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This girlchild was born as usual

and presented dolls that did pee-pee
and miniature GE stoves and irons
and wee lipsticks the color of cherry candy.
Then in the magic of puberty, a classmate said:
You have a great big nose and fat legs.
She was healthy, tested intelligent,
possessed strong arms and back,
abundant sexual drive and manual dexterity.
She went to and fro apologizing.
Everyone saw a fat nose on thick legs.
She was advised to play coy,
exhorted to come on hearty,
exercise, diet, smile and wheedle.
Her good nature wore out
like a fan belt.
So she cut off her nose and her legs
and offered them up.
In the casket displayed on satin she lay
with the undertaker's cosmetics painted on,
a turned-up putty nose,
dressed in a pink and white nightie.
Doesn't she look pretty? everyone said.
Consummation at last.
To every woman a happy ending.

Beauty: What Does It Mean
Written by
Brianna Robertson

Abstract
Women in today‟s society are strongly driven by their attempts to achieve the impossible.
The goal they strive to obtain is to be considered truly beautiful by the standards of society.
However, society‟s view of true beauty is dramatically altered and should be deemed impossible
to accomplish. There are many ways that society has twisted the meaning of beauty and it is
important that women of society understand how to recognize this altered image of beauty.

Table of Contents
Page #
Introduction…………………………………….………………………………………………….1
Exposed At an Early Age……………………………………………………………………….....3
The Media‟s Contribution…………………………………………………………………………5
The Solution Presented by Society………………………………………………………………..7
Conclusion………………………………………………………………………………………..8
Works Cited……………………………………………………………………………………10

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Introduction
Beauty is defined as the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or
deep satisfaction (Stolnitz)1. Women in America believe that in order to be happy or satisfied
they must be beautiful by society‟s standards. The image of beauty has been severely distorted
by society, however, and even though society‟s standard for beauty is nearly impossible to reach,
women strive for beauty because it is a “vital and central element of human experience”
(Lorand)2. Beauty is also “associated with pleasure, which influences personal choices”
(Lorand). Women‟s personal choices are vastly influenced by their need to meet society‟s
expectations.
Women are exposed to the influences of beauty at an early age. From the beginning of
childhood, young girls are introduced to the concept of beauty. Young girls are entertained by
fairytales, which include young beautiful princesses awaiting their princes so that they can live
“happily ever after.” Girls also begin to play with dolls that often portray stereotypical images of
women. These dolls, which are produced by toy factories, often portray distinct personalities of
beautiful, frivolous, and glamorous young ladies. Dolls can easily become a girl‟s role models.
When these dolls are created with impractical life standards, young girls try to emulate
unrealistic role models.
Women are also susceptible to daily influences of inaccessible body images through the
media. Newspapers, magazines, television shows, and even videogames can create pressures for

1

Stolnitz has reliable accreditation for the definition of beauty as listed in the Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Lorand is a professor who is a reliable source for opinions of beauty, as she has done extensible research and
published several books on the subject.
2

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women to strive for beauty. The media of provides unrealistic images for women to strive to
replicate. Producers enhance photographs and TV images in order to make them more
appealing. When average women see the way these models and celebrities look and how happy
they appear, they want to be as beautiful and happy themselves. Photo-shopped models and
celebrities give false images of beauty, however.
Unfortunately the women of American cannot simply photo-shop their insecurities away.
Instead, they often turn to cosmetic surgery. Plastic surgery “is a broad field that includes both
cosmetic and reconstructive disciplines” (Mills 52)3. Many women of America are so obsessed
with obtaining an unrealistic image of beauty that they surgically alter their appearance.
Elizabeth Mills, author of Expectations for Women, explains that “cosmetic and reconstructive
surgery often claim to improve quality of life through increasing self-esteem and selfconfidence” (52). When women receive this message, they think that they can simply fix their
social problems with corrective surgery. However, “TV shows often make cosmetic surgery
seem easy and pain-free, this is not usually the case” (55). Most procedures are extremely
painful and demand intense quantity recovery time. Women are often not aware of the long-term
risks that are involved with cosmetic surgery. Women are willing to endure an extreme amount
of pain to attain the “perfect” image of beauty. An obsession that begins in childhood often
escalates for adult females. The cultural distortion of beauty is most clearly seen in children‟s
stories and toys as well as throughout the media and in society‟s obsession with plastic surgery.

3

Mills is well versed in the expectations of women in today‟s society as explained in her book Young Woman’s
Guide to Contemporary Issues.

