important in our lives.

  34. Let’s quit being distracted by the fake boobs and discuss the matter at hand.

    Well, thats going to be near impossible for about 50% of the population.

  35. John Mansfield says:

    Miss Kite, do researchers in media studies ever come up with things in society that aren’t strongly influenced by media?

  36. B.Russ, can you back up that number?

  37. I am troubled by campaigns and other devices that seem to urge people to embrace their own selves as beautiful at the expense of being healthy. For example, a recent episode of Glee featured an overweight girl deciding that she should embrace her own beauty rather than giving up eating unhealthy food in the cafeteria. Another example is how clothing stores (including the makers of Mormon garments) have engaged in vanity sizing in which people who, say, used to wear a medium now wear a small or extra small.

    I recognize that some people can’t help their weight. But the rest of us shouldn’t be deluded into thinking that our unhealthy practices are normal and okay.

  38. Lexie Kite,
    My purpose here was not to discredit your research, or solely focus on your work. This post is in no way a smear campaign. I am not asserting that you claimed all of things in this post, but that across a wide spectrum of redefining beauty campaigns certain claims are made.

    I am not at all arguing that eating disorders are not a problem. In fact, I agree with this in my post, and acknowledge media influence in this regard.

    However your research has a major flaw. You decry the BMI, how it was developed, and appeal to the argument to say women are not as over weight (and unhealthy) as the BMI says–yet at the same time embrace the BMI to say women are trying to be too thin, pointing to Angelina Jolie and saying her BMI is too low.

    Also, you are convinced Utah has a problem bigger than other states as far as zeal to be beautiful, yet do you have any research to show there is more media influence in Utah than other states?

  39. MMiles (31), I’m not convinced in the least it’s a disproportionately LDS issue. Of course we’ve not really defined the problem well yet. I agree with the paper authors (29) that media affects our values of beauty to a silly level. No matter what I do I’ll never look like Brad Pitt (nor would I want to). But I can look more attractive than I am right now (as I realize how much weight I still have to lose this winter on the treadmill). The problem is in seeing where that “obsession” line is. Do some go over? Perhaps. But I think a lot of people also want to put more under that obsession category than is perhaps apt.

    Lexie (33) I’m a bit skeptical of seeing the obesity epidemic as due to the media ideals. There are a lot of other trends going on. I suspect the correlation with time is largely coincidental and has more to do with the types of jobs we engage in and the types of foods we eat and the types of activities we engage in. Put an other way, I suspect Doritos, television and video games has more to do with obesity than Vogue magazine. I’m not saying it’s not a factor, but I’ve yet to see any convincing evidence it is a major factor let alone the dominating factor.

    Mere (30) while attractiveness is obviously a factor in attracting a mate it’s hardly the only factor. Going by my singles wards here in Provo while younger there were lots of people who weren’t hot dating and getting married. Arguably they were often doing a better job of it than those who were overly vain who tended to be out having fun rather focused on getting married ASAP. (grin)

    I think attractiveness (or other factors – there’s lots of ugly rich guys, athletes or musicians who tend to attract attractive women) tends to be more about finding a significant other who is as attractive as possible. I also think it undeniable than many — especially hormonal young men — overvalue physical attractiveness and undervalue a lot of other important characteristics. And that probably is tied in part to our marrying young. And that will go around and affect how men and women adjust their behaviors for dating.

    This, however, is part of our biological heritage. A lot of the signs of attractiveness are biological judgments for various other traits that make evolutionary sense. That’s not to deny their being put through a weird funhouse mirror by the media. But I think we can go too far in the other direction, which is what I saw the original post suggesting. We’re human and we judge attractiveness instinctively. Yes the media biases how we do that. But not the media doesn’t determine it.

  40. Lexie,

    I’m still unsure how a fireside entitled “Beauty Redefined” isn’t about redefining beauty as attainable to everyone. A sort of “be your own kind of beautiful”.

    The message I’m getting from the OP is that telling women they can be beautiful is problematic (besides the fact that it’s simply not always true) because it reinforces the idea that beauty=worth.

    This idea that beauty should be desired and is related to our worth or spirituality is perpetuated in the LDS Living article in which you (or your sister) suggest that in order to not make appearance more important we focus on forgetting ourselves and doing service. This is immediately followed with,”the best way to improve your appearance is to have a little more light in your countenance! Service in any capacity fills us with love and light that radiate from within and draw people near.” This is a confusing message at best. Don’t focus on appearance, focus on others so you’ll look better and they’ll want to be around you! Huh?

    I’m having a hard time understanding how your message isn’t about reclaiming beauty (be your own kind of beautiful). That said, I find that message problematic for the reason stated above.

  41. Anyone got billboard stats? I am always taken aback driving through Utah with the number of plastic surgery billboards.

  42. It’s hard not to see this as a gross misrepresentation of our work when you link a specific phrase like redefining beauty campaigns will “cause eating disorders to fade” directly to our website — when we have never made a claim like that and recognize that assertion as totally bogus. After years of research on media misrepresentation of women’s bodies and the influence those ideals have on body perceptions and behaviors, watching you attempt to discredit all of that with literally two or three sources is very hard to sit still and take.

    This “major flaw” you cite in our use of the BMI is in no way a flaw. We use the BMI to illustrate examples of weights and shapes because it is the literally the only standard available for doing so in one standardized number, which is endorsed by the federal government and the world health organization. Refuting its accuracy (which my sister did using dozens of medical and scholarly sources in a 45-page critical genealogy of how female health has been defined and depicted in the past century, which we watered down for our webiste at beauty-redefined.org) actually HELPS our argument, since the BMI has evolved to a bias toward deeming most people overweight. This means the women who DO qualify as underweight according to the BMI, such as the ones we cited like Angelina Jolie, are often very severely underweight.

    And the use of the Forbes magazine stat in the LDS Living story you cite is simply to localize the issue and provide a news hook that helps the readers continue reading after seeing that the issues we discuss are relevant to their communities. We would do that for any audience or publication.

    If you believe rampant body hatred, appearance obsession and the accompanying health effects of striving for profit-driven ideals are serious issues, then discrediting work that aims to alleviate these problems is not a good avenue for change. Perhaps you should try to come up with what you deem as more feasible solutions rather than cutting down the only existing options that people like my sister and I are devoting our lives to for no compensation. Thanks.

  43. CMS, I’ve seen lots of hair removal billboards, but I can only recall a couple of plastic surgery billboards. Of course I don’t make it up to SLC often anymore.

  44. Living in LA, I remember seeing Asian women walk around in long jackets, gloves, and with umbrellas so they wouldn’t get any sun, and could keep their skin pasty white.

    Working for a hispanic-owned company I have gotten the mail before to find a hispanic-directed catalog of beauty products. I am familiar with corset-like control clothing, but the quantity and selection (not to mention torturous design) of the products offered were mind-blowing and baffling. And they created shapes that most of the Anglo-Saxon males I know wouldn’t find very attractive.

    Plastic surgery is FAR from the only measure of vanity. It probably isn’t even that dangerous of a form of vanity – relatively speaking (thinking specifically of anorexia/bulemia, tribal tattoes and piercings, and the lovely neck extensions classic to Burma).

    I don’t have a strong point to make, but I do agree that Plastic Surgeons per capita is a silly measure to make a bold claim of “most vain” from.

  45. Lexie Kite,
    “After years of research on media misrepresentation of women’s bodies and the influence those ideals have on body perceptions and behaviors, watching you attempt to discredit all of that with literally two or three sources is very hard to sit still and take.”

    Again, I am in no way disagreeing with you media has an influence!

  46. According to the statistics I’ve seen, Salt Lake City is less than 40% LDS, first of all. I wish people would stop taking SLC or Utah stats and automatically placing the blame for it at the feet of the Church.

    Secondly, I liked the Dove commercials. I thought they celebrated womanhood for what it is. That works for me, so there’s some anecdotal evidence for you.

    Third, virtuous is not refraining from sex. A raped girl can still be virtuous. A wife can still be virtuous. Virtue may not be the first attractive quality I see in a person, but it is certainly a deal-changer.

    And I think part of the problem with many men is that they think they can get a more attractive mate than they really can.

    Probably because of the media. ;)

  47. The one nitpick I have is your assertion that Megan Fox isn’t photoshopped in every frame of Transformers. True, but she does have professional hair, makeup and wardrobe to boost her assets and camera filters to help out as well. I think I’d look better with a team of professional stylists as well.

  48. Sunny,
    The confusion here is that we work to “redefine” beautiful as more than just appearance. This becomes more apparent in our presentation, though it shows up all over our website. Of course traditional notions of beauty are always going to be important to people, and we are in no way anti-beauty. We are working to expand people’s definitions of what constitutes a beautiful woman by encouraging people to focus on more than whether or not a woman measures up to beauty ideals we’ve very likely internalized from media. This is an empowering message for both secular and religious settings, and the church very much endorses the idea that people are worth more than what their bodies look like. Unfortunately, very few other sources project the same message.

    I need to move on so I won’t be responding for some time, but I hope these answers further clarify the academically justified media literacy we do across the west.

  49. Media plays a very big part of how we perceive beauty as a culture, but there are lots of other factors – so we shouldn’t blame the media.

