America The Beautiful? What Does Beauty Mean To You?

By guest blogger, Anne Houseman of Beauty Xpose

The other day, I turned to my good friend and said, “You know, I’m seriously thinking about getting Botox.” I was fairly serious. I am also 30.

After that fleeting moment of insecurity, however, I decided that just because I am starting to see real signs of aging doesn’t necessarily mean I need to instantly go shoot a toxic paralytic substance in my forehead. It also doesn’t mean I should be running out and trying every anti-aging cream possible (though I do this anyways for you readers). But more importantly, it does not mean I’m not beautiful.

So why is it that in today’s society, the word “beauty” only describes one’s external appearance? Why is it that middle school girls and 30+ women alike feel pressured to buy firming creams, anti-wrinkle serums and “age-defying” makeup…or makeup at all? Why do so many feel ugly if they don’t? Or worse — even if they do?

That’s exactly what the documentary “America the Beautiful,” (the collector’s edition is now available on DVD), aims to find out.

Directed by Darryl Roberts, who admits to losing the love of his life because he thought there might be someone more attractive waiting around the corner, the film depicts the ugly reality about beauty in modern American culture. While women and girls of all ages strive for ultimate “perfection,” the reality is that today’s ideal of beauty is unattainable for pretty much everyone — even celebrities and models, whose images have been heavily photoshopped in the ads we see every day.

Filmmaker Darryl Roberts and Gerren Taylor

Filmmaker Darryl Roberts and Gerren Taylor

Roberts underscores his point by chronicling the trials of a young, aspiring model, Gerren Taylor, who quickly shot to fame as a coveted Fashion Week runway model for Marc Jacobs and Tommy Hilfiger, no doubt due to her smooth chocolate complexion, mile-long limbs, seductive stare and her confident stride on the catwalk. The thing was — Gerren was 12 years old. Alas, as she grew older (15!), the fickle fashion industry spit out Gerren as quickly as it had embraced her, and she begins to see herself as ugly and obese.

The film addresses that the motivation from the fashion and beauty industries isn’t necessarily about being cruel. It isn’t about making people feel ugly on purpose — that’s just an unfortunate little side effect. What it’s really all about is making a buck. ”America the Beautiful” postulates that as long as people feel they need to look just like an airbrushed model in order to be considered a beautiful person, they will keep buying the products the ads tout, and the beauty brands will keep producing them. Rinse and repeat.

While the film certainly resonates with any viewer — male or female — it does not suggest that we all run out and stop wearing makeup and the latest fashions. What it does do is put our laser-focused definition of beauty under the microscope. It allows us to see the inner workings of what goes on behind the scenes — what motivates our purchase decisions and feelings about our own beauty — so that we can reexamine these views and decide for ourselves what we choose to define as beautiful.

As a five-foot-tall-on-a-good-day “curvy” woman, I’ve always known that modeling wasn’t in my future. Did it bother me as a child and a teenager? Sure. A lot. But now, as an adult, I turn to makeup and fashion as a fun, artistic outlet — one that lets me experiment with different looks and retain that whimsical feeling I had as a child playing “dress up.” But I can also see beyond the pretty paint and glitz and appreciate the beauty of the fine lines around an old woman’s eyes created after years upon years of happy memories.

Obviously, I still have my moments (though I’m glad I didn’t impulsively run to get Botox). But perhaps if I had seen “America the Beautiful” as a teenager, I’d have arrived to this place of moderate self-acceptance much sooner. Now, please excuse me while I go whiten my teeth.

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