Friday, September 30, 2011

Chasing Beauty : Unrealistic Expectations

Pick up any magazine and you’ll find at least one article on how to improve your appearance. Hair, hips, weight, teeth, and skin are all popular subjects.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against beauty tips. Thanks to Crest White Strips, there’s no reason to walk around with yellow teeth anymore.  I believe that men and women should take care of themselves, striving to look the best they can. I’m not an advocate of slobs, and if you can afford high-end skin treatments, I won't fault you for that. 

The problem I have is that Americans seem to have fallen—hook, line and sinker—for the notion that outer beauty is the ultimate goal, and this mindset causes our children to believe a lie, from early on. I’ve met women of all ages who think if only they were thinner, had thicker hair, bigger breasts, fuller lips, slimmer thighs, smaller waists, and longer fingernails their lives would improve dramatically.

It doesn’t help when art directors and magazine editors do everything in their power to put out covers bearing the “perfect” woman, going so far as to airbrush and retouch women who are already beautiful by most people’s standards.

Take, for example, the debacle at Redbook a few years back involving the Faith Hill cover.

What you see above is the un-retouched photo of Faith Hill. Redbook didn’t want you to see this photo, but some sneaky journalist/blogger/photographer was able to obtain it and the rest is history. It created quite a stir in the news media, and you may have already heard about it back when it happened.

As for me, I don’t see a single thing wrong with this photo. Do you? Faith looks awesome, right out of the camera. But, apparently, not awesome enough for the art director and certain editors at the magazine.

Take a look at the retouched photo below, used on the cover. Quite frankly, I think Faith looks better before they made her appear unrealistic and fake.

If you want to read the details of the 11 (count 'em) different areas that were edited (some as radical as giving her more hair, and removing her elbow "fat;" see diagram below), you can Google “Faith Hill airbrushed in Redbook,” and click on a site address called Jezebel (something or other) for the full story. But I must warn you. The editors there seem to enjoy using foul language, for some reason, which is why I'm not linking to it here, but it is quite interesting if you can get past all of the "f" words.

The Faith Hill Redbook cover only proves my point. When women wonder why they can’t look like the perfect woman on the Redbook magazine cover, it’s because she doesn’t exist!

What is it about outer beauty that drives us to seek it so desperately? Perhaps it is because we see too many unattractive people left on the fringes of society, shunned by others at the workplace, looked over when promotions are handed down, turned away when the movie director looks for leading characters, stared at in public places and ridiculed by rude children. Why can’t we understand that beneath an unappealing exterior there just might be a person of exceptional intellect and skills?

Some years ago, I wrote an article about a woman I’ll call Karen. The corporation I worked for at the time agreed to hire an administrative assistant to handle my overflow workload. Karen was one in a long line who came to apply for the job.

While I wasn’t the hiring manager, I’d been asked to interview the candidates, and when I walked into the room for my interview with Karen, you could have knocked me over with a leaf. There was nothing attractive about her. Bad hair. Bad clothes. Bad posture. And from what I could see, a frightening set of really bad teeth.

Forgive me, but my initial thought was: Not in a million years will she be the one. However, I determined not to fall into the trap of judging the proverbial book by its cover. I would give Karen a chance to impress me before passing her up.

As we talked, it became clear that Karen was no dummy. Intellectually, she was sharp. This was back in the day when employers could actually test applicants before hiring them (imagine that), and Karen passed a myriad of complex tests, with flying colors.

Looking over her resume, I couldn’t help but wonder how many doors had slammed in her face, simply because of her sad appearance. Now faced with my own decision, I wondered what I would do. There were other applicants who looked much more together and professional, but Karen was, without question, the most qualified of the pack, and I had the final say on whether she would be hired or not.

As our interviewed ended, she thanked me for the opportunity and started for the door. I noticed that she walked as if her feet were killing her. My face must have registered concern, because she said, "If you notice I'm not walking very well, I had foot surgery a few months ago. The doctors say I will get better in time, so I hope you won’t worry that I can’t keep up with the pace around here."

