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Op-ed: Let's Change Tired Old Standards of Beauty

Op-ed: Let's Change Tired Old Standards of Beauty

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No matter how many times you tell the woman you love she's beautiful, the message has already been blurred so many times that the words might not get through.

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day, so let's begin with a love story: One dreary January day, I was bitterly sitting in a mandatory 8 a.m. training meeting, nursing a cup of coffee, when I met the most perfect smile on earth. The smile was attached to a woman who sat down in front of me, so naturally, I spent the rest of the meeting brainstorming clever excuses to talk to her. Since I had just had my mind wiped blank by that perfect smile, the hour produced zero useful ideas, so I settled for chasing her out of the building, in 10-degree weather, with no coat on, and blurting out some lame comment about how idiotically cold I was.

Sometimes miracles do happen, and I managed to get her name, and eventually a first date, and a second ...

Now I face this discordant reality, where I am rapidly falling in love with a gorgeous woman, and she refuses to believe that she is beautiful. I could tell her 20 times a day (I often do) and she just rolls her eyes and shrugs. She thinks her hair is too wildly curly, her nose is too big, and her face is too "fat." She has never admitted it, but to me it sounds like she doesn't believe she is beautiful because she doesn't look "white." It's a thought that breaks my heart, and I want to do something to fix it.

I am Swedish, with the thin face, high cheekbones, petite nose, and straight hair that this implies. Before meeting my perfect smile, I never noticed that America holds an unfairly European standard of beauty, and I certainly never realized the pain it can cause in real lives. Unfair standards of beauty not only harm the self-esteem of the women trying to change themselves to meet those standards, but they hurt all the lovers, family, and friends who feel the pain of loving someone who cannot see their own beauty.

I am certainly not the first person to come to the realization that our standards of beauty are unfair, but I would like to lend my voice to the cause. It is time that we take the conversation out of isolated corners of minority communities, and the minds of women struggling alone, and include all the stake holders -- every lover, every parent, every sibling, every friend.

The U.S. Census Bureau indicates that 37 percent of the U.S. population is not "white alone," so why doesn't our standard of beauty reflect that diversity? To take a litmus test of the issue, I walked to the nearest big-box bookstore and took an inventory of their magazine section. Of the 68 women's fashion, health, and lifestyle magazines featuring pictures of women on the cover (that did not overtly target a specific race), 56 of them displayed single or groups of entirely white women, only 11 contained images of women who were not white. Of the 11 magazines, every single woman had anglicized features that conform to European standards of beauty -- impossibly thin figure, thin face and nose, straight (often bleached) hair, etc. Only one included an image of a woman with curly hair (in a group), but that was as far as this magazine's concession to non-European beauty stretched. In the interest of full disclosure, I did throw out one magazine from my survey because the woman featured had been bleached, tanned, styled and Photoshopped to such an extent that I could not determine what race she was born as.

I wanted this op-ed to be a Valentine's Day discussion because I want the change in message to come from a place of love. Not a rage against the injustices of mass media, but instead a call to spread a message to the women that you love, which simply says, "I love you the way you are. You are beautiful as you are." They say that love can move mountains. Maybe it can also rewrite a lifetime of unjust messages.

If all of us focus on correcting this injustice in a small way (in a single life) then maybe we can bring about a larger social change. Sometimes I fear that this is a naive hope. It takes quite a lot to undo a lifetime diet of images of inadequacy, but I personally still need to try. I am a coffee shop poet, so I wrote my perfect smile a poem and recorded it and gave it to her to watch over and over, whenever she forgets how beautiful she truly is. My Valentine's Day request to you is that you use this holiday to make a meaningful gesture to a woman in your life to prove to her that you think she is beautiful, just as she is. Here's how I'm doing just that:

REBECCA HOLLIMAN is a writer and blogger.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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