As stated in Garland-Thomson’s, Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory, women are constantly manipulating their own NATURAL bodies in order to “normalize” their bodies and hide or cover up their irregularities (Garland, 2002, p. 10). I fell victim to this conformity at a young age, when my mom was encouraging make-up, hair-dye, and very feminine clothing. When she felt fat or had a pimple on her face, she would spend so much time and energy trying to conceal the blemish with expensive facial products or hide her fat with fancy, uncomfortable undergarments. I created my own internal moral compass and made my own decisions of what is acceptable and what is not based on my understandings and observations of my mother’s behaviors. I think this is what led to my own anxiety. I would bring concealer with me in my purse in MIDDLE SCHOOL, and I would go to the bathroom constantly just to make sure the tired, puffy bags under my eyes were covered up and my blemishes were invisible. Thinking back on these days in middle school brings back feelings of apprehension and insecurity. Nobody is perfect. Even if somebody is born nondisabled, life experiences happen. Those same unmarked, “beautiful” human beings have their whole lives ahead of them. Cancer happens, car accidents happen, and hopefully old age will happen. All of those situations have cause to inflict disabilities on the individuals involved. Another quote from Garland-Thomson’s journal, Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory, that supports the unpredicted, inevitable life experiences by stating, “Those will inevitably acquire disabilities through aging and encounters with the environment” (Garland, 2002, p.12). Why are we continuing to segregate and sympathize the disabled, instead of coming together and empathizing WITH them?
One way a company is encouraging differences and natural appearances is by creating new body shapes and ethnicities for the Barbie doll. Mattel is “striving to make changes and take steps to have the iconic ‘Barbie’ reflect today’s society” (Denee, 2016). These new Barbies come in curvy, tall, and petite sizes and African American, Asian, Latino, and Middle Eastern ethnicities. I think that is is very important for children to have a doll that they feel they can relate too. I think that children who have anxiety about their appearances would feel less depressed and anxious if they had a doll that looked like them. Playing with and dressing the skinny, unrealistic, blonde, tan Barbie doll must be tough on children who feel that Barbie’s appearance is the only “normal” or “beautiful” one out there. It makes them feel that if they do not look like her, they are not normal (even though it is NOT normal to look like Barbie..).
Remaining consistent with the theme of adolescents’ anxieties over how they look, I found many correlations between the two in Lori Baker-Sperry and Liz Grauerholz’s journal, The Pervasiveness and Persistence of the Feminine Beauty Ideal in Children’s Fairy Tales. This study focuses on the feminine beauty ideal, which is defined as “the socially constructed notion that physical attractiveness is one of women’s most important assets, and something all women should strive to achieve and maintain” (Baker-Sperry, 2003, p. 711). From a young age, girls are taught to value their appearance above all else. I almost think being pretty or naturally attractive works against our young women and girls. When somebody is naturally pretty or even pretty due to make-up and unnatural beauty products, other individuals tend to compliment them on their appearance. Prettier girls are oftentimes told, “You are so pretty” or “I love your beautiful, curly hair” before others can even pick up on actual learned skills and talents and personality assets. As a result, girls who put more time into looking “beautiful” oftentimes think that their beauty is the only gift they were given- when that is not true at all! Looking a certain way says nothing about what a person has to offer on the inside. I know that I developed my anxiety over my appearance after I caught on to the fact that beauty “remains one of the major means by which adolescent girls and women gain social status and self-esteem” (Baker-Sperry, 2003, p. 712). I began to think that I was incapable or incompetent if I looked bad. My mother would reinforce this mistaken belief by telling me, “When you look good, you feel good.” She would tell me that dressing in just a T-shirt and ponytail would only make me feel worse about myself. Since I have always been into multiple activities at a time and tend to have bad time management, I would just say, “Forget my hair; I just need a ponytail-holder. I’ll do my make-up in the car.” This would frustrate my mother, as she believed my appearance should be something I put more thought and effort into. It took a long time for me to stop caring so much about my appearance, but now that I am more grounded and understand the feminine beauty ideal is socially constructed, I feel more confident in my abilities and natural talents.
Baker-Sperry, L., & Grauerholz, L. (2003). The Pervasiveness and Persistence of the Feminine Beauty Ideal in Children’s Fairy Tales. Gender & Society, 17(5), 711-726. doi:10.1177/0891243203255605
Denee, M. (2016). Mattel Debuts a NEW and Updated Barbie! Check out the Curvy, Petite, and Tall Barbie! Retrieved June 13, 2016, from http://thecurvyfashionista.com/2016/01/mattel-barbie-curvy-petite-tall/
Garland-Thomson, R. (2002). Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory. NWSA Journal, 14(3), 1-32. Doi:10.1353/nwsa.2003.0005