What Does It Mean to Be ‘Beautiful?’

Hosted by Huffington Post
Vivian Diller, Ph.D.

Psychologist, author of “Face It,” speaker on issues about beauty and aging.

Is blonde and bubbly Jennifer Aniston your ideal of beauty? Or is it sultry Angelina Jolie, the woman Brad Pitt seems to favor? What about Serena Williams, America Ferrera or even Betty White?

According to CNN contributor, Alana Dawson, our beauty icons have become more diverse, a topic she wrote about after visiting the “Beauty CULTure” — an exhibit of more than 170 images by renowned photographers at the Annenberg Space in L.A. Aimed at getting people to question the influence of society on female beauty, the show left her asking, “What is Beauty and Who Has It?” She concluded that standards of attractiveness are rapidly changing — “from blonde to brunette, from fair skinned to deep.” Americans, she says, are ready to embrace beauty diversity.

Evidence for this trend was raised years ago, when Time magazine’s 1993 cover story featured a computer generated image that mixed several ethnicities which they declared was “The New Face of America.” Allure magazine offered support for this new trend when their 2011 Beauty Survey found “64 percent of all our respondents think women of mixed race represent the epitome of beauty.” Some respondents said they wanted darker skin, fuller lips and curvier bodies. According to Dawson, “that’s a far cry from 1991 when most Allure respondents chose blonde haired, blue-eyed Christie Brinkley as the ideal beauty. The all-American look today is much more of a hybrid.”

Having just viewed the Beauty CULTure exhibit myself, I left with a very different perspective — struck less by diversity and more by the ever-narrowing definition of beauty not just in America, but across the globe. I wondered if Dawson noticed how little variety actually graced the magazine covers posted all over the exhibit walls? In fact, when I looked up the recent history of American Vogue Covers , I saw that only 18 percent were non-white, and the average age was just 27, a similar ethnic and age imbalance on display at the Annenberg show.

I also looked more carefully at the actual survey conducted by Allure in 2011. It was designed to revisit the same question that they had asked their readers 20 years ago — “What is beautiful?” Among the two thousand men and women who responded, the majority said they were eager to see beauty icons who were more like them — of different color, race, size and age — a hopeful turn toward diversity. But upon a closer look, the survey reveals less “colorful ‘stats.

  • While 73 percent of women said that a curvier body type is more appealing than it had been in 1991, 85 percent still said they wish their own hips were narrower.
  • 93 percent of women said the pressure to look young today is greater than ever before.
  • In the 1991 beauty survey, men said women were at their most beautiful at age 31. In 2011, that ideal age had been reduced to 28.
  • 86 percent of men said that they wanted to weigh less as compared to 97 percent of women.
  • Women listed their top five appealing male attributes as a guy’s face, body type, smile, eyes and height (in that order). Men listed a women’s face, body type, breasts, smile and butt.

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