Monday, April 12, 2010

Hype, hip, and hope in real beauty

I remember one summer in the '80s when my parents spent about a month in the US, visiting relatives and friends, enjoying the sights, and experiencing what they could in that limited time from coast to coast.

When they came back to the Philippines, among the "treasures" in their suitcases were back issues of Seventeen magazine. Those were for me, they said -- a gift from one of my cousins who, I assumed, outgrew them already as she was several years my senior. I was in high school and it was just the sort of thing to give me a thrill!

As far as I remember, this heralded my entry into the world of fashion & beauty (as the commercially driven mainstream culture then knew it), and into the eye-candy-but-often-authenticity-empty world of products, looks, effects, allure, and everything else that has for its foundation a "look good, feel good" dictum. It's possible that there were, of course, articles or fashion layouts meant to enrich the soul or underscore the primacy of virtue in the grand scheme of things...but I must have missed them. To be sure, I did develop a reasonably okay sense of overall style thanks partly to the years of fashion magazine-flipping. But I developed much more than that. And I believe that a lot of grownup women now will agree with me when I say that looking through women's magazines habitually -- particularly those that revolve around the themes of fashion and beauty (treated the conventional way, of course) -- prompts a feeling of inadequacy in the reader. In fact, I've read somewhere that subtle feelings of inadequacy regarding one's physical features are felt by some women after going through a magazine of this nature only once. Now I can't remember if this slight blow to one's self-confidence is primarily caused by the ads (visuals and text combined), or by the ideas put forth by both the ads and editorial content, or only by the visuals encountered by the reader as she leafed through the mag.

Needless to say, anything that sees print and is presented well seems to achieve "pedestal-status." It tends to be more easily believed or given importance (ideas) or regarded as ... ahem, cool (or hot, hip, wicked, astig, etc., depending on the generation and the colloquial terms of the times) or as something to aspire for (images) -- especially where impressionable and sometimes-unthinking media consumers are concerned.

Was I delighted to come across a blog post about one mom's vigilance and humorous take on a clothing company's apparently desperate moves in order to increase sales. This is not fresh news but it does warrant publicity. Too bad the link to the post is gone, but here's an excerpt:

...I'm not sure what led you to resurrect the old trashy t-shirt campaign, but I'm guessing it's a last ditch attempt to get back in the news. Perhaps you are relying on your once loyal market demographic: Young women with zero self-esteem and zero self-respect. You know, the kind of girls who are so desperate for attention that they're willing to settle for the wrong kind of attention. Because let's be honest, the only person who would wear one of the t-shirts above is someone who doesn't think they have anything else to offer other than well, their parts and services. But here's where your thinking is severely flawed: Girls have become much more adept at identifying the real M.O. behind marketing schemes such as yours.

I love it :-)

Women at any age can feel this bombardment (whether explicit or more subtle) of messages from the media that they're either too fat, too skinny, too short, too old or maybe not smart enough, pretty enough, perky enough, white enough... or simply, not good enough. And teenage and tween girls are probably the most vulnerable when it comes to believing and accepting such messages. Here are two things to make you think and, hopefully, help you guide them to be happy, healthy and well-adjusted individuals. You may even find these a tad helpful for yourself if there's something that's keeping you from appreciating yourself and striving for genuine self-improvement.

The first is part of Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty. The one that follows is the piece I wrote for the April 2009 issue's Editor's Notebook (bigger version here). I had blogged about that issue of Baby Magazine when it came out but decided to post the piece again for anyone who may find it helpful.

1 comment:

petrufied said...

when i was little (grade 4-7, i think), i got a stack of seventeen magazines too as a pasalubong from the states. it made me want to play with makeup, and got me interested in fashion, too.

i remember some stories in them about models being too thin and how girls are getting affected. i would discuss this issue with my best friend at school, who also read the magazine. on one hand we thought the complaints seemed OA, i guess bec we were both on the skinny side.

but if you really consider how fast the mind can get used to things, you'll realize that those skinny and "universal" beauties on the glossies aren't as harmless after all. and those girls who complained about thin models were really saying SOMETHING worth listening to.

i hope more glossies see that beauty has more than just one look, and that more important than outward beauty is inner beauty. those mags are great vehicles for bringing out what's truly beautiful in women; i hope they get used more for helping women and not hurting them.

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