3
Exposed At an Early Age
Children are exposed to stereotypical messages about beauty through fairytales and in
toys. For example, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, a popular fairytale by the Grimm
Brothers, is about two beautiful women. One of the women becomes extremely jealous when
her magic mirror tells her that Snow White is a “thousand times fairer” (“The Story of Snow
White”). She immediately takes action to eliminate Snow White so that she may become the
fairest in the land. In the queen‟s jealous rampage, she “ordered the huntsman to take Snow
White into the woods to be killed. She demanded that the huntsman return with Snow White‟s
heart as proof” (“The Story of Snow White”). This frightening fairytale sends children the
message that they should not only strive but also do whatever it takes to become the “fairest of
them all,” even if it means killing someone else. Fairytales such as Snow White show young
girls that it is a social necessity to be considered beautiful in order to be successful. Not only are
children exposed to stereotypical messages through fairytales but also through the toys they play
with.
Barbie was created in 1950 by Ruth Handler, an owner of the Mattel Toy Company.
After noticing her daughter putting dresses on her paper dolls, Handler developed the idea to
create a three-dimensional fashionable doll that girls could dress as they wished (“Barbie”;
Harrison)4. Handler named the doll Barbie after her daughter, and the doll was introduced at the
1959 American Toy Fair in New York City. After Barbie‟s debut in 1959, the Mattel Toy
Company “sold 351,000 dolls during the first year on production. Within ten years, the public
had purchased $500 million worth of Barbie products” (Harrison). Before Barbie was released,

4

Harrison is a professor at a School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics who has done a wide span of
research of society‟s view of beauty.

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young girls primarily played with baby dolls. Barbie was an “adult doll to be marketed too little”
(Mills 18). Since the birth of Barbie, “girls play with dolls that live in a fast-paced world of
glam and glitz” (18). Barbie had many outfits, such as her original attire, a black and white
striped bathing suit with open-toed shoes, sunglasses, and earrings (“Barbie”; Harrison). Soon
after Barbie was released, she had dozen of clothes options, such as “a bridal gown, tennis dress
and a ballerina costume” (Harrison). Barbie was marketed as a “young fashion model,” but the
clothing in which she was dress was also suited for a 1950s housewife with her crisp party apron
for cooking and entertaining, and fashionable Paris Gown” was released (Harrison). Feminists
grew very angry with Barbie in the “1990‟s when Teen Talk Barbie said things like; Math is
tough, which seemingly insulted the intelligence of a woman” (“Barbie”). Along with Barbie‟s
fashion, her face and body also changed throughout the years. However, many people still
criticize “Barbie‟s figure as being impossible for a real woman” (“Barbie”). For decades, Barbie
has given young women a false image of what it means to be beautiful.
Along with the vastly influential Barbie the stereotyping of beauty is also demonstrated
in Bratz dolls. The Bratz dolls known as Cloe, Jada, Shasha, and Yasmine are notable for their
“big heads and skinny figures” (Mills 18). These dolls are said to have “transformed the doll
experience from on the role-played parenthood,” as with baby dolls, “to a style extravaganza in
which provocative clothing and a focus on physical appearance are often the main messages
communicated to girls” (18). The franchise responsible for Bratz dolls production has also
released movies, DVD‟s, and even a Television series based on the lives of Bratz dolls. There is
also a website in which girls can create their own Bratz doll character while other girls comment
on the fashion the owner creates for their personal character. “There is even a lingerie set for

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young girls, with a padded bra and bikini underpants” (19) that is available for Bratz characters.
These dolls “seem to embody our society‟s expectations and pressures for today‟s young girls—
perceived perfection through constant attention to appearance and fashion.” The influence was
thought to be so great that “in 2008, scholastic, Inc., a children‟s book publisher, decided to stop
carrying books bases on the Bratz characters in its book clubs and at book fairs after repeated
urging by parents‟ groups” (20). Modern toys have created a distorted image beauty that young
girls strive to imitate.
The Media‟s Contribution
The media also has a significant impact upon the cultural distortion of beauty by distorted
messages it sends about beauty and the way these messages influence beauty. Because of the
media, “young women are still bombarded with images of thin, beautiful women held up as
ideals. They appear in magazines, on television, in films, and on public bill boards. But when
young women look at such images, what do they see? Do they see themselves and their friends?
Or do they see an unreal and impossible standard of beauty?” (DiBattista 21)5. Women only see
“the lean, angular bodies of fashion models are presented as an ideal. A five foot ten inch model
who weighs 110 pounds has a body type that is often chosen to model clothes or sell products.”
However, most women are not built like the typical supermodel. In fact, most women have a fat
content of twenty-five percent (21).
The media becomes so influential because teens are known to “watch hundreds of hours
of television a year, complete with thousands of commercials, many of which have sexualized
content” (Mills 22); therefore, they are overly exposed to the media is influence in terms of

5

DiBattista has a Master‟s Degree in English and has written a book along with many articles about the struggles for
teenage girls on the issue of beauty.

