Notes on Beauty

When I was nine years old, I secretly dreamed of becoming a model.

I still wanted to be a writer, of course, but hey, a girl can dream, right? My family doctor had told my parents that because of their heights (my mom is 5’6” and my dad is 6’1”), my twin brother and I were likely to grow like bean sprouts to over 6 feet. I liked being tall for my age. Being my nine-year-old-self, I thought my potential height would be the key to becoming a model. (Also being young and naïve, I succumbed to society’s spoon-fed diet of telling girls that beauty is limited to certain numerical requirements. Thanks, society.)

I also liked the way models looked so serious as they strutted down the runway. (I distinctly remember practicing my walk down the length of my walk-in closet while trying to make my non-existent hips sway with every step. Embarrassing.) Models also got to wear the coolest clothes in photo shoots. And jet-set across the world to Paris, Milan, New York and back again.

But alas, nature foiled my plans as I stopped growing at 5’8”—close, but not quite—and realized that I tend to stumble over my own feet. I wouldn’t want to trip and fall into a crowd of famous celebrities and designers with cameras flashing in my face.

My dreams did come part-way true last week when I had the opportunity to take part in a photo shoot photographed by a friend with whom I grew up. It was nothing fancy—I wore a bright red sweater, dark jeans, and my trusty black Payless zip-up boots. We trekked to an abandoned farmhouse with a barn at its side and sunlight everywhere. While I have to admit I was somewhat nervous and had no idea what I was doing while posing with my hands on my thighs (who knew modeling could be such a work-out? It felt like I was doing a long feel-the-burn wall-sit) and stepping on random benches and hugging trees, I am proud to say that some of the photographs actually turned out really well. (Many thanks to my photographer, Erika Smeltz!) It wasn’t just the sunlight—it was the confidence I had in myself to throw back my shoulders and smile at the camera.

As I write this, I have not seen the updated prints. Erika said that she would enhance the lighting and some other minor things—and that’s it. This made me think about a national—and very unfortunate—recent trend in the magazine industry, and its awful name is Airbrushing.

Many magazines are guilty of airbrushing. Here is how it works: Take a photograph of a celebrity that reveals all of who she is—while she is truly gorgeous, she also has some wrinkles under her eyes, and her figure leans toward voluptuous. Now, take this photograph and run it through a Photoshop program. Smooth away those wrinkles. Lighten her skin. Take away snippets of her hips here. A removal of her waistline there. And before you know it, she looks glossy, frozen, and somewhat fake. Slap the picture onto the cover of a nationally distributed magazine, send them to readers worldwide, and that’s a wrap.

The blog Jezebel first introduced me to this concept a few years ago. The writers for this blog are livid about airbrushing, and so am I. So many women pass by magazine racks on their way out from the grocery store or take them out of their mailboxes and aspire to attain bodies just like those of the women on the covers. Little do they know that these women (and men, too!) cannot even live up to the expectations of the magazine industry in their purest form.

Society’s standard of “beautiful perfection” is so unattainable that human bodies are chopped up and reformatted to the point of no return. They no longer stay true to themselves, and unfortunately they don’t have a say, either.

Well, I would like to say this—true beauty is not found on the pages of magazines. Forget lipstick and sticky hairspray. True beauty is the confidence that people can find within themselves. I saw that on a sunny day last week. Dig deeper—it’s there.

Amanda also blogs at the Beauty Notebook

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Amanda K
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