    Ideally, everyone should feel worth simply as a child of God. (divine worth) Ideally, eeryone should take care of their bodies to the highest degree possible for them – but they shouldn’t get obsessive about it.

    We shouldn’t be concerned about how others see us when it comes to beauty – except, of course, the person we want to find and marry.

    Cosmetic surgery is bad, except when it’s good.

    Attractiveness is cultural – and biological – and evolutionary; perceptions of beauty are cultural – and biological – and evolutionary.

    I wonder why people get confused.

  50. Lexie,

    Thanks for responding. This statement:

    “We are working to expand people’s definitions of what constitutes a beautiful woman by encouraging people to focus on more than whether or not a woman measures up to beauty ideals we’ve very likely internalized from media.”

    …really hits on the crux of what I am trying to say. Trying to expand or redefine definitions of beauty is problematic because it still makes beauty the important thing. Using spirituality, service, virtue, or any internal characteristic as a path to beauty is problematic because it still does put the emphasis on the outward, or that these things matter in relation to how others perceive us. These things should matter for their own worth in our lives, not as a tool to make us beautiful, desirable, or anything of that nature.

  51. It’s the young men’s fault. If they would treat every young woman as beautiful, then these young women would see themselves as beautiful. It worked for Johnny Lingo.

  52. Observer (f.k.a. Eric. S.) says:

    Thank you. Good topic. The approach now requires youth to reconcile the message that beauty is a function of chastity while at the same time they observe that some of the most universally beautiful and successful women are sexually active. It’s a mixed message for sure. No bueno. There are not really that many “virtuous” role models out there from an LDS perspective.

  53. I actually have to chirp in and agree with the Kite girls. While I only got a BS in Psychology, I did independent research on this topic during my undergrad. And I actually came up with the same results, or in simplified terms that perceptions of female beauty are correlated to media portrayals of beauty. I’m sure that there are other factors that influence perception of beauty as well (plenty of research indicates that symmetry is one important factor in perceiving a human as beautiful), but the media in its gazillion forms definitely plays a huge role.

    So, on another note – I agree that the Church’s angle on this is also pretty messed up, particularly if only women are addressed and the message is to simply be virtuous etc. to be considered beautiful. If that was sufficient in any way, we’d basically have no single sisters. However, my college experience taught me that simply being a kind, virtuous and fun girl was in no way enough to attract a guy. There most definitely had to be a certain level of attractiveness as well.

    From my research, the biggest problem I found is that guys seem to be the least aware of how unrealistic their expectations of women are at times. I realize there are naturally very beautiful women out there. Lucky for them. They are usually the minority though, and yet most women still are expected to somehow keep up with the 10 percent of naturally beautiful women (by whatever standard).

    Anyway, so I think the only way to take off the pressure in regards to look for women is to stop focusing on it so much, and relating in one way or another a constant message to women that they have to be beautiful in some way (inner/outer/whatever) to attract a guy. Maybe if we could just let women be themselves, they’d relax more, be more happy with who they are, and things would just work out.

  54. “From my research, the biggest problem I found is that guys seem to be the least aware of how unrealistic their expectations of women are at times.”

    Then maybe guys should be attending the firesides instead of women.

  55. I never attempted to tell my daughters that they were as beautiful as….., but rather that they are beautiful, period.

    And, frankly, my wife’s wholesome goodness (or virtue) was highly attractive to me when I met her when we were both 17.

  56. John Mansfield says:

    Ah, so changing how the word beauty is used is what it’s all about. Paul Dirac is your man. Like many scientists, he got into regarding good science as beautiful, going so far as to say, “It is more important to have beauty in one’s equations than to have them fit experiment.” Dirac is who you want as a mascot for this project because due to lifelong digestive problems (not enough stomach acid) he was very thin in a way that wouldn’t be regarded as beautiful (the old beautiful, not the new beautiful). Under proper media influence, people will aspire to be beautiful like a relativistic quantum equation of the electron and not like an underfed beanpole.

  57. MMiles, do you really think firesides would make guys less desirous of an attractive girlfriend? I think they can emphasize things like dating people who are active at church, who are caring and considerate and thinking about things like finances, career and so forth. And those are mentioned at firesides around BYU at least. However all that does is tend to make guys value those things plus how attracted the are to people.

    While I completely agree the media and peers dramatically affect who we find attractive I think the idea that being aware of this would change much is a bit dubious. At best we might tell a ton of guys that “she’s out of your league” and stop making so many requirements for dating that you’ll never meet someone like that. Of course that applies equally to women who often also have silly requirements. Just different ones.

  58. Ok, maybe I should clarify that of course you can’t generalize. I don’t want to suggest that ALL guys only look for X breast size, certain height, weight etc. or something and that nothing else factors into how males perceive attractiveness. So, I hope if I communicated that, you’ll forgive my not being clear. I’m sure the overall perception of beauty for most people still reaches beyond what’s only outside – and I would think most guys would eventually still part with a girl that’s extremely beautiful on the outside but has a nasty personality.

    But yes, I think concepts of beauty should be addressed with the men far more than women…after all, in our culture it’s still common for men to pursue women rather than the other way around. And as long as single men in the Church remain confused on what beauty is/means and how it will or will not affect their eternal happiness, it’s problematic. I definitely think that within the Church, where the single people try to abstain from sex before marriage, there is a big problem with thinking that you need someone very beautiful for a happy sex life or something – when in reality things may not play out quite like that.

    But I think now I’m getting off topic.

  59. Fran and Clark,
    I was totally kidding.

  60. That’s what she said… ;)

  61. cms (41),
    SLC’s billboards for plastic surgery are few and far between compared to what you see in SoCal.

  62. @mmiles two thoughts from your article:

    1 – the images portrayed in media are the definition of “beauty” – take a look at any of the top 100 sexiest, hottest or most beautiful lists – the women that are held up in society as the epitome of lust and desire are more often than not unhealthy, underweight and digitally altered. The message going out to men and women (and young girls) everywhere is that this is the ideal. In reality this “ideal” is completely unattainable. The Beauty Redefined campaign you reference in your post is about letting women know that these messages in the media are untrue and harmful if taken at face value. They’re educating women about why they cannot attain those standards and giving them the information to arm themselves again the way women are sexually objectified in the media. It’s a fabulous message that I love to share because it’s changed the way I look at the media.

    2. “telling a woman she can be beautiful by being chaste, makes about as much sense as telling a woman she will be a great runner by reading a book. When appealing to beauty, women want to be physically beautiful, not beautiful in some ethereal sense.”

    This comment is frustrating because it easily perpetuates the false assumption that beauty is based on physical appearance and discredits the power of God in creating beauty. Being chaste and morally clean invites the spirit into a young woman’s (and man’s) life, when coupled with an understanding of God’s plan for us, it brings confidence, happiness and peace – all things that make her more attractive and beautiful far outside the limitations of physical looks. But those attributes will also affect physical beauty. So yes, being chaste will help a young woman be more beautiful.

  63. Andrea,
    1. Of course they are held up as the most beautiful, but that isn’t because the media says they are, it’s because we think they are. Also, I have no problem stating matter of factly, we can’t all look this way.

    2. “But those attributes will also affect physical beauty. So yes, being chaste will help a young woman be more beautiful.”
    When we tell YW chastity will make them more beautiful, we are validating the societal view that, that is the most important thing. Why even tie the two together? Why not remain chaste because it’s a good thing to do for so many other reasons?

  64. Fran in #53 said: “However, my college experience taught me that simply being a kind, virtuous and fun girl was in no way enough to attract a guy. There most definitely had to be a certain level of attractiveness as well.”

    That was my experience at BYU. I had a roommate who called these girls “FBU”–fun but ugly. I graduated before he got married, but I know at least none of the girls he actually dated were from his FBU group.

  65. You say in your about section that you are lds, I thought for the majority of the article that you were anti and trying to smear the church and its teachings. I am confused as to why you would not support the research done by Beauty Redefined. I have actually read their research (not sure if you have since most of your comments seemed like you had skimmed but never actually read the content of their articles, not to mention misquoting them) but I have found it very beneficial as I have started to defined beauty for myself. My whole life I thought that I had to have big boobs, small waste, curvy hips, no pores, blond hair and perfect straight teeth. Now, I realize that this ideal set up by the media is only met by maybe 6% of the population of women. It is amazing how much more willing I am to work out and maintain my own health when I don’t feel like I will never actually obtain it!!!!

    I think if you actually read what they had to say instead of jumping to conclusions, you might find that you actually agree with them. Watch out though, it really hurts prying your foot out of your mouth.

  66. MMiles (63) I think it wrong to say they’ll affect our beauty but clearly they will affect how people are attracted to us. And not just those facets. Consider the guy who is boring but handsome versus the charismatic and entertaining guy who isn’t that attractive. Guess who’ll attract more women to be interested in them? Attraction is pretty complex and personality can go a long way.

    There’s still a lot here that is socially defined of course. I remember my Russian teacher telling me about a date he thought went horrible but the woman was very interested just because Americans tend to want to be entertained on a date whereas Russians didn’t. So societal expectations really affect a lot here.

