The Dubious Power of Pretty

It seems like everywhere I look in the last week or so, I’ve seen more and more stuff about the power of being pretty.  We’d love to deny it.  We’d love to move past it.  But this video interview from Dustin Hoffman, which has gone super viral in the past two days, really brings it home.  In case you haven’t seen it, I’ve attached it here:

There is a lot to take in during this short video clip from Dustin Hoffman. I think many of us feel heartened that a man, any man, gets what it’s like to be ignored because you are not conventionally beautiful.  We are inspired by the fact that he has this epiphany and we are moved by the level to which he is moved.  But for the purposes of this post today, I’d like to concentrate on what Dustin Hoffman says he learned at an “early age” and how he said he was “brainwashed”.

Dustin Hoffman says that although he thought when he was dressed up as a woman for “Tootsie” he was an “interesting woman on screen” but he realized that if he met that character at a party he would have “never talked to that character because she doesn’t meet, physically, the demands that we’re brought up to think women have to have in order for us to ask them out.”  He later laments that, “There’s too many interesting women I have not had the experience to know in this life because I have been brainwashed.”

It’s really interesting to me the way Dustin Hoffman describes so succinctly one of the deep tragedies of living in a society absolutely obsessed with the way that women look. He quickly gets to the heart of how this obsession is a tragedy for all people–both those who are overlooked because they are not conventionally pretty and those who lose the experience of meeting some pretty amazing people–including potential business partners, close friends and even soul mates, because they are brainwashed by the dubious power of pretty.

And I’ve been thinking a lot this week about how this comes to be.  How and when does this brainwashing start?  And in one of those not at all rare cases of serendipity, I’ve also run across a lot of stuff about how girls are socialized at a very early age to understand the dubious power of pretty.

One of these things is of course, Barbie (R).  Much has been written about the impossible dimensions of the  body of Barbie.  We know that in real life, Barbie could barely stand up, would most likely not have a menstrual cycle or be able to produce babies and despite having the outfits for being everything from a doctor to an astronaut would probably find real life pretty taxing for her impossibly willowy and busty body.

Just last week, artist Nickolay Lamm posted some pictures of what Barbie might look like were her proportions more similar to the average woman.  These pictures are a continuation of a larger project/study in which the artist compares the measurements of Barbie with that of average women. The pictures are striking.  And they really make you think about the aspirations and goals we are giving to our young girls.

Now, unless you want to read a whole lot of nonsense from unenlightened, chest beating, non-Dustin Hoffman-like males, I recommend that you save your sanity points and skip the comments.  But in a way, the comments on this post are deeply instructive.  Despite the fact that there are links to research about how Barbie’s image can lead to unhealthy behavior and thought patterns in little girls and young women right in the post, and the fact that these studies are in no way obscured within the post, the comments are full of men commenting about how Barbie is just fine, how stupid feminists are, and whether or not they would “do” either the traditional barbie or the doll modified to look more like real life.  There’s also a fair amount of moralizing about the “obesity epidemic” and a few women who claim to look like the traditional Barbie and don’t see what the problem is.  See?  See how many sanity points I saved you by parsing the comments on your behalf?

So is Barbie(R) part of the brainwashing that Dustin Hoffman was talking about?

And what about the princesses?  There has been a lot written over the years about the influence “princess culture” has on our young girls.  I was super excited to see this video from the folks at GoldieBlox, a small company funded by a Kickstarter campaign which is creating toys encouraging girls to learn engineering skills:

So what is the answer?  We can’t keep our kids in a bubble and keep them from all the toys and media and images in the dominant culture.  But perhaps we can strive to ensure they also have access to toys that encourage them to learn math and science and engineering.  Perhaps we can help boys understand that not all girls look like Barbie and that confining their attention to a very narrow view of acceptable appearance is going to mean that like Dustin Hoffman, they will miss out on meeting many amazing and extraordinary women.  And maybe like this incredibly talented poetry slam champion, we can fight–fight for our children to understand that they are so much more than pretty (NSFW):

As always, I’d LOVE to hear your thoughts and experiences!  Record in the comments below.  And remember, if you liked the post, please share it with your friends.  Clicking is caring!

Love,

The Fat Chick

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9 thoughts on “The Dubious Power of Pretty

  1. Maggie DeFilippis

    I really liked this post and found Katie’s video fascinating! I liked your take on it and your way of summing it all up. I appreciated Dustin Hoffman’s words, but find them a little self-serving without any connection to how he has since reacted to that experience many years ago – like, since then has he tried to take less of an appearance based approach to people? I began to skeptically wonder if he wants some work from the strong female directors gaining momentum in Hollywood. My Jim said, “.. well what he is supposed to say, that he has since made friends with many unattractive people – ” which many certainly effect his current friendships. Also, I think a lot of the problem is that we women are often the guiltiest offenders of this syndrome of appearance based judgement of men and women. I have one friend who is glamorous and thin who has 4 sisters in law and she is very uncomfortable with them. She says the only weapon she has to use against them when they are judgmental of her is her “power of thinness” as she is slender and they are not. She has them over and serves them delicious calorie laden foods that she herself would never eat so she can keep her power. She says – I know its wrong but they are not nice to me and its all I have got. I guess I feel it is incumbent upon all of us to find the beauty in others.

    Reply
    1. fatchicksings Post author

      Hi Maggie,

      Yup, good points all. I really yearn for a day where we don’t have to have winners and losers. Where we can celebrate and enjoy each other’s triumphs. It’s sad that your friend feels that she needs to use food as a weapon. Food can be such a wonderful way to nurture one another. But in the world as it currently stands, many of us feel compelled to use whatever “weapons” come to hand. But there is joy in finding the beauty in others. And I find the more practiced I am at seeing in others, the better I am at seeing it in myself.

      oxoxoxo
      TFC

      Reply

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