Francesca Lana’s thoughts on beauty
Francesca Lana’s thoughts on beauty
Looking at an airport news stand recently I (Francesca Lana) found myself feeling unsettled as my eyes glanced over the covers of the fashion and celebrity magazines in front of me. At first I couldn’t work out why – it wasn’t envy – as a woman I’ve always appreciated and celebrated the beauty of other women. It wasn’t disapproval, I grew up reading these magazines and enjoy a fun read as much as the next woman.
It wasn’t aesthetic, the covers were beautiful and beautifully shot. And then finally, as my eyes scanned from cover to cover, I put my finger on why I felt such discomfort – sure, the women were all stunning and all beautifully dressed but, they were also all …eerily similar – the same tiny neat chin, the same tiny retroussé nose, the same tiny body, the same shiny long wavy hair, even the same cheekbones…
If this seems exaggerated, do what I did – look at any newsstand and compare the women on the front covers. And then do an Internet search of beauty icons of the past from Audrey Hepburn to Marilyn Monroe to Ava Gardner – all beautiful and all different.
“So what?” you might be asking. Well the emergence of this identikit image of female beauty reflects a troubling trend of our current day epoch which goes much further than celebrity and modeling and affects us all. When there’s only one standard of beauty, it means anyone who doesn’t conform to it feels inadequate and any survey from the last few years will show increasing dissatisfaction from women about their looks. And as that dissatisfaction grows so does the incentive and opportunity for women to do something about it.
Consider that in the UK alone the cosmetic surgery industry is forecast to be worth over £3 billion pounds in 2015. Over the last five years the number of procedures has risen by double digit percentages year on year. In the U.S., according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, the total spent on cosmetic surgery procedures in 2013 was over $12 billion. In both countries the most popular procedures were breast augmentation and liposuction with nose jobs and eyelid surgery also rising in popularity as well as newer procedures like chin, cheekbone and buttock implants.
Again you might ask, “So what? Surely in this age of women’s choice, this naturally extends to women choosing how they look. So, if a woman wants bigger boobs or a smaller nose or thinner thighs all power to her if she wants to pay for them.”
And to some extent I agree with that but the pictures of those women on magazine covers made me think again. You see what those glossies are really projecting is a mandate that. There is only one standard of beauty, one way to look shown to us by the media and bought into by increasingly younger and younger women – and this is a problem.
When once a teenage girl might have dreamed of and asked for a car – a symbol of adulthood and independence – for her birthday, today many are asking for cosmetic procedures in order to conform to this narrow definition and norm of acceptable beauty.
To compound the issue the accelerator of conformity is commencing at an even younger age with reports of girls of five or six expressing dissatisfaction with their still developing bodies and going on diets. It seems that as mothers become increasingly obsessed with social ideas of what a woman should look like so they – consciously or subconsciously – pass these ideas on to their tiny daughters.
In the meantime, increasing numbers of women risk their lives having unnecessary procedures in pursuit of an ideal of beauty most will never attain. Of course many women report that just one procedure helped them increase in self-confidence but others find themselves sucked into a cycle and spiral in which one procedure leads to another and another and increasing dissatisfaction and despair with both their looks and their lives.
Is this the world we want to live in? I hope not. I grew up in the world of professional classical dance and so have first-hand experience of how an ideal of physical perfection can be very destructive in the lives of young girls. But these days you don’t have to be a professional anything to experience that crushing and destructive pressure to starve or surgically alter your body to fit an ideal – you just have to be a woman aged 4 – 84 living in the Western world. This worrying trend is of course, not just limited to women.
Cosmetic surgery is becoming increasingly popular with men. Adolescent boys desperate for the “six packs” that the media says will make them desirable are overworking their pubescent bodies and taking sometimes illegal steroids to achieve pumped up physiques which logically lead to early symptoms of eating disorders and other bodily stress.
How can we combat this self-destructive obsession with how we look? Well, one way is a more balanced approach to our bodies. Rather than focusing on looking like this or that model, let’s focus on being strong and healthy. One of the great ironies of recent years is that even as cosmetic surgery procedures increase so too do rates of obesity.
We need to educate young men and women on looking after and making the most of the bodies they’ve been given. Lessons on nutrition and sports training and fitness should be integral parts of every school curriculum. We also need to recognize eating disorders as a disease which affects sufferers in a serious and often long term way and provide funding for families who can’t afford treatment.
I believe that we can also help prevent dissatisfaction and disease by returning to a world where varied models of individual beauty are displayed and celebrated. This is where the fashion industry and mainstream media have a role to play in casting and presenting more than one idea and ideal of what’s beautiful.
There’s a real role for advocates in this area and I have the greatest admiration for people like my friend Kirsten Haglund, former Miss America and fearless campaigner on these issues. Like me (Francesca Lana), Kirsten is an ex-dancer well aware of some of the huge pressures affecting young people today.
Through her foundation and other organizations including the Eating Disorders Coalition for Mental Health Parity, Kirsten campaigns tirelessly to raise funds and awareness of these issues, traveling across the US to speak at schools, universities, churches and on the national media. Kirsten is a great role model for young women and a wonderful spokesperson for treating eating disorders and their causes as a public health priority.
I believe that beauty is about balance and about individuality, about generations of healthy, happy women and men whose focus isn’t about conforming themselves to one idea of what is attractive but in making the most of the lives they’ve been given to improve things for others. Let’s be part of the revolution to make this more and more of a reality. Who knows that young girl with normal development and good habits just might be the next sexy voluptuous “Norma Jean” in the making!