    It’s interesting though that some are want to condemn being overly concerned with physical attractiveness but are fine about other factors that many struggle with. I doubt most men can be as charming and witty as many women at BYU desired, for instance. And, as I mentioned, musicians and athletes seem never to have a hard time finding attractive women chasing them. Especially if they are star players.

    Andrea (62) I’m definitely not going to look up “hottest women” on the internet. Especially not at work. However I’m really, really skeptical that such lists designed for men would find them “more often than not unhealthy, underweight” – digitally altered I’ll probably agree with of course, if only due to the curse of bad photoshop. (I read Photoshop Disasters regularly and it’s pretty funny seeing all the manipulations that are done and done badly) Now if you were to get a list designed for women I bet a disproportionate number would be underweight.

  67. Emily (65),

    You say in your about section that you are lds, I thought for the majority of the article that you were anti and trying to smear the church and its teachings. I am confused as to why you would not support the research done by Beauty Redefined.

    I’m hoping desperately that these two sentences were not placed next to each other so as to create a logical extension of one to the other. That is to say, please tell me that you’re not suggesting that support for Beauty Redefined is one of the Church’s teachings?

  68. From my research, the biggest problem I found is that guys seem to be the least aware of how unrealistic their expectations of women are at times.

    Well, I guess I can’t argue, since it was from your research . . . . . . But I think this is an example of ‘the squeeky wheel gets [to represent the stereotypical male]’

    Perhaps it seems that (all) men have unrealistic expectations, because those who do have unrealistic expectations talk about them, and those who have realistic expectations, don’t make a big deal about it. Just a thought.

    I don’t want to suggest that ALL guys only look for X breast size

    Yeah, you’re right here. I mean, I didn’t even know that x-cup bra sizes existed. But no, that would definitely be too big. ALL guys certainly don’t look for that.

  69. Oh, where to start. As someone who is very well acquainted with the research of the Kite sisters, as well as having attended their firesides, and many conversations with Lexie, I can tell you that their research is being misrepresented here. Men and women attend these firesides, and it is very important research.
    The point of the research, in my understanding, is that the images and ideals portrayed in the media effect how everyone views women and beauty. We need to be aware of the false portrayals of beauty, and see the beauty in ourselves and others. The assertion that the reason those images are upheld as ideals because that is what people find attractive, and isn’t the other way around is like arguing which came first, the chicken or the egg.
    Take an honest look at their research, and understand it. If, after doing that, you still stand by the assertions you make, then we can have an honest discussion. However, ad hominem attacks, and gross misrepresentation are not conducive to an open discussion.

  70. Watch out though, it really hurts prying your foot out of your mouth.

    Methinks thou dost speak from experience.

  71. However, ad hominem attacks [. . . ] are not conducive to an open discussion.

    Ummmmm, please show me where mmiles has done this, as I am very confused by this statement.

  72. Brian,
    Could you please point out the ad hominem attacks? That isn’t how we do things here.

    While I appreciate the Kite sisters research and do not doubt their sincerity, the reality is that there is other research that is just as compelling (if not more so), which indicates that while media does have an influence on us, our ideas of what it means to be beautiful are somewhat fixed.

  73. Eric Russell says:

    I, for one, applaud any attempts address the long standing problem of the tyranny of the media. Let us not forget that the media’s influence can hold eternal consequences: if it weren’t for the Israelite media, perhaps David would have understood that beauty involves more than apperance and wouldn’t have fallen from his exaltation.

  74. If this point has been made somewhere else in the comments already, I apologize. I’m too lazy to read all 64.

    It seems the issue here is that society (and now our church leaders too) has come to use the word “beauty” as if it were synonymous with the words “self-worth” or “value.” The adversary has convinced us that our value as women and human beings is primarily placed on our level of physical attractiveness. And why wouldn’t he? It’s extremely affective. Whether a woman is skinny or fat, you can convince her that she is not acceptable as a human being because of it.

    Rather than redefine “beauty,” church leaders and the groups mentioned in this post should focus on redefining the measure of a woman’s “value.”

    Beauty will always be measured by whatever societal influences determine it should be measured by. Can’t change that. Women won’t be helped by convincing themselves that their physical features should actually be admired by a society that currently does not. But if women can learn to see themselves as more than just what they see in the mirror everyday. . . that would be something.

    I feel like I could write 10 more paragraphs on this, but I’ll spare everyone. You get the idea.

  75. it's a series of tubes says:

    Paul Dirac is your man. Like many scientists, he got into regarding good science as beautiful…

    Under proper media influence, people will aspire to be beautiful like a relativistic quantum equation of the electron and not like an underfed beanpole

    Ah, Dirac. How could you omit his mustache, a thing of such classic beauty?

    On an entirely unrelated note, “Ripples in the Dirac Sea” by Geoffrey Landis is one of the best time travel short stories ever written. Nominated for a Hugo in 89, winner of a nebula in 1990.

  76. Clark (43) and Scott (61)
    Billboards
    I drive a lot from Santa Barbara to Orange County (arguably a vain stretch of a drive) and spend hours driving across several other states in the Midwest and Eastern Seaboard for work so I feel like I have a decent sense of the types of Billboards present across the country.

    The stretch of I-15 from W. Jordan to Orem has more billboards advertising plastic surgery, specifically breast enhancement, to a pretty intense level, than any other place I have seen. I haven’t noticed anything like that in So. Cal.–sure there are adverts for plastic surgeons, laser hair removal, etc., but it is nowhere close to the percentage of billboards to what Utah has. And as for other places… I spend a lot of time in Indiana which in my experience has some similar cultural values with large families, younger married women, and a predominately Christian culture yet I have never seen a single billboard advertising “Want to increase your assets?” alongside a picture of a couple of grapefruits. Even Nevada’s billboards mainly show naked women as opposed to advertising how you can look like one of them.

    As we are relocating to Utah I will definitely be interested in seeing what cultural norms make that more prevalent, but I wanted to throw out that anecdotally there are for sure way more “vanity” billboards per capita in that area of the country than the other 5 states I feel like I know pretty well.

  77. Anna,
    Exactly!

  78. Lee Fleming, I’ll take my 400 consecutive billboards advertising the lap band and respectfully disagree.

  79. Thanks, mmiles.

  80. No I wasn’t, but I am so glad you are so intellectual that you could figure that out. I was merely stating that throughout the article I thought that you were anti. I have several friends that are and they frame their comments in a similar way — You know: reference the church, then making some super smart statement about how silly they are for believing a certain way or teaching certain things. Those silly misguided Mormon women. (sarcasm mine)

    “While I laud the effort to help women feel good about who they are, and to choose the right, all of these campaigns are misguided.”

    As a member of the church, I believe church leaders in conference or other church meeting are guided by the Spirit. (lets just go with the majority on this, not the minority) This comment above all else lead me to think this was an Anit-Mormon site. You are saying that the speakers were misguided by the Spirit. Maybe I am oversimplifying your statement, but that was my first thought after reading it.

    Yes, I have had to pry my foot out of my mouth before, but haven’t we all.

    Now go ahead with all your intellectual wit and rip my comments apart as silly. I know you are good at it.

  81. I just can’t imagine a lot of SoCal women choosing their plastic surgeon based on a billboard. Billboards as a medium just scream down-market. That’s why they’re great for tasteless Lap-Band ads. (Not that lap-bands are tasteless, I have good friends who have been extremely happy with them. But the SoCal billboard ads for them are tasteless.) So I think it might just be an issue of differences in branding tastes, costs of advertising in different markets with different mediums, etc.

  82. Even Nevada’s billboards mainly show naked women as opposed to advertising how you can look like one of them.

    You are using this as an example and trying to argue that it is less vain? Oooooooookay.

    I wanted to throw out that anecdotally there are for sure way more “vanity” billboards per capita in that area of the country than the other 5 states I feel like I know pretty well.

    Again: Plastic Surgery =/= A (good, only, relavent) measure of vanity.

    Economically speaking, if there indeed are more plastic surgeons per capita in Utah, then there is more saturation of supply. A surgeon would probably have to try harder to distinguish himself from others, one method being advertising, one form of advertising being billboards.

    A reasonable arguement might even be made that there are more billboards adverstising plastic surgery in Utah, because Utahns are less inclined to get “boob jobs” than the normal American, and therefore the surgeons (of which there are many) have to try harder to bring in new clients. I’m not arguing this, but its amazing what is being used as “evidence” on this thread.

  83. Okok B. Russ! I get your point. :)
    I really wasn’t trying to generalize or put down any one group, or even sound particularly smart…

    All I was trying to say that from my (limited) experience and research I did in the limited world of BYU, that when I presented my data, it was the guys who didn’t even really realize that the images I had used for my study were media images (from magazines and all). I had a few guys comment on how I should have picked a “media image” instead of a normal looking girl, when the normal looking girls were the media images. Maybe that doesn’t say much in the end except that there are some brain-dead guys at BYU, but it made me think that while women know they don’t look like the media, some males can’t even tell anymore what’s a media image and what’s not. And they think that a lot of media images are just what’s normal and to be expected…

    Anyway, x-cup sizes don’t exist to my knowledge either, and I’m sure not all men are looking for that. But I bet ya some are. :)

  84. Emily,
    I’m not a very smart person, so I can’t even tell you how flattering it is to be called (or likened to people who are) witty, super smart, and “intellectual” all in one comment.

