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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Beauty without cruelty – for humans

    Something amazing happened in Madrid recently. It was a small thing, but it was unprecedented. At Madrid’s Fashion Week this year, unhealthily thin models were banned.

    And it’s about time.

    What has happened to us, that we need to be told not to idealize women whose bodies are so skinny it’s sick? Thirty percent of the models who worked in the previous year’s fashion week were told they were too thin to participate in this one. The cutoff was a body mass index, or BMI, of 18.

    To put that in perspective, a BMI between 18.5 and 25 is considered healthy. The average adult woman in the United States has a BMI of 26.5.

    With a body mass index below 18, those models were really thin. They were weakened and dehydrated; their bones were becoming brittle; their heart muscle was being stripped away.

    Most thought-provoking of all, scientists say that men find women most attractive with a BMI between 20 and 21. Really, we don’t find skinniness beautiful. Society tells us that we do. So, although it’s become natural to associate thinness with beauty, it’s time we remembered that this perception of emaciation as attractive is arbitrary, not absolute.

    Of course, perceptions of beauty have always been that way. In every age gone past, there have been bizarre cultural ideals that were equally pervasive – and equally damaging.

    Women have slathered corrosive lead-based makeup on their faces, dropped poisons into their eyes to make them sparkle and worn corsets that squashed their torsos and impaired their breathing. Their feet have been agonizingly broken and rendered useless. They have plucked out their eyelashes and shaved back their hairlines. All of these things have been done in the name of beauty. They seem by turns silly, grotesque and sad – as will the current fad of gross undernourishment to future generations.

    In fact, this association between beauty and pain has been going on for far too long. It’s time we stopped injuring ourselves to conform to a random standard. More importantly, beauty should never be something we suffer for. Women should never have to deny their bodies’ basic needs in order to – supposedly – look good. Can beauty that’s earned with pain ever really be beautiful?

    Sadly, some people still seem to think so and think that starving oneself is a good and attractive thing. Other countries’ Fashion Weeks and their designers are putting up a fight against the spread of the Madrid weight rules.

    Designers complained their clothes wouldn’t look right on normal-sized models. The head of a Milan modeling agency protested that 80 percent of his models would not be allowed to work.

    Perhaps these detractors will succeed in keeping Madrid Fashion Week’s ban the only one of its kind.

    However, like the child who yelled out, “”The emperor’s got no clothes on!”” the Milan organizers who orchestrated the ban have changed things forever. They have been the first to yell out the truth: Emaciation is not beautiful. Sickness is not beautiful.

    This first move was the most important one; the way is now ready for the West to reject malnourishment as an ideal of beauty – and, indeed, all ideals of beauty that have necessitated the maxim “”no pain, no gain.””

    The beauty of beauty is that it is interpretative. Whatever you look like, there will be someone in the world who finds that beautiful. This is yet another reason why our set idea of beauty as skinniness is sad. Yet when that beauty-as-emaciation ideal crumbles, will there be any constants of beauty left at all?

    There is one: a perpetual and unbreakable link between beauty and happiness.

    But we’ve currently got the relationship between the two mixed up. Being beautiful won’t make you happy. Think of Marilyn Monroe or Princess Diana.

    Happiness does create its own beauty, however.

    If stress and anxiety cause skin problems, hair loss, the eye bags of insomnia and weight gain, then being happy will certainly get you on your way to being beautiful.

    Less trivially, though, there’s really enough misery in the world without anyone adding to it in the name of beauty.

    If we stopped suffering in the name of looking good, how much happier the world would be – and how much more truly beautiful.

    Lillie Kilburn is a sophomore majoring in psychology. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu

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