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Monday, April 22, 2013

"Real Beauty" and the Perception of Vanity

Dove has a new video featuring women describing themselves to a sketch artist. Then a stranger describes them to the same artist. Watch the video below to see people's disconnect with their own appearance.

You can get a better view of the sketches here.

Much has been said about these commercials in the week since they've debuted, everything from "I wonder how people see me?" and "Maybe I'm too hard on myself?" to "You are a terrible feminist and an idiot if you like this." (I'll just be an idiot then, Ms. Yellypants.) Whether or not you like the presentation, the fact still remains that only 4% of women around the world consider themselves beautiful.* Women will often criticize their every bulge and bump and blemish until everyone knows we are nothing special.

My knee-jerk reaction when someone tells me I look nice is to play it down. I especially freak out when people start commenting on my figure. Not only have I done this, I've seen women of all ages do this. We point out flaws. We ignore it and compliment the other person instead. We tell them it's an illusion because of some magic beauty trick we will gladly share. Did we learn if from our mothers and they from theirs? Did something that started as false modesty generations ago evolve into mass self-loathing? How do you respond to a compliment, especially if you don't believe it?

My husband told me, "'Thank you' is always an acceptable answer," but is it? For a long time, history has desired women to be attractive but not acknowledge it. In the immortal words of One Direction: "You don't know you're beautiful. / That's what makes you beautiful." To acknowledge it is to succumb to vanity, and a vain woman is high maintenance and difficult to control. If a woman needs validation or believes no one else wants her and her flaws, well, then she's not likely to go cavorting about town with ye ol' dashing cobbler (or shy sophomore from biology class).

But vanity and modesty aren't neighbors. They live in separate states. Several people I know have responded in shock when I tell them I have a fashion blog. "Isn't it vain to spend so much time writing about clothes?" they ask as if thinking about such a daily act as dressing yourself is the highway to hell. To acknowledge your assets isn't to be self-centered. To think you are the greatest everything is. To think about how you present yourself isn't a problem. To be consumed with it is.

Do you criticize yourself? When was the last time you complimented yourself? How do you respond when people compliment you?

*I would like to know if they mean beautiful as opposed to just cute or beautiful as opposed to ugly or plain. The video implies the later, but shades of meaning are a big deal here.

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