    No, my only concern from your comment was your seeming equation of liking Beauty Redefined and supporting the Church. Since you didn’t intend that equation, I’m good. :)

    *One last thing–I also didn’t really understand you saying that you thought this site was all Anti (based on a single post), and then emphasizing the importance of actually reading lots of research before jumping to conclusions. For my small-brained self, that seems really, really weird.

  85. For what it’s worth, Beauty Redefined and the Dove commercials, specifically, helped me immensely.

    I have always had a bad self-image with the one exception of after I returned from my mission. At that point, I thought I looked “pretty good”.

    I weighed 125 lbs. at 5’11”. For those of you who don’t know, that’s well below recommended BMI body weight for my height. I wore size 12 slightly loosely. (Never mind what those measurements are now.) That’s what it took to make me feel like men might like what they see when they look at me.

    Yet, because of things like the Dove commercials and Beauty Redefined, I’ve begun to look more critically at advertisements, and have begun to discover how often I get crazy messages about how I look. Things like “double-digit clothes sizes are fat” and “130 lbs. is fat” and “grey makes you look old.” Terms are used like “turkey neck” and “bags under eyes” and “belly pooch,” all things which are part of the natural aging process.

    And, because I’ve begun looking more critically at those messages, I’ve loosened up a little on myself, begun to forgive my post-children, older body for being mortal. That doesn’t mean I don’t care if I’m not healthy.

    And if those things have done that for me, I imagine it’s helped others. Sure, it’s not going to change how men or society at large look at me. But it does make me care less about what other people think.

    And if even one girl is able to forgive herself of her imperfections, I applaud their efforts and consider them a success.

  86. I am glad that somebody at least is fighting back against the crazy images in the media. In my personal anecdotal exp LDS women seem to get plastic surgery less then non-LDS women. Maybe I am not around enough rich Mormons to spot the trend.

    If you want to see some serious plastic surgery adverts/offices come to Texas. There is a whole stretch of road near where Queuno and I live where for a half mile or so its all cosmetic procedure offices. From teeth to enhancements. Locally I have heard a certain shall we say enhanced look for females called a “Southlake look”.

  87. Moniker Challenged says:

    #74 Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner! Unfortunately, your point may be largely ignored.

    I’m a somewhat plain woman in a long line of plain women (whose reproductive success doesn’t seem to have been entirely squelched by plainness, so it’s likely that we plain women will continue to exist). I could spend a lot of time nipping, tucking, starving, and painting, but I’d still never be Megan Fox or Audrey Hepburn. Conversely, I could spend a lot of time trying to convince myself and other people that Megan Fox and Audrey Hepburn are ugly and/or imaginary media constructs and that I–average Jane–should be the new idealized smokin’ hot object of everyone’s desire. Or, for kicks, I could try to be the sweetest and holiest of all angels whose feet barely skim the earth in hopes that my ethereal glow will make all the guys wanna be with me and all the gals wanna be me.

    At the moment, I’m not employing any of the above strategies. No matter whose criteria for attractiveness we use, if my life goal is to be a desirable object I’ll fail. Instead, I try to focus on being a happy and useful human being. That’s my value.

    But hey, that’s crazy talk since we are discussing women here. Next thing you know, I’ll be suggesting men should be judged on more than their wealth, power, and ability to secure multiple mates.

  88. If Anna summed everything up in #74, then I’d hazard that the summary for part II of this post will be that since

    1. we can’t change what people find attractive, and
    2. since re-defining the term “beauty” to mean something different from the rest of society is kind of silly, then

    holding firesides to re-define beauty simply re-directs focus from more worthy issues back to “beauty” again, reinforcing the problem. Like constantly talking to a person about her self esteem when it would be far better for her to simply quit being so self-absorbed.

    I’m completely with you, mmiles.

  89. There’s an entire swath of the Kites’ research that you’ve brushed over, and that is their focus on unattainable beauty ideals for women of color. Or is that dismissible because “our ideas of what it means to be beautiful are somewhat fixed” ?

    If that’s the case, black women and Latino women aren’t very pretty, because if they were, there wouldn’t be so few of them portrayed as beautiful in media compared to the vast number of attractive white women we see day after day. According to you, that disparity is just a representation of what society at large values. I sincerely hope you’re not right.

    The Kites’ aren’t just on some EFY/fireside circuit, dolling out CDs and warm fuzzies. They’re P-h-freaking-D candidates going into middle schools and high schools, many with high populations of minorities. They’re telling girls of color that just because the pictures of women of color they so often see have been “white-washed,” to have fairer skin, lighter and straighter hair and have had their curves cut out, those girls can still be confident by understanding that media is selective and is not representative of the real world.

  90. Moniker Challenged says:

    #89, I think that talking to women and women of color about the silly representations of women in the media is a good starting place. Then, they could proceed with the bulk of the the motivational speech. Telling girls and women how to study hard, go to college, learn to cut throats in the world at large, and get really rich and powerful. Then, they won’t have time to worry about how pretty they are. And if they still do, they can buy up all the media interests and tell people that pretty is whatever they are. Also, they can invent new fashions and personal care products for men and then convince dudes they have the solutions to problems that don’t exist. All made possible by education combined with ruthlessness ladies.

  91. They’re P-h-freaking-D candidates

    Oh, well. That changes everything.

    Folks, let’s shut this sucker down, alright?

  92. Glad you liked that Scott.

  93. When two of the top Victoria’s Secret models are Latino and when several other top figures are Latino I’m skeptical Latinos don’t have role models. Arguably unfair ones. Latinos aren’t going to look like Adriana Lima any more than most northern European women are.

    I do think that there aren’t as many American African American and Asian models. (Of course there are plenty of Asian models in Asia) That said there are some prominent ones like Tyra Banks (and she tends to showcase a lot of races on her model show, I understand). That’s not to say there isn’t a problem of lopsided portrayals of European females in the media as opposed to other races. But I’m really skeptical it’s as dramatic as some portray. The bigger problem is the range of body types for those races. However that’s a problem for those of us of European decent as well.

  94. All I was trying to say that from my (limited) experience and research I did in the limited world of BYU, that when I presented my data, it was the guys who didn’t even really realize that the images I had used for my study were media images (from magazines and all). I had a few guys comment on how I should have picked a “media image” instead of a normal looking girl, when the normal looking girls were the media images. Maybe that doesn’t say much in the end except that there are some brain-dead guys at BYU, but it made me think that while women know they don’t look like the media, some males can’t even tell anymore what’s a media image and what’s not. And they think that a lot of media images are just what’s normal and to be expected…

    Or just that there are lots of really, really attractive women around Provo such that guys don’t think many media figures are out of the norm. (Honestly I think that’s true, BTW – the only real difference is that in the media people dress up more than they do around Provo. But for whatever reason a lot of people comment on this point relative to other cities.)

    I think a lot of people assume “media image” is going to be some fashion model look that is quite different than the folks they see everyday.

    Lee (76) I drive I-15 between Provo and Lehi reasonably regularly. While I can recall seeing billboards for laser hair removal, for cosmetic dentistry and for liposuction I can honestly say I’ve never seen a breast enhancement ad. (Nor have I in SLC the times I go up there) Now I have heard ads on the radio. However as others pointed out this isn’t a terribly good way to judge things (if only because I see more billboards in Utah that I do most places – this is a billboard happy state unfortunately).

    In any case without bringing up the morality of cosmetic surgery issue, I’ll just say I have no trouble with people whitening teeth, getting metal fillings covered with fake enamel, have hair removed from legs, backs, chests, or unmentionable areas, having lipo suction for problem areas that don’t go away with exercise or a lot else. I also don’t mind lazik and would have it myself if my cornea was thick enough. To me it’s a bit silly to say buying a few thousand in clothes is fine – especially if depreciated over several years but that it’s horrible to spend the equivalent on some other treatment.

    The problem as I see it is obsession over beauty and unduly tying it to our sense of self-worth. However it’s also silly to obsess over intelligence, wealth, musical ability, career or a lot else. Beauty is but one of the bunch. However the other types of things people often tie their self-worth to simply don’t get the same attention. I think we focus on beauty because it’s something many women struggle with. But as I mentioned men do as well but men also have to struggle with earning income, major, and how entertaining they are. As bad off as the woman who isn’t as attractive as she wishes may be, pity the overly boring and socially awkward male.

  95. Everyone is over complicating the issue:

    Once guys start dating fat chicks, fat chicks will be hot.
    Once men decide that big fake boobs are disgusting, women will stop getting them.

    It comes directly from the attention women get from men.

    The standard of female beauty is constantly evolving along with man- face it, men determine what women value in their appearance. End of story.

  96. Clark, chicks really dig a guy with a thick cornea.

  97. Cornea? Bah. I’m holding out for a macula man.

  98. SingleintheCity says:

    As an east-coast transplant moving to the “Mormon Belt” as a teen, I was appalled at the vanity of the girls in my young woman’s class. All the girls were wearing make-up at the age of 16. I stuck out like a sore thumb. A lot of my friends were offered either a car or a boob job as a graduation gift (this was 10 years ago). The obsession to get married before 21 is behind this nonsense. Any outsider coming into Utah will be able to pick out “Utah hair” and the many billboards lining I-5 advertising plastic surgery. For those that live there, it may not be that apparent. I would add that this obsession for beauty is very apparent in the singles scene (anywhere in the US) as the women compete for the few available men. The pretty and skinny girls get the dates, not the “good girls”.

