The sacrifice of beauty
Stop what you're doing for a moment, and consider everything that can happen in a year. You might land a new job, achieve a promotion, get engaged or married, make new friends, move to a dream location or perhaps get a new pet. You might finally grow your hair out of that awkward I-got-a-pixie-cut-that-I-immediately-regretted incident. Maybe you'll resolve a conflict that's been dragging out.
In any case, twelve months can bring many things, good and bad. It's the possibility of greatness that we all look forward to, the idea that things will probably get better, that we can grow and change into the people we dream of being. These thoughts immediately came to my mind when I came across a study which concluded that among women18 to 65 at British universities, some 16% said they would swap one year of their life for their ideal body and 10% were willing to trade between two and five years. In addition, almost one in three would be willing to die younger in exchange for the ‘ideal’ figure. The finding is all the more shocking because almost all of those polled were in the normal weight range – or even underweight.
According to the study conducted by eating disorder charity the Succeed Foundation, 2% of women polled were willing to forgo up to a decade, and 1% saying they'd give up at least 21 years younger in exchange for a slimmer shape. Overall, 30% of the 320 women questioned said they would be willing to make a trade. But it wasn't just years women were willing to sacrifice. Seven per cent would give up spending time with their family, 9% their friends and 7% would give up their health to achieve their 'ideal' shape.
In the 19th century, women used whitening agents with lead oxide to appear striking. In ancient China, the four-inch bound "lotus foot" was considered the sign of perfect beauty. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the wealthy used belladonna eye drops to dilate their pupils, generating an "attractive" doe-like appearance. Today, some women are undergoing cosmetic limb-lengthening surgery, an extraordinarily painful procedure costing upwards of $200,000. Limb lengthening involves surgically breaking the shin and femur bones, and gradually pulling them apart over the course of a year with a gruesome system of metal rods and pins. Patients are confined to a wheelchair, undergo intensive physical therapy, and risk bone infection, avascular necrosis (bone death) and destruction of cartilage. Just 40% of patients achieve desired results: a mere two to three inches gained in height.
Sacrifice and beauty seem to go hand in hand. Whether we're pouring hot wax onto our neither regions to remove hair, or starving ourselves to lose a few pounds, or pushing ourselves to exhaustion at the gym, the unspoken message is that we must sacrifice to achieve our physical ideal, whatever that is. How we chose to sacrifice depends on many things - the specific cultural norms of our geographic location; our ethnicity; even our religious beliefs. Beauty standards are striated even within the same socioeconomic class and geographic location. Because of these concurrent concepts of attractiveness, our cultural criteria for good looks is nearly impossible to define. As a result, how we determine the value of sacrifice for beauty can widely differ.
There's also the ways in which we emotionally sacrifice for attractiveness. In my past, I've given up relationships with friends (to avoid eating with them,) recreational activities (particularly those involving the need to wear a swim suit,) and intimacy within my relationships (such as the avoidance of sex due to low body image.) My battle with anorexia led me to prioritize losing weight over academic achievement, relationships, and nearly everything else.
I believe it's important for us to be aware of the sacrifices we make to attain beauty. Most of them are done with little thought, as they're so integrated into the norms of our subcultures. But without mindfulness, we might end up making sacrifices that deeply subtract from the joy and happiness we deserve to have.
Now I ask you: What sacrifices do you make for beauty? How would you define the cultural standard of beauty where you live? (Some locals value tanning, Botox, teeth whitening; others a more athletic standard; still more a curvaceous silhouette.) Do you give much thought as to the things you give up to attain attractiveness? Would you trade a year (or more) of your life for a slimmer, more 'ideal' shape? Are you surprised by the results of this study?
Labels: body image