“Thank you, Karen,” I said. “I have no doubts that you can.”

That was the moment when I knew we need look no further for help. Not only did Karen have a remarkable brain behind that homely face, she was undeterred by circumstances and determined to succeed. What more could I ask for?

Turns out, Karen made an excellent assistant and stayed with the company long after I left. It would have been my loss if I had let her appearance cloud my judgment.

Whether you are a delusional beauty chaser, or an arrogant demander of unrealistic beauty from others, I hope you will reconsider your position. To mark off all of the Karens that cross your path, based on outward appearance alone, is as much an injustice to yourself, as it is to them.


  1. Great post Dayle! I agree we should put our best foot forward in all areas of our lives, including our appearance. However, too many focus on this not realizing that a persons character matters most. Outward appearances may afford some "stares" but a beautiful character will enrich every area of life. A beautiful character matters most. Thanks so much for sharing.

  2. Standing up to cheer! I loved this post. I have a friend (a lovely woman IMO) who told me how she used to feel so inadequate because her sister-in-law was a model. One day, the SIL showed her a photo of herself and asked her if she knew what was wrong. My friend never did find it on her own, but the SIL was missing a belly button in the picture. (It was the 70s... It wasn't a lewd shot, but I think it was a hip huggerish shot. Felt the need to say that.)


    My friend said that her SIL told her NEVER to forget that when she was looking at magazines. It's all an allusion.

    I have other stories about first impressions and looks but this isn't my blog. I'll stop yammering.

  3. I loved when Jamie Curtis had them take a "real" photo of her and how she "really" looks, it was a shout out to us all.

    I hate this about our society and remind myself and my daughter of it all the time

    Even my daughter-in-law had her engagement pictures altered...she had them slim down her arms...and she is very small...oh my!

    Thanks for pointing us in the right direction, it is still so easy to fall into the trap at age 50

  4. good grief! we can't trust any photo to be real anymore.
    i thought she looked gorgeous in the first photo! sigh
    our poor girls don't have a chance unless we do what
    you are doing. getting the truth out!

    beauty inside is what counts.

  5. Love what you said. A few comments:

    1. Some people have to choose between whitening strips and food or toilet paper.

    2. God made us the way we look and if that's not good enough for others, too bad.

    3. Some don't have health insurance and can't afford to go to the dentist.

    There are other things I could say, but won't because there are too many. LOL

    It's one thing to look like a slob and another to take care of one's self to the best of one's ability.

  6. I totally agree, Elaine. We should do the best with what we have and if that's not good enough for the masses, that's their problem!

  7. Thank you Dayle, image seems pervasive even within blogworld. Not all of us are born with natural "good looks" regardless of what we do.

  8. I meant to say how I like your new blog header too - beautiful.

  9. Can I print this out for my students?
    I would love for them to read this and have it in their notebooks at all times.

  10. Great post! I for one intend to continue aging gracefully, wrinkles and extra chin to boot. I do not want to compete with my 20 age daughter's, I want to look like their Mother. Cheers to being natural! Kit

  11. Dayle,
    Love this post. I wouldn't want to have to compete with the young lovelies of today. I am so happy to be who I am at the age I am.


  12. Good post! It used to matter to me about whether people thought I was good looking enough, but, over the years, the Lord has taught me being His child is so much better than having physical beauty. I agree with the Faith Hill photos. She looks so much better as her real self.

  13. Hi Dayle!

    This is such a great post! First of all, I agree that Faith Hill's original picture is much better than the edited version! And secondly, I am so glad you didn't turn your back on a wonderful candidate for the job because of her appearance. It's true, many people do "judge a book by their covers," and this post is a wonderful example of why we shouldn't do this. :) By the way, thank you kindly for stopping by my blog & leaving me a comment, it is greatly appreciated. :) Take care & have a wonderful week!



Dear Readers, I adore your company and your comments. If you ask questions here, I respond to them here, so please check back when you have a chance. Kind regards, Dayle