  99. The problem as I see it is obsession over beauty and unduly tying it to our sense of self-worth.

    Which I believe is the point of the OP. Why are we equating other measures of self worth with beauty if what we’re really after is a greater feeling of self-worth? I’m with mmiles–if we want young women to feel good about themselves, teach them how to be valuable contributors to society in meaningful ways. Don’t equate self worth with physical beauty, just portray it for what it is.

    I do think it’s true that more confident people are considered more physically attractive, so I kind of see where Sis. Dalton is going. The way you carry and present yourself does impact the way others perceive you, but we are limited by what we have naturally, so there is only so much you can do. It does seem odd trying to use physical beauty as a lure to encourage young women to develop “inner beauty.”

  100. 98 – There are undoubtedly places that are less vain than Utah, and there are undoubtedly places that are more vain than Utah. You seem to be saying you came from one of the many that are less vain. So?

    As to “Utah hair”, most geographical areas have “looks” to them, many that are very distinctive. There are California looks, Texas looks, NY looks, etc. I don’t think its particularly noteworthy that Utah has (had) a predominant hairstyle.

    As to the boob jobs for graduating high school girls, I’ve heard of this, both in Utah, and out of Utah. I find it disturbing and sad. However I seriously question your statement that “A lot” of your friends were offered boob jobs. Seriously.

    Also, any mention of moving from one area to another during teenage years as anecdotal evidence of cultural differences should be taken with a large grain of salt. Those years are transitional periods of massive cultural change. Are you so sure that had you stayed in [vague Eastern geographical area] that you wouldn’t have noticed more girls wearing makeup as you turned 16/17? Would some of your old friends, from your previous residence, who had previously worn jeans and t-shirts and played with GI Joes as 12-year-olds have suddenly wanted boob jobs themselves upon graduating high school? You probably don’t know since you probably didn’t keep in contact with more than a handful of people from your old home, and it would be hard to make clear differentiations of cultural differences of geography from mere differences of age.

  101. SingleintheCity says:

    Yes, there are a lot of cultural differences between my eastern home state and SE Idaho/Utah. I never heard of pagents in my home-state, whereas I knew many friends that participated in SE Idaho. I think the first taste of my culture shock was the first day of young women’s in Idaho. The lesson was on marriage. The teacher asked us the age that we all wanted to be married. Each young woman answered with a number of 21 or less. Even at that young age, it wasn’t hard to see the correlation between the obsession with outward beauty and the desire to be married before 21. We had young women’s activites about how to “choose your colors” and do your make-up. The young men advanced to missions and higher levels of the Priesthood, the young women aspired to be mothers. A women’s worth in the church is tied to a man. We are taught at a young age that our highest calling is Mother and Wife. Can you understand the pressure to attract a mate? Until we are able to redefine a woman’s worth, we will all aspire to do what it takes to snag a man. For Mormon men, just like non-mormon men, the ideal is thin and beautiful. Keeping a husband also requires keeping up appearences.

  102. In the Forbes article, SLC was rated vainest city not based just on plastic surgeons per capita, but on a host of other factors as well:

    “Locals also spend more on cosmetics purchases at the grocery store than their peers in cities of similar size, according to Information Resources, a research company that tracks cosmetics and toiletries sales. In the last year, residents spent $2,207,450 worth on hair coloring, $116,478 on hair growth products, $2,512,081 on facial cosmetics and $4,416,067 on skin care products. In Oklahoma City, which has a slightly larger population, shoppers spent $172,080 on hair coloring, $9,323 on hair growth products, $190,820 on facial cosmetics and $402,956 on skin care products.”

    SLC spent well over 10 times more on beauty products than OKC.

    This is an LDS problem, and a big one.

  103. Mommie Dearest says:

    Well, this is a hot button issue. As I skim through the comments, I find myself trying to guess the gender and age of each commenter. Recently I’ve been watching the grandparents and inlaws age and grow frail to a point where physical beauty is no longer of any importance at all, and other forms of beauty are no longer obscured. They were once mesmerized by how everyone looked too. In the mirror I see myself gradually wilting as well. Some days I miss that 20-something woman and other days I look forward with gusto to eliminating the daily grind of coiffure, etc. from my grooming.

    We’re all on a one-way learning curve, that ends up at the same place. Except all those gals who got boob jobs for graduation. They’ll still have perky girls when the dementia sets in.

  104. “A women’s worth in the church is tied to a man. We are taught at a young age that our highest calling is Mother and Wife. Can you understand the pressure to attract a mate? Until we are able to redefine a woman’s worth, we will all aspire to do what it takes to snag a man.”

    Well, here it is in a nutshell. The church focuses on families based on marriage. If you want a family, you have to snag a guy. If you want to snag a guy, it definitely helps to be attractive. You’re not going to change that by holding firesides telling you how valuable you are just being your unattractive virtuous self.

    Snagging a guy isn’t so much a measurement of self-worth as it is of how well you’re following the church’s recommended path. A single woman’s worth is determined by the same things a married woman’s is.

    You think women a woman’s worth is tied to a man? I’d argue a man without a wife in the church is far worse off in terms of status than a woman. Fortunately, if he can stick around (and many don’t), he’s got better odds of finding a mate.

  105. I get that what society finds attractive is inherent to an extent, I think even the Kites would recognize this. The problem I have is that the media has taken the basics of what we find attractive and taken them to the extreme. If being thin is good then being even thinner is better. If having a large chest is good having an even larger chest is better. Sometimes there really is too much of a good thing, when it has grown to a point where it is unrealistic. The point is not to go away from what we as humans find attractive but to take the away the media’s spin on it.
    It is a pretty sweeping statement to say the campaigns to redefine beauty will not work. How would one measure that? I think many people would say having a positive effect on even one soul means it worked. Maybe they would not work for you, m. miles, or others with your same strong opinions. However, I think there are many people who would say that the messages brought by Beauty Redefined have worked for them. Just look at the audience feedback for those firesides. Maybe they won’t “cause eating disorders to fade away”, which they never even made such an unfounded claim, but they are certainly going to make a positive impact on many people.
    I like Emily (80) am also greatly bothered by the fact that you would represent a church leader, speaking from the spirit, as misguided. Aside from everything else you said, it saddens me that you would, as a church member, in such a public manner discredit church leadership like that. Frankly it also makes me sad that so many other readers and commenters that represent themselves as members are not joining on saying shame on you.

  106. Jolyn, I’m a proud believing Mormon too, but I don’t thinking shaming “non-believers” is part of my role.

    btw, I don’t consider mmiles to be attacking the Lord’s annointed.

  107. Martin,
    I would not have a problem with what she said, if she represented herself as a non-believer. In fact, it would be expected from a non-believer and I wouldn’t have thought twice. She however represents herself as a believing member of the church. That is where my problem lies. Would she be proud to show this article to her bishop and say that she supports the sustained leaders of the church?

  108. Actually, my #104 sounds pretty offensive if not taken in context with my #88.

  109. Interesting article.

    I remember a few years back hearing about some playboy poll that returned results that UT ladies were particularly attractive. That result was held up by some of my local leaders as proof that being “good” meant the world recognized the value of a faithful young woman. Anybody else remember that? I think it was about 10 years ago.

    When I heard it I thought GROSS!! It confirmed my worst suspicions that a lot of people want to win a game they really shouldn’t be playing.

    But it always rubbed me the wrong way when I was taught to be pretty at church. My parents were pretty granola so I always felt out of step on the subject.

  110. Honestly, Jolyn, she could take it to my bishop no problem. I don’t think she’s trying to tear down authority — she’s pointing out that the tack they’re taking isn’t likely to be effective and she’s explaining why. And I agree with her. Even Joseph Smith was inspired about things and only partially right sometimes.

    It’s fine to disagree with her, even vehemently, but calling her righteousness into question isn’t fair. For all you know, if her bishop decided to hold a Redefining Beauty fireside in her ward and asked her to set up the microphones and arrange refreshments, she’d get it all done.

  111. Frankly it also makes me sad that so many other readers and commenters that represent themselves as members are not joining on saying shame on you.

    The inverse of this is also true. If we were to gather around mmiles and publicly shame her, Jolyn would be strangely joyful.

    Jolyn, dear, given the fact that mmiles is a member of the church, one might be safe to assume she has been through the temple. Given that assumption, one could also assume she has been anointed. Given those two assumptions, are your comments any less “evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed” than any of mmiles comments? If so, I’m curious exactly how they are. Please to explain.

    Not that I find your comments particularly grievous, but you seem to have trouble with the fact that mmiles, in your words, has “discredited” church figures publicly. Aren’t you, to the almost the exact same degree, publicly discrediting mmiles?

