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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

WTH?! Wednesday: Defining sexy and "scary beautiful" shoes

Two articles caught my eye yesterday: one featured Mila Kunis (sorry, the name sounds vaguely familiar but really I have no idea who she is) voted by Esquire readers (insert eye roll) as the "sexiest woman alive." The second featured a short video clip of a model attempting to walk in some of the most bizarre high heels - if you can call them that - that the world has ever seen. I can't help but notice  connected these stories are to each other.

Photo: Esquire Magazine
Mila may be pretty to some - but surely there is more to sexy than pretty. She might fit into one tiny definition of sexy, but I'm pretty sure there are a lot of homelier-looking women out there who are considered pretty sexy, too, especially by the people who matter most to them. That's far more important to me than a pool of readers "voting" on my physical appearance. The whole thing sounds like a big popularity contest - like, haven't we left high school behind already?

To each his (or her) own: I guess this just isn't my definition of sexy. I asked this question: what defines sexy? How can you determine if someone is when you don't even know them? Just based on what you saw in a movie or a video - a side of them that isn't even real? 

What if she had great brains, a nice figure, and was ugly (which is a relative term)? What if she had acne, or gapped teeth? Is it possible for someone to be sexy then? I personally find Lauren Hutton and her gap tooth smile to be very sexy and appealing, and am glad she decided all those years ago not to get her teeth fixed. The industry often sees these actresses (Anna Paquin, Madonna and others) and wants them to change to conform, and so far, they haven't.

The next piece is a video clip featuring a model "walking" in a pair of bizarre high heels. They're thankfully not really meant for actual use, and when she walks in them, she more resembles a duck taking a dump than a pretty model on the runway. (I did notice in the video, by the way, that the model actually had some cellulite - woot!)

The shoes were created by a Dutch artist and a shoe designer to illustrate our "impossible standards of beauty." Amen to that. What is beautiful to one person might look absolutely stupid to someone else, and many fashion trends I see in magazines and on the racks often make me wonder, Who buys this stuff?!

The clip also reminds me of the age-old (and now thankfully defunct) practice of foot-binding, which Chinese women had done to them as young girls to conform their feet into a dainty, pointed position. The toes were literally broken and folded underneath the foot so as to fit into a shoe that is actually even too small for a child to wear. The pain was torturous, and yet, a sign of delicacy and femininity to the Chinese people for centuries. Although the practice has been discouraged and was banned outright by the Chinese government in 1911, it's clear that it still continued for several decades afterwards, despite the ban. In some villages, there are still a handful of elderly women tottering around in tiny shoes - and it was a gradual process before that standard of beauty was no longer considered beautiful.

Are there standards of beauty that we create for ourselves - or are they created for us? Can we ever live up to it? Why should we even want to?

The video is literally symbolic of the lengths women (and really, we shouldn't just blame the ladies here) will go to look beautiful, even if it causes them physical pain. I thought of Karen Carpenter and her very private battle with an eating disorder when I watched this video. I love watching her play drums - a girl drummer is awesome! - but it's very painful at the same time, because of the way she was slowly killing herself, and everyone around her realized it but her. It's hard to watch because you know how it all ended, how it ends for thousands of women every day. It may not always be a physical death, but when you're trying to live up to a standard of beauty that might not even exist in the real world, it can be an emotional and psychological battle we all, at times, struggle to conquer. We're not in the school yard anymore, but somehow the standards of who we are and the often shallow, outward expression of who we should be hasn't changed at all. For the young women watching, how many more Karen Carpenters (and now, Nicole Richies) will this false standard create?

More reading:
Airbrushed models are 'harming children and should have warning labels' - Daily Mail
Dove - Evolution of Beauty video
People Magazine, 1983 - an article featuring Karen Carpenter's brother Richard talking about her struggles with anorexia, the severity of which was poorly understood. How many celebrities can we think of today who meet this criteria, and look just as she did not long before her death?


Ethel said...

What I have seen is sexy is for those who have heft to them, beautiful for stick thin. Mila Kunis is at an appropriate weight, therefore healthy and in the modern lingua, sexy. I do think she is beautiful however, she is short and short legged but beautiful.

To me it is interesting that sexy now has replaced beautiful to describe those who most likely have high fertility (large fat deposits on the hips, large lips, narrow waist, well balanced faces, good skin). Sexy would include Beyonce, the Kardashians, Anna Paquin actually.. Beautiful to define those who have reached modern ideals of beauty but really would not be reproductively productive (poor fat deposition, relatively slender as to be boy like, wispy, poor muscle tone). Not to say the 'beautiful' don't reproduce (Angelina Jolie for example, which surprises me), just they aren't the picture of health when I look at them as a biologist or anthropologist.

I personally think the language is struggling to catch up with a world whose position of power is changing from Europe-centered to global. Beauty is the old, the new is sex which is a more honest and direct way of describing ideal partners in reproduction - health both presently and epigentically and ideally a nicely heterogenic genome.

The Deranged Housewife said...

It's strange how much Karen Carpenter's eating disorder seemed to really age her. In some of the last photos of her she looked more like 10 years older than she really was, at least.

Nicole Richie has seemed to defy all odds, then, because she has two children - but yes, she did seek treatment for an eating disorder, did she not?

What I love to see is the occasional woman who, if you put her in late 19th century garb, would fit the period perfectly - hair, face and everything. KAte Winslet, for example, has just the face for the role in Titanic. It seems like we pressure women to be thin, and yet when they seemingly attain that ideal, we then say, "You're too thin." It truly is impossible to win.