Wednesday, November 18, 2009

the media and me: a reflection on beauty as perceived by a magazine-maniac

In my COM 101 class today we discussed the topic of Sex in Advertising and Mass Media. We learned some of the tools that the advertising industry uses to sell their products and the conscious, and more disturbingly, the unconscious effect it has on us, especially on women and young girls. This topic affects me, being both a female and one interested in entering this fascinating yet dangerous field, and I'm struggling with my view on it.

I'm not a feminist. Let's just put that out there. But I'm not a bimbo either. I like to look nice for myself most of the time but also for others occasionally. I don't wear low-cut tops but I do wear short shorts and skirts. I work with what I got but in the most tasteful way that I know possible.

For some time now I have been wanting to work in the fashion biz. I have an obsessive guilty-pleasure for fashion mags, particularly NYLON magazine, which to me epitomizes the well-rounded indie kid, if such a thing exists. I'd like to say it's the creativity one can use in designing and constructing the images and layouts that fascinates and enthralls me, but of course that is just one aspect that draws me in.

I believe I see fashion magazines, and therefore the fashion marketing and advertising business, for what they are. They are trying to sell you their product by selling you an image. I sound like a broken record but what's true is true. For example, I'm not going to buy a pair of jeans unless they make me look good. How am I persuaded of this? Through an ad with a model who shows off those jeans to their full potential. On paper it seems point-blank, we want to have the glittery, glamorous life and if it means we have to have that pair of jeans to get it, well that's just an easy route to cool.

I'm not saying I'm not affected by these images, I am quite deeply impacted by the media. Since I was around the age of twelve I have been very attuned to the way females were projected on TV, at the movies, and in my magazines. As a young girl I saw other women on a parallel level to my own sexual development, an alternate universe of a shared experience. This awareness of your own sexuality is a right of passage, it's inevitable and important in maturing and developing into an adult. And even though it can be exciting, it is a major adjustment that often extends the time of puberty even into early adulthood.

I never wanted to be the blond bimbo, but just because I didn't want to look exactly like my copious collection of Barbie dolls did not mean that I didn't want to somewhat resemble that unattainable image of beauty.

There are several physical standards that I believe every average American woman, at some point, aspires to obtain or maintain. Thin figure, symmetrical face, proportional body, clear complexion, white smile, lustrous hair, and last but not least sparkling eyes that seem to penetrate the soul with a single glance. Well-dressed and friendly, approachable and dynamic, accepted and desired. I wanted, and still want, to be beautiful, a vision of health and vitality.

I sometimes think of myself, in an oxymoronic way, as a deeply superficial person. I go into phases where shopping is like eating, and I obsess over every detail of my look or my appearance. This is when my self-esteem is at it's lowest, and there is an insecurity that occurs that can almost be described as paranoia. Of course this is not always the case, but I'm sure that every girl has felt this heightened anxiety attached purely to her physical appearance.

What I've learned through the years since adolescence is that those physical qualities, that is what I've come to define as "pretty". Beauty is something entirely different. There is an X factor in beauty that is hard to place and to label. Regardless of our level of attractiveness, I believe we all have that "ingredient" in us that makes us beautiful. Sort of like Emeril's "BAM!". Alot of the time it is hard to pinpoint this in yourself, sometimes it takes others to enlighten us on our own beauty. I believe my beauty is in my creativity, or my ability to be emotionally descriptive, whether it be through my talent with visual art or with words. Come to think of it, I've made it a hobby of investigating my family, my friends, and other people I've encountered to find out what their beauty is.

I believe this idea of beauty is what will sustain me through the years as I (yikes) begin to age. And believe me, in this culture so focused on youth I am freaked out. I dread the day that I wake up and find that first gray hair or that line that wasn't there the night before. The irony is that this stress about aging is probably aging me. So perhaps peace is best.

Peace. So simple in theory yet so complex when it comes to being truly comfortable with yourself. The fact of the matter is that I never will be truly and completely comfortable with myself. Some women, I believe, can achieve this. They understand themselves and their identity without the need of the external world's approval. I unfortunately am not one of them. I oscillate back and forth between the feeling of self-acceptance and the need to improve myself. The best I can do, and what any girl who feels the way I do, is to reinforce myself and remind myself of my ingredient, and hopefully remember the beauty beyond the "pretty" surface.

Monday, November 16, 2009

maintaining ackwardly long periods of eye contact

We have acceptable periods of time with which we can maintain eye contact. This usually lasts two, three seconds tops. Any longer than that and it just gets creepy. But don't make a judgement too fast, first take a couple factors into concideration.

Eye contact is a funny thing. Some people make eye contact often, some avert their eyes and avoid it at all costs. It's the difference between a sweet Southern grandma on a porch sippin' her lemonade saying hey to all the neighbors and a corporate businessman concentrating on his sudoku on a New York City subway. It's not necessarily a question of friendliness but more so a culturally learned behavior.

Back to the concern about the ackward length of time. The problem is the two people keep staring at each other waiting for the other person to look away, but no one will because they don't want to seem rude.

There is always the possibility that the eye contact is prolonged for a meaningful purpose, as if the person is trying to deliver a nonverbal message of critical importance.

So if it is not based on regional behaviors, manners are not at play, and there is no reason to maintain eye contact, then we can confiedently say that there is some creepin' going on.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Urban Dictionary

I love words.

I specifically love big words. Words that you say and your friends look at you like "OK, why don't you just carry around a dictionary with you so other people can understand what the heck you are saying" (note: I used the word "heck instead of hell", you'll understand in a minute).

Despite the fact that I know many big, pretentious words (thanks to my seventh-grade English teacher and his 500 words vocabulary list), I, being the innocent ex-catholic school girl that I am, am less familiar with more modern slang. Yes, every once in awhile a cuss word will slip from my tongue, but the majority of the time I stick to boring, fairly mundane words.

This is where Urban Dictionary comes in handy. It's like Webster for immature college students. You can read and add words to it, and learn a lingo that might just make you cooler, or seem more like a jerk than you already might be. I used to be shocked by the obnoxiousness of the majority of the words, but read enough of them and it's like reading a Doctor Seuss novel that you've read so many times before, you become used to it and the bizarreness of the words are lost on you.

I even tried to make up my own word, "adorkable". I would defined it as this:

adorkable: (adj.) One who embodies both the qualities of being adorable and dorky.
Ex: Clark Kent, with his black-rimmed glasses and buff bod, is the ultimate model of the "adorkable" male.

Alas, I looked up this word on the site and it was already listed! I had never heard it used before and I was foolish enough to think that I could be creative enough to think of it first. I eventually got over this and moved on. But it remains on my bucket list to create an epic word or phrase to add to the multitude of slang.

Let's just say Urban Dictionary gave me an education that was lost by not going to real-world school, you know, the type that mix genders, people get away with smoking in the bathroom, and the regular fist fight or bitch slap. I may have missed out on the lingo that went along with this exotic world, but I'm making up for lost time thanks to the wonders of the internet.