  112. I found myself offended by what she said. When you are a member of the church it becomes such an integral part of your life, I think it makes it very easy to get offended. Almost as if someone insults the very core of your being. I am still offended but I would also hate for what I said to offend others. Her righteousness is not in question by me, and I apologize to her if I made it seem that way. I have no right to weigh in on her righteousness. I just thought it was a thoughtless way to talk of our church leaders and to make her aware that the way she addressed it offended some.
    And at the same time I don’t want to detract from the subject that both she and the beauty redefining campaigns are trying to address. I just had to get my concern off my chest.

  113. Jolyn and Emily, I’m a pretty faithful member, but I’d like to know why you feel so sure that the leaders are speaking some sort of “eternal truth” (word of God, inspiration, whatever you want to call it). Now, I’m not saying that Church leaders don’t speak truth, but I think not every word that comes out of the mouth of a Church leader is truth, and quite honestly not all of it is inspired – some of it is opinion, some of it is just deep personal thought etc. It’s not always straight from the Holy Ghost, though it also may not necessarily be in opposition to the Holy Ghost.

    If you’ve operated in any sort of Church calling bigger than maybe ward librarian, you should be aware that not all actions, and words are always inspired. Maybe these things aren’t either. Do you know they are because you prayed about it, and received a witness from the Spirit that this is a message from God? Or do you just assume they’re right because of their callings? That’d be bad, because we’re supposed to get our own witnesses about everything – and only prophets supposedly never lead us astray…Just saying.

    It seems a little immature to me to suggest someone ought to be a non-member if they disagree with stuff that comes from Church leaders.

  114. I am going to leave it be with my apologetic last comment. I would like there to be more reasons for church members to be united instead of divided. The tone that has over taken this thread just doesn’t suit me.

  115. “Locals also spend more on cosmetics purchases at the grocery store than their peers in cities of similar size, according to Information Resources, a research company that tracks cosmetics and toiletries sales. In the last year, residents spent $2,207,450 worth on hair coloring, $116,478 on hair growth products, $2,512,081 on facial cosmetics and $4,416,067 on skin care products. In Oklahoma City, which has a slightly larger population, shoppers spent $172,080 on hair coloring, $9,323 on hair growth products, $190,820 on facial cosmetics and $402,956 on skin care products.”

    SLC spent well over 10 times more on beauty products than OKC.

    This is an LDS problem, and a big one.

    Clarify for me why buying more cosmetics than Oklahoma is a problem? Because I’m not seeing it.

  116. Jolyn,
    So what you are saying is I was misguided in using the word misguided. I have amended the post accordingly.

  117. mmiles,
    Seriously, thank you. I truly appreciate your amendment. It is subtle but it makes a big difference to me. Again to you I would like to apologize for what I said. It was counteractive to having an honest discussion about issues that we all face.

  118. The problem as I see it is obsession over beauty and unduly tying it to our sense of self-worth.

    Which I believe is the point of the OP. Why are we equating other measures of self worth with beauty if what we’re really after is a greater feeling of self-worth

    Yeah, I was taking the side of the OP even while acknowledging the big social aspect of attraction. I think confusing attraction and beauty though was the fundamental logical problem some have. We ought be teaching that there are lots more important things than just beauty. Where I differ with some is in trying to devalue beauty in preference to some other category where there are just as many winners and losers.

  119. Beauty Redefined says:

    In self-defense of our serious academic, personal and spiritual passion for helping people recognize and reject harmful beauty ideals and move on to more important things, here is our statement on this piece. Misrepresenting and tearing down promising work toward improving female self-image is a very unfortunate step backward in this fight. It would be wonderful if instead of undermining this effort, you (Marintha) could come up with solutions you deem appropriate and worthwhile instead. I would support you 100%.

  120. Beauty Redefined-
    Again, I am not disputing and agree that media has a negative affect on women. This post really isn’t about you. I’m not quite clear what the goal of BR is.
    I stand by my remarks about the BMI.

  121. Um, somebody is really REALLY upset.

  122. Love the post, mmiles. And love the comments too (for various reasons).

  123. Steve Evans says:

    Jolyn and Emily,

    Lighten up. Nothing is more ugly than calling people to repentance just because they’ve personally offended you.

  124. Steve,

    What about gst?

  125. gst isn’t ugly . . . if I’m not mistaken, he’s a fun, fit, classy guy.

  126. Steve Evans says:

    Mat, GST is today’s Tom Sawyer.

  127. Looks like the media has two possible strategies to choose from in their quest to amass wealth:
    1. Invent an image and define it as the new ideal. Make it about physical appearance because appearance is something everyone can relate to. Convince society that the new ideal is, well, ideal. This will involve convincing men that they don’t really want that thing they used to think they want, instead they like the new thing. Women must be convinced that they want to look like the new ideal, possibly because that’s what men now find attractive. Now create and market products with the claim they will make women look like the new ideal. Really they won’t, because that’s impossible. In fact, by the new standard, there will be no beautiful people outside of the digitally-enhanced pages and frames produced by the media. But women will keep spending money in the name of the ideal anyway.
    2. Look around at society and note what people like. Sell that.
    Option #2 seems a lot simpler and more likely to succeed. Also seems consistent with the fact that the invention of the corset and the low-cut neckline predate the advent of PhotoShop, obesity goes up despite its inconsistency with the media-promoted ideal, and hot people live among us. The media does influence society, but mostly it is a reflection of society. The media disproportionately hires people from the upper end of the attractiveness spectrum, as defined by society, and then tries to make them look even better, because people buy what people like. This might suggest a skewed attractiveness distribution, but the viewer is still surrounded by the reality-check actual distribution at school, work, and everywhere else. When more men start preferring small-chested women, the covers of Sports Illustrated will react accordingly. When more women decide that big is beautiful, Vogue will take note and adjust its content. I don’t believe it’s going to happen the other way around for the same reason I don’t believe the media invented the current ideal. If this is the point of the OP, then I agree in general. On the other hand, when someone says that a redefining beauty campaign has helped change their outlook in a positive way, then it’s hard to argue that these campaigns can’t work. Only the potential scale of success is up for debate.
    Admittedly, I’m not a “doctoral students with master’s degrees and double bachelor’s degrees in media studies and women’s studies”, I haven’t spent “eight years researching this topic”, “thousands of pages”, or “years of research” on this topic. But I have enough experience with research in general to know that the validity of an argument can’t be determined by the number of hours spent or pages produced. I’m also wary of those who feel the need to include frequent references to their credentials in defense of their arguments, or who respond to any criticism with outrage and indignation.

  128. mmiles,

    I think I’m understanding that you don’t like the word ‘beauty’ being brought into efforts to help women have more self-confidence, to make good choices, etc. But it feels to me that this post could end up sort of shooting good efforts toward a similar end in the foot.

    I sort of feel like we should all be on the same team here. Who doesn’t care about women not being objectified? Who doesn’t care about women feeling worth from within so that they aren’t tossed about by every wind of opinion or billboard or ad? Who doesn’t want women to feel the strength of the Spirit so they can be powerful and influential in their lives and spheres?

    I also think that we all have to do our own work to parse the big picture through it all through the limitations of language. Again, if I understand you correctly, you think the word beauty throws these efforts off or makes them ineffective. But I think there may be another way to look at it. Beauty is a word that people can relate to. It’s charged. It triggers a need for a lot of women/people, whether societally driven or biologically so (as some have mentioned, it’s probably a combo). But this word matters in our world, for good or ill, and most of the time the commercialized, Hollywoodized garbage we see out there dominates the conversation.

    To me, it is not a bad strategy to use the language in the conversation to try to redirect it, or at least contribute a different point of view to it. A parallel in a different realm in my mind is the Church going back to using Mormon in the conversation. It’s not because it’s the best word to describe who we are or what people should know about us. And it’s not an ending place in contributing to the conversation. But it’s useful because it’s a word people use and relate to and if we are going to help shape thoughts and behavior toward a concept, it makes sense to use that concept in such an communication effort.

    At least to me it shouldn’t be seen as something that dooms an effort to failure.

    I do understand why you have concerns. But if we think of these efforts as using the word as a means to an end, I think we can see them in a positive light with some hope for real impact.

  129. interesting…beauty and attractiveness. I find it interesting that in the renaissance when there were curvier-more filled out figures, that poverty meant no food and actually too skinny. Now we have poverty(the north american kind) = eating ramen noodles and hotdogs and thus fat. In both situations the “rich” are spending money to be or look “healthy”. You either have enough money to buy food or enough money to buy a personal trainer…depending on your era. Both looks tend to be taken to extreme

    it does say in Isaiah that beauty is holiness. There is a beauty and confidence that comes with keeping the commandments…it seldom changes your bra size

    The media is powerful and it is skewed in it’s portrayal of woman. Beauty redefined should be applauded for recognizing and publicizing the falseness and damage caused by these images.

  130. To continue with Isaiah, we also learn the key to beautiful feet…yet Jesus, who we should probably agree is both virtuous and does preach the gospel has no beauty that man should him desire… no word on His feet though, with due respect.

    always the exception.

    What does the 13th article of faith mean…seeking after these things? It’s interesting to consider we may be seeking after beautiful, lovely and yet it appears that standard wouldn’t include Christ……yet we believe we are supposed to be seeking after them?

  131. I teach my girls that beauty is more than appearance. I’ve always felt that “pretty” is one thing and “beautiful” is another altogether. A vase of flowers can be pretty, but it is beautiful if it is given to you by someone who loves you.