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perception. Furthermore, in 2000, a “nonpartisan group based in California called Children Now
discovered that many popular video games perpetuated negative stereotypes of females by
portraying women with unrealistic body images and engaging in seductive behavior.” Others
“may use tried-and-true themes for girls—games that focus on appearance, fashion, and acting
older, thereby perpetuation a stereotype as well as reinforcing the messages that girls are already
hearing” (25).
The media tampers with the images we see on television, magazines, and even
videogames. With digital processing, “there is almost no limit to what can be done to an image,
and many things are done to images with the best intention. The question is, when does the
pursuit of aesthetics violate our ethics?” (Lodriguss)6. In the first step of digital processing, the
photography in question is scanned or uploaded to a computer and then one can “work on the
image on the computer screen” and “begin the transformation „Rub out those wrinkles, reduced
the waist and the left buttock, rule out the hip and put on a smooth and stiff skin‟”
(Houchwarter)7. Society doesn‟t know whether we can believe anything we see anymore. With
today‟s technology, we can literally do anything we want with images” (Lodriguss). During the
last year, there are few images have not benefitted from a retouch before being published in the
media. Photo shopping in magazines, newspapers, and even on websites distorts the image of
beauty and gives women around the world a complex look “fake” models. Photo shopping gives
the world an impossible image to imitate.

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7

Lodriguss has done studies on Astrophotography Techniques and their effects on society.
Hochwater has provided reliable information on the effects of photoshop on society in her article Photo Shop Me!

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Beauty pageants are popular, even events “staged and sometimes seen on television in
most countries around the world” (Wilk)8. Global pageants reach a “media audience of over 2
billion, and have franchise holder in more the 150 countries, where cohossing national
representative is a popular annual event.” In beauty pageants, “contestants are most often judged
on the physical appearance, their dress, and comportment.” Pageants are “often the focus of
controversy and even violence.” The controversy “over spending money to hold the Miss
Universe pageant in El Salvador in 1975 was instrumental in starting the civil war” (Wilk).
Through the popularity of beauty pageants, the media has greatly influenced women‟s point of
view on what the image of beauty really means.
The Solution Presented by Society
Today‟s society is widely influence by distortion of beauty, which can be seen through
the common desire to alter one‟s body by means of plastic surgery. Plastic surgery is a “broad
field that includes both cosmetic and reconstructive disciplines” (Mills 52). Cosmetic surgery
refers to the “alteration of the appearance of normal body feature for aesthetic reasons.” The
most common female body parts to undergo corrective surgery are breasts, the nose, eyes, and
the abdomen.” Both cosmetic surgery and reconstructive surgeries “often claim to improve
quality of life through increasing self-esteem and self-confidence.” Women are so consumed by
their need to be beautiful that between the years of “1992 and 2000, cosmetic surgery procedures
increase nearly 200 percent in North America. Experts predict more than fifty million
procedures will be performed in 2015, a quadruple increase over 2005” (52, 53).

8

Wilk is a Professor at Indiana University who given me reliable information about cultures and their views of
beuty.

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Teens today “face much stronger pressures to look good than in the past” (Winkler 16)9. Teens
believe that if they can “just get rid of their big nose or have larger breasts they would be happy
and popular” (21). Cosmetic surgery often includes a great physical risk because these types of
surgeries require an anesthetic. After surgery, “the problem may be that the result of the
operation is not 100 percent perfect.” People can become very “critical of little bumps that
others can‟t see but they can feel” (27), making them want even more corrective surgery. This is
why plastic surgery can very easily become addictive for women who are susceptible to the
distorted influence of beauty that permeates the culture. Plastic surgery becomes a way for
women to escape their insecurities and become beautiful by society‟s distorted image of beauty.
Conclusion
Today‟s society presents a stereotypical image of beauty. From a very early age, young
girls are exposed to a stereotypical image of beauty through their toys and in the fairytales they
are read. The media also plays a large role in the impact of society‟s distorted image of beauty.
Women are exposed to the media‟s message about beauty on a daily basis, embedding false
expectations of beauty into the minds of women. Society‟s image of beauty is so desired after
that women will undergo various amounts of corrective surgery, in an attempt to meet society‟s
unrealistic standards. Women also suffer from psychological problems and often can enter a
state of depression while trying to achieve beauty. These women begin to criticize themselves
because they do not have the same body type as super models. Women, as well as young girls,
have also developed eating disorders. Some strive to obtain beauty to the point of putting their
bodies in danger.

