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Is Female Beauty Healthy?

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We all know that physical "beauty" is a social construct - something that is subjective and culturally defined, not an objective biological trait. How do we learn about beauty, and what it means to be beautiful? We usually learn from a very young age what is expected of us, most often from print media such as books, magazines, and even posters. We also learn that in order to be deemed "sexy," or a sexually attractive mate, we must first master the standards of beauty.

In a very condensed form, female American beauty seems to revolve around the following physical features:

* Long, shiny hair
* Well-groomed nails
* Clear skin
* Facial features accented with colors, in the form of makeup
* Very thin body, yet still curvy
* Medium to large breast size
* White teeth
* Flattering clothing
* Attractive scent, in the form of perfume

Scanning the above list begs the question: are the things which are demanded of us in order to be sexy really healthy? Most of them involve the application of chemicals which are widely known to be cancer-causing with repeated exposure, such as nail polish remover, facial creams, and shampoos. Others are downright harmful in regards to their effects on the female body, including maintaining a very low weight and getting breast augmentation. Even the items that are not explicitly damaging rob women of extraordinary amounts of time and money, such as hair styling and highlights, teeth whitening procedures, and high-end perfumes.

The fact that cultural standards of beauty are often detrimental to women's sexual health only serves to show that these behaviors do nothing in terms of improving the ability of women to enjoy sex. They improve the desirability of a woman to a man, at the expense of the female body itself. Therefore, when discussing women's sexual health it is important that we NOT base solutions around being or feeling "beautiful." A woman is only sexy when she is sexy to herself.


Shaina Gaul is a feminist and freelance writer living in Iowa. Read more of her thoughts at http://www.toasterbyte.com.

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HERWriter Guide


Thank you for such an insightful post!

I am not sure that beauty is always a 'social construct'.

The studies done on what we consider to be the standards of beauty (even features, symmetrical facial constructs, clear skin, and straight, white teeth) have used babies are subjects.

When women who are considered 'attractive' smile at the babies, the babies smile back. Babies and very young children (in other words, little humans who have yet to be affected by societal influence on beauty standards) in many studies, have been more attracted and more communicative to "attractive" women. (the studies by Judith H. Langlois of the University of Texas at Austin are a good source for more information on this subject).

While what is attractive is different in different parts of the world, facial symmetry and good teeth seem to be a common trait of attractiveness the world over.

Color is also important. As the person above me mentioned, many, many animals change their colors and plumes (comparative to our makeup, hair dyes and clothes that humans have been using for millenia) to attract a mate. Animals also use a certain walk and sound (the human swagger or hip sway and the human "sweet talk" is similar) and emit odors (in direct comparison to humans using perfume) just like their human counterparts.

I believe that the western notion that "beauty" means a thin, blonde haired, blue eyed white woman is indeed a socially created construct.

But all of us, both human and animal, use a wide variety of methods to create beauty - much of it pertaining to color, scent and clothing. And much of this was created far before the era of mass communication. This is a biological response in order to procreate and the societal influence is far less involved. Humans - and animals - are genetically predisposed to use - and create- their own versions of beauty in order to propagate the species.

April 10, 2009 - 12:17pm
EmpowHER Guest

Many animals change their appearance to attract a mate; there is a reason it's called "peacocking". So I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with women wanting to be beautiful, nor with men wanting to be handsome. But I completely agree that society's impossible beauty standards for women are unhealthy!

April 9, 2009 - 11:40am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.



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