    Beauty is something that brings joy.

  132. Michelle (and Britt K),

    This post was not about the use of the word ‘beauty’ nor was it a resistance to those who are working against the objectification of women in the media. Read it again.

  133. People like Emily and Jolyn make it hard for me to sit in Relief Society without tearing my eyes out. Yes, girls, every single thing that has ever been said by anyone in any church authority is perfectly inspired. Contradictions? What contradictions?

    A friend once pointed out the irony of Sister Dalton’s message to the YW being given from her bleached blond hair and big, straight white teeth, and big, round breasts. No, she doesn’t care what she looks like at all. It’s probably just the spirit that makes her attractive. You know, from being so full of perfect inspiration with perfect communication skills.

    Then, let’s also have a talk from a church leader with a B.A. in Family Science about how to be a good woman.

    In the future, I’d like these talks to be given by a tubby and unattractive church leader who never got married and I want to be convinced by her that how one looks does not need to affect one’s happiness or marital status all that much. Then I want to hear a talk given by a married woman with a PhD in Philosophy and numerous published articles about how the greatest joy in life is to be a stay-at-home mom of five kids, a cook, chauffeur and a housekeeper. Dare I say it? THEN I’ll believe. Ya, I said it.

    The media must play a significant role because it’s not universal that teenage girls wear make up and big, dyed hair, and fancy prom dresses. I’ve noticed that the more I travel east, the less I see this trend. When I was in high school in Ontario, we wore very subdued outfits to prom like basic church attire (if we went, which I didn’t), while people in Alberta were wearing monstrosity-dresses. In Alberta, in high school and college, while there are some girls who seem to be trying to revive the 80s starting at the crowns of their heads, there are many girls who just look natural and nothing compared to what friends tell me Utah is like. I haven’t been myself, so I can’t really comment. When I travelled to Wales I found that people did not care all that much how they looked and it was refreshing and beautiful. You would never see a single billboard there advertising medical procedures of any kind, of course, and it’s rare where I live. (During my trip to Chicago and Michigan this past summer, I was shocked by the number of billboards advertising medical procedures of any kind, not to mention ones that prey upon vanity. It was really nice to come home.)

    I do think that so long as women feel like their spiritual lives are incomplete if they are unmarried and without children, that they will put a lot of pressure upon themselves to be physically attractive.

  134. Sunny, so you want me to believe that a post entitled “why redefining beauty campaigns won’t work” is neither about redefining beauty campaigns, nor beauty and how we define it?

    You’d like me to believe that despite the leaders quoted in the OP connecting beauty and vitrue..considering where they may have gotten this idea based on scripture shows I haven’t read the OP?

    It isn’t a resistance to those redefining beauty campaigns it’s just saying they don’t work or they’re misguided—less effective. ahhh. well that’s clear. thanks. She says she “lauds” them so it doesnt’ matter that she actually doesn’t praise them but finds them less effective and spends the rest of the OP picking them apart.

    I understand the OP as saying that redefining beauty is harmful because it continues to place emphasis on beauty as an important quality of a woman…

    if you’d rather I’ll focus my energies on discussing how to find out which city is the most vain. this survey says it isn’t SLC. rats http://www.ketv.com/slideshow/slideshow/26833296/detail.html

  135. Sunny,

    mmiles’ 77 was some of what I was responding to, which was in response to Anna’s comment, which was about the use of the word beauty. It seems the conversation has addressed a lot of different things, so I shared some thoughts that I thought might be relevant. But I’m interested in mmiles’ thoughts.

  136. michelle,
    Sunny is correct, you missed the point of the post. Comments #74,87, and 88 hit the nail on the head. And anything by B.Russ

  137. #130: “What does the 13th article of faith mean…seeking after these things?”

    Do you have a different 13th article of faith than I do? Honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, doing good, lovely, of good report, praiseworthy … no mention of beauty.

    Seems like Beauty Redefined and similar efforts acknowledge that some of their audience are fixated on beauty and seek to redirect their attention using the same vocabulary (redefined), whereas the OP suggests that we might instead seek something different than beauty as our goal.

  138. Britt K,

    i didn’t say it wasn’t about redefining beauty campaigns. I said it wasn’t about the use of the word ‘beauty’ (michelle’s hang up), not about resisting efforts to educate women about the objectification of women in the media. That effort to educate and the effort to ‘reclaim’ beauty are two entirely separate things.

    This statement:

    “Beauty redefined should be applauded for recognizing and publicizing the falseness and damage caused by these images.”

    to me implied you saw the OP as tearing down BR’s efforts to educate women about the objectification of women in the media. It is not. Recognizing and combatting those images is a good thing. Taking it a step further into the land of reclaiming beauty for ourselves is where the problem lies. You hit it on the head here:

    “I understand the OP as saying that redefining beauty is harmful because it continues to place emphasis on beauty as an important quality of a woman…”

    If I misunderstood you, I apologize. I read your comments as implying that a statement such as Sister Dalton’s that we should acquire righteous traits in order to acquire beauty was acceptable. Again, the mistake is mine if that is not what you meant.

  139. Michelle,
    Glad you posted what you did. I agree with what you said. In thinking more about this last night, I still would say most of what I said in my post, but would add that projects like Redefining Beauty provide a partial solution as they encourage women to appreciate themselves for their physical uniqueness. That is a worthy cause. But it’s doesn’t acknowledge the complete picture of why women have such a difficult time liking themselves and what all women and we as society and church community ought to be doing about it.

    I totally agree that we should all be on the same side. To do that, I think we all need to be looking at the bigger picture and realize that there are lots of pieces solving this puzzle. Redefining Beauty is just one of them. Figuring out the semantics of the word “beauty” and it’s value or lack there of as the word used to lead a campaign to help girls and women to find self-worth is another.

    Anyway. Yeah…good post. If we were all sitting in the same room having this discussion, I would think that your comment could be that catalyst for the conversation to actual get somewhere towards a better solution.

  140. “I feel so strongly that I need to add my two cents worth on this subject.

    My two teenage daughters and I closely follow the research being done by Beauty Redefined and truly feel empowered by the authors’ message. It has been the basis of very candid discussions within my own family and with other young women that I work closely with. We are enlightened and educated by the authors and are incorporating this knowledge into our lives. We are grateful for the forum that these two women have provided to share their years of research via this website and through their presentations. We are realizing that the beauty standards set by the media are too exceptional and unattainable for even the celebrities themselves, who have been digitally manipulated in order to be featured on the pages and covers of magazines and billboards. Comparing ourselves with and trying to compete with the media’s preset and unattainable definitions of beauty is a pathway to failure. There is an absolute need to redefine beauty in more ways than just appearance and the authors through Beauty Redefined have given us all a ray of hope. You are truly uplifting!! Thank you!!”

  141. Steve Evans says:

    Lori, why did you feel so strongly about your comment?

    By the way, “the media” doesn’t exist. There’s not some sort of sinister cabal out there that decides as a group to impose images of skinny, large-breasted women on us all. You own the media. You are the consumer. You decide with your wallets and with your time what you like to consume. Don’t blame some faceless, non-existent demon for the preferences of a society as a whole.

  142. crazywomancreek says:

    I think the mistake is confusing “tearing down” with a “critique,” which is, as you should know, a hallmark of being taken seriously as an academic. It can’t be all cheerleading and hand holding- those are responses appropriate for a testimonial. You have, quite rightly, decided to move your expertise from the private to the public. I think you address a lot of important issues re the media and women’s body image. I happen to agree with mmiles on this one but I want as many voices and perspectives in the fight as possible.

  143. Some interesting (and maybe amusing if not pertinent) commentary here taking an evolutionary perspective on some of the issues we’re discussing.

    Basically, women are getting prettier while men aren’t.

  144. Thomas Parkin says:

    Gaze no more in the bitter glass
    The demons, with their subtle guile,
    Lift up before us when they pass,
    Or only gaze a little while;
    For there a fatal image grows
    That the stormy night receives,
    Roots half hidden under snows,
    Broken boughs and blackened leaves.
    For all things turn to barrenness
    In the dim glass the demons hold,
    The glass of outer weariness,
    Made when God slept in times of old.
    There, through the broken branches, go
    The ravens of unresting thought;
    Flying, crying, to and fro,
    Cruel claw and hungry throat,
    Or else they stand and sniff the wind,
    And shake their ragged wings; alas!
    Thy tender eyes grow all unkind:
    Gaze no more in the bitter glass.

    Beloved, gaze in thine own heart,
    The holy tree is growing there;
    From joy the holy branches start,
    And all the trembling flowers they bear.
    The changing colours of its fruit
    Have dowered the stars with merry light;
    The surety of its hidden root
    Has planted quiet in the night;
    The shaking of its leafy head
    Has given the waves their melody,
    And made my lips and music wed,
    Murmuring a wizard song for thee.
    There the Loves a circle go,
    The flaming circle of our days,
    Gyring, spiring to and fro
    In those great ignorant leafy ways;
    Remembering all that shaken hair
    And how the wingèd sandals dart,
    Thine eyes grow full of tender care:
    Beloved, gaze in thine own heart.