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Winkler writes a book with personal stories from teenagers and their struggles with their appearances.

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Bluejean magazine asked teens about images of beauty the media and their influence it
creates. Nineteen-year-old Kristin replied, “The media targets young women, centering the
focus on the so-called, „stereotypical girl,‟ with the perfect face, figure, and personality”
(DiBattista 26). Along with Kristin, Eighteen-year-old Anne stated, “I think the media needs to
tone down the emphasis it places on looks. Young girls see an unattainable image. . . Emphasis
needs to be takes away from what is on our outside, and placed on who we are on the inside. I
think the media has a responsibility to offer alternative sources of information for girls that don‟t
bombard them with advertisements full of messages on how they are supposed to look” (26).
Society presents young women such as Kristin and Anne with the message that it is a necessity
to obtain a distorted image of beauty. The urge to acquire this image creates long term effects
upon the lives of women in today‟s society.

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Works Cited
"Barbie." Fashion, Costume, and Culture: Clothing, Headwear, Body Decorations, and
Footwear through the Ages. Ed. Sara Pendergast and Tom Pendergast. Vol. 5: Modern
World Part II: 1946-2003. Detroit: UXL, 2004. 868. Gale Virtual Reference Library.
Web. 31 Mar. 2011.
Brown, Bobbi, et al. Bobbi Brown Teenage Beauty: Everything You Need To Look Pretty,
Natural, Sexy & Awesome. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. 2000. Print.
DiBattista, Rosemary. Female Body Image: A Hot Issue. New Jersey: Enslow Publishers, Inc.
2002. Print.
Eshreick, Joan. Clothing, Cosmetic, and Self-Esteem Tips: Making the Most of the Body You
Have. Obesity: Modern-Day Epidemic Ser. Philadelphia: Mason Creek Publishers.
2006. Print.
Harrison, Jennifer. "Barbie Doll." Dictionary of American History. Ed. Stanley I. Kutler. 3rd ed.
Vol. 1. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2003. 417. Gale Virtual Reference Library.
Web. 31 Mar. 2011.
Hochwarter, Vanesa. “Photoshop me! The Truth Behind Digital Retouching on Your Favourite
Models and Celebrities!” Blog: Model Management. 2011. ProductionParadise. Web.
31 Mar. 2011.
Lodriguss, Jerry. “The Ethics of Digital Manipulation: Is It Real, Or Is It Photoshop?”
Catching the Light. 2010. Jerry Lodriguss. Web. 31 Mar. 2011.
<http://www.astrophix.com/HTML/J_DIGIT/ETHICS.HTM>

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Lorand, Ruth. "Beauty and Ugliness." New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. Ed. Maryanne
Cline Horowitz. Vol. 1. Detroit: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2005. 198-205. Gale Virtual
Reference Library. Web. 30 Mar. 2011.
Mills J. Elizabeth. A Young Woman’s Guide To Contemporary Issues. “Expectations for
Women: Confronting Stereotypes.” New York: The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc.,
2010. Print.
Stolnitz, Jerome. “Beauty.” Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Ed. Conald M. Borchert. 2nd ed.
Vol. 1. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2006. 511-515. Gale Virtual Reference
Library. Web. 30 Mar. 2011.
---. “Ugliness." Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Ed. Donald M. Borchert. 2nd ed. Vol. 9. Detroit:
Macmillan Reference USA, 2006. 561-564. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 30
Mar. 2011.
“The Story of Snow White and The Seven Dwarves.” Trans. Margaret Hunt. DLTK‟s Growing
Together. 2011. DLTK‟s Sites. Web. 28 Mar. 2011. <http://www.dltkteach.com/rhymes/snowwhite/pstory.asp>.
Weiss, Stefanie. The Beauty Myth: A Guide for Real Girls. New York: The Rosen Publishing
Group, Inc. 2000. Print.
Wilk, Richard R. "Beauty Pageants." Encyclopedia of Recreation and Leisure in America. Ed.
Gary S. Cross. Vol. 1. Detroit: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2004. 93-95. Gale Virtual
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Winkler, Kathleen. Teen Issues. Cosmetic Surgery for Teens: Choices and Consequences.
New Jersey: Enslow Publishers, Inc. 2003. Print.