  145. Thomas Parkin says:

    This may not be the world we are living in … never has been and never will be. I say, screw the world.

  146. Thomas Parkin says:

    Uh … Yeats (obviously) :)

  147. Redefining Beauty is just one of them.

    Anna, thanks for your comment. I think we are in agreement that there is a big picture here.

    In my mind, the synthesis of the pieces is ultimately the individual’s responsibility with the help of the Spirit. But I have seen time and time again that God can take us where we are, line upon line, and I think efforts like Beauty Redefined can be something that may help someone begin a forward motion of real, concrete action to act and not be acted upon, either by the media or by personal negative self-talk or whatever. Of course, there has to be more that will enter in to fill in the bigger picture, but as they say, the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. I think many people can benefit with this kind of step.

  148. Steve Evans says:

    Michelle, I just read your comment five times and I still have no idea what you’re saying. Can you try that again?

  149. I haven’t read the comments, but I thought I would throw this post in to the mix: http://theangryhistorian.blogspot.com/2010/12/time-havent-really-changed-airbrushing.html

    Photography vs. paintings/drawings. No one likes to depict reality.

  150. Steve, in short, I’m saying that life is a process and I think some of these efforts to ‘redefine beauty’ speak a language that can be (and is) helpful to some, inviting them to challenge their usual way of thinking about things as they seek to get out of the ‘worth is physical beauty’ trap. I don’t think we should minimize the good that these steps can do for people who are stuck. And there are a lot of people who are.

  151. Sunny, I did feel slightly misread. I was just throwing out some of my thoughts onthe subject…related to Mormon perception of beauty. I felt that was relevant.

    As for the 13th article of faith…the word lovely is not far from beauty in my mind…I doubt I’m alone in that. I was just gathering all of these beauty references and wondering what to make of it. Here we have the “beauty of holiness” and how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who publish good tidings”…two scriptures strongly connecting righteous action and beauty…on the other hand we have the concept from scripture that Christ was not handsome…so at least in him the connection between looks and actions aren’t strong.

    I don’t agree with everything the OP says. I dislike disregarding a good concept (redefining beauty camnpaigns) just because their methods aren’t what you would choose. I’d rather have a more inclusive take on it;appreciating their work and actually lauding it instead of insisting they dont work.

  152. There are some things that were very well said in this article, and other things that I don’t necessarily agree with.
    I don’t believe that the Kite sisters “Beauty Redefined” is trying to say that beauty is a bad thing in any way. What I understand from all I have read about it, they are trying to help men and women to detect harmful media on what beauty is supposed to look like for the world today. And they do have a very valuable argument, and no one can deny that. I don’t agree with one of the above comments that President James E. Faust was misguided in any way, or in any way trying to “sell” that being spiritual make us “irresistible” in a carnal sense. Obviously the church would not be teaching chastity and service, and love for our fellow man, and also be teaching that if we do this we will get more attention as the world perceives it. It doesn’t make sense. If a worthy man is looking to spend the rest of his life and eternity with a woman, don’t you think he will try to find a woman with the same qualities as he? We achieve those qualities by being charitable, by being as Christ was.
    Is physical beauty evil? Of course not. Even some of the authorities of the church talk about how you must take care of your physical body. I don’t see anything wrong with doing that, but also, it is wrong to abuse your body to achieve a “standard” of beauty that we are being fed by the media. (And that is how I perceive that Kites’ message to be about.)

  153. I dislike disregarding a good concept (redefining beauty camnpaigns) just because their methods aren’t what you would choose. I’d rather have a more inclusive take on it;appreciating their work and actually lauding it instead of insisting they dont work.

    This sums up my thoughts.

  154. By the way, “the media” doesn’t exist. There’s not some sort of sinister cabal out there that decides as a group to impose images of skinny, large-breasted women on us all. You own the media. You are the consumer. You decide with your wallets and with your time what you like to consume. Don’t blame some faceless, non-existent demon for the preferences of a society as a whole.

    I think that’s a bit too extreme Steve. That’s like saying there are no businesses, just consumers. The fact is that there are lots of groups who decide what is or isn’t fashionable. They then try to sell it and some succeed while others don’t. However the consumers only get to pick from what is offered. Frankly, the offerings are pretty biased.

    For an obvious example consider European or Canadian TV to American where a much wider range of body types are found amongst actors. This isn’t just the leads. It’s all the extras and minor characters as well. American TV will have a few average looking folks but by and large most people are the super attractive sort. It’s not just that the market has decided this is what it wants. It’s that the media producers didn’t even offer much of a choice.

    Likewise consider the fashion industry (which contra some, I think has far more to do with women’s perception of beauty than what men desire – and the fashion industry tends to put forth ideals men often don’t find attractive). Could the fashion industry decide to use models that aren’t so anorexic? Sure. And some (finally) are. But to say this is purely about the consumers deciding seems unlikely to me. That’s not to say consumers of magazines don’t hold a lot of blame. But I think it difficult to say they hold all the blame.

    On the other hand the magazine industry is doomed so it’ll all work out in the end.

  155. I dislike disregarding a good concept (redefining beauty camnpaigns) just because their methods aren’t what you would choose. I’d rather have a more inclusive take on it;appreciating their work and actually lauding it instead of insisting they dont work.

    Why should someone laud something they don’t think works? We can laud the intentions. But surely what ultimately counts is what changes behavior. I think these changing beauty campaigns might marginally make some women stop feeling so guilty about not looking like a model. But by and largely I think many of us think it’s doomed as a way of changing the focus on beauty by society at large. If the proponents don’t mind only having small effect on the margins, then that’s fine. Personally I would just rather have people focus on valuing all sorts of things in addition to beauty.

    Certainly I’m going to push successful women in business and science to my daughter to hopefully help counteract all the undue superficial attention to beauty in society. But then I’m going to try and teach both my sons and daughters to dress and groom well as well so that they understand that too has an effect. I don’t want them to be comparing themselves to Brad Pitt or Andrina Lima (or whomever the supermodel or actor of the moment are). However I do want them to try and be the best them they can be.

  156. Steve Evans says:

    Clark, my position is no more extreme than blanket complaints about what the media foist on us hapless consumers. You might be surprised with how responsive media producers (especially advertisers) are to consumer response.

    The fashion industry is something of a different beast – I’m not sure that lumping them in with media is a helpful way to approach the problem.

  157. Steve (I’ll answer this component here) I think that the purveyors of fashion are ultimately the media. I think separating out the fashion industry from the media is difficult if not impossible simply because of the place it has within the media. (Not to mention magazines like Seventeen, Elle, Vogue, Cosmopolitian, and so forth) Also a lot of fashion and style gets pushed by music videos, what gets worn at events, and so forth. All collectively part of the media.

    As I said, I certainly agree there’s a back and forth between the media and the public. Sports Illustrated keeps putting swimsuit models in its magazine because its profitable to do so. And it’s profitable to do so because so many people buy or discuss the swimsuit issue. Were all consumers to decide to stop purchasing the swimsuit issue then I’m confident SI would drop it in an instance.

    However if the public is concerned about what is fashionable and desirable they look towards the media to get a handle on it. Yes in a sense there is a way in which it’s all a collective illusion. Yet in an other way the very place of media gives the people with significant media power an ability to promote fashion and style that goes well beyond the consumers having power. You can criticize this as being able to deal with the consumers “everydayness” or typical behavior and note that consumers need not act that way. I agree. But I think the fact there are typical responses (which advertisers are trying to discover) suggests a responsibility by producers beyond what you present.

    There’s then also the question of how the typical consumer’s reaction creates an environment for those who might reject direct media manipulation but who then have to live in this world which has accepted certain media presentations.

  158. I read the Kite sisters web page after reading your article and i found that what they are saying makes me feel uplifted. I do not feel that way about this article. I feel that says enough.

  159. Steve Evans says:

    Clark, for sure producers have responsibilities. But I don’t believe they’re all-powerful manipulators that we need to rebel against or anything. They are trying to sell us stuff, and ultimately we feed that collective illusion as you put it.

  160. #102:
    “SLC spent well over 10 times more on beauty products than OKC.
    This is an LDS problem, and a big one.”

    While I appreciate the additional information on Forbes’ ruling, at the very top of my pet peeve list is when people see a Salt Lake or Utah statistic (good or bad) and automatically attribute it to the LDS church. The city is only 50-60% LDS.

  161. While I appreciate the additional information on Forbes’ ruling, at the very top of my pet peeve list is when people see a Salt Lake or Utah statistic (good or bad) and automatically attribute it to the LDS church. The city is only 50-60% LDS.

    Last statistic I could find (2005) it was below 50% and dropping. Add in that many of those listed as LDS might be inactive and it biases things more. Interestingly the state LDS rate was down to 58% and dropping.

  162. It’s the men’s fault.

    Here are the messages:
    1. Your husband is looking at dirty pictures.
    2. The women in the dirty pictures are younger and hotter than you.
    3. The dirty pictures will destroy your marriage.
    4. If you were as attractive as the dirty pictures, your husband wouldn’t look at them.

    And having lived in Zion, I’ve actually heard comments that are along these lines, though not as blunt. “Well, I can understand a guy doing that if his wife is getting too fat and doesn’t take care of herself….”

  163. Pack it in, uglies.

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