Imagine this. You and your friend are given some money to buy some nail polish. However, you both have to agree on one color. You see a shiny black, but your friend insists on fluorescent orange. You both argue over which color is better, but neither of you can agree on one color because you both believe that your choice is best. This is a perfect example of beauty being in the eye of the beholder.
I believe that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I was always a relatively open-minded person, thanks to the guidance of my parents and their words of wisdom about how everybody is unique. However, I didn’t think about it that much until the day I discovered a video on YouTube that helped to embed this belief in my brain forever.
It was a sunny afternoon on June 30, 2014. I was stretched out like a lazy cat on my bed, scrolling through suggested videos from BuzzFeed. I had seen almost every video until I scrolled up one more. There it was, the video that would change my perception of the world forever: “Beauty Standards around the World.” This particular video caught my eye because, being a teenage girl, of course beauty would intrigue me. I eagerly touched the cold, shiny screen and waited for the video to play. The video had an unusual and exciting premise. A woman sent an unaltered photo of herself to Photoshop experts around the world with the instructions, “Make me beautiful.” The next part of the video blew my mind. The pictures that were sent back to her varied so much in so many ways. Some Photoshop experts had darkened her skin, changed her eye color, even changed her clothing! When the video ended I was dumbfounded. Never before had I seen so many different opinions! Even in the comments people were giving their feedback on what they considered beautiful and what they didn’t. This video gave me a sense that I had been enlightened. It hit me like a bolt of lightning. Stunned, I realized that arguments over beauty are pointless! Because there are so many different ideas of what is beautiful, insulting another country’s or person’s idea of beauty is childish. In the end, beauty comes down to individual and cultural taste. I’m glad that after seeing that video, I have a better understanding of what “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” means.
Another incident, much earlier, started my belief that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It was a cold and cloudy day in November 2008. Brooke, my teacher, stood tall and graceful like a queen at the head of my third-grade classroom. Brooke informed us that the Fall Fair was coming up in a couple of weeks and our class was entering the scarecrow competition. At my school, Creative Arts Charter School, the scarecrow competition was a competition where each class had to build a scarecrow from scratch and attempt to win first place. Brooke asked who wanted to work on the scarecrow and my hand immediately shot up, as did many of my peers’. We got started immediately. I had a vivid image of the scarecrow in my mind. It had overall jeans, a plaid shirt, a straw hat, and a pitchfork. I thought it was perfect and an ideal scarecrow. However, before I could even open my mouth to pitch my idea to my classmates, a dozen other voices cut me off. “ I want to make the scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz!” “I want to make a zombie scarecrow!” Voices were coming in from all sides. Then the shouts changed from ideas for a scarecrow to accusations of how stupid the other ideas were. “No! That’s a stupid idea!” “Our scarecrow will be a joke if we do that!” The chaos continued, and I soon found myself joining in. I remember standing up and shouting, “All of these ideas will make our project look nothing like a scarecrow! We should use my idea!” My classmates looked at me for a couple of seconds and then continued to fight. The rest of the day flew by, and we got nothing done.
I walked home that foggy day with a scowl on my face. I kept thinking that if the class had just used my idea, we would have had a perfect and beautiful scarecrow that was sure to win the first place ribbon. I brooded over this thought for quite a while, until I had a grand revelation: Why do we have to have a perfect scarecrow? Being only eight years of age, this idea blew my mind. New ideas and plans for the scarecrow flooded my brain. I couldn’t wait to share them with my peers the next day. I was the first person at my table, ready to discuss the plans for our scarecrow. This day started out the same as the previous one. My classmates argued and yelled about whose idea we should use. However, this time I was prepared. After I finally got the group quiet, I shared my idea that we would all use a small part of our own ideas to put on the scarecrow. It took a while, but my classmates warmed up to the idea and eventually loved it.
We got started on the scarecrow. I brought in a pair of old jeans, the person who wanted to make a snowman scarecrow brought in cotton balls to add a snowy effect, and the person who wanted to make a scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz brought a straw hat. Many other people brought bits and pieces of clothing and inanimate objects that embodied their vision for our class scarecrow. When we finally finished, our scarecrow looked amazing. It had claws, a zombie face, snowy feet, jeans, a straw hat, and sparkly shoes. Even though it did have a bunch of completely unrelated objects and clothing placed on it, we were proud of our work. Everybody loved it, and apparently the judges did too. We won first for creativity and received much praise for our interesting idea. This experience taught me that everybody has their own idea of perfection or what we call “ideal.” Every one of my classmates had a different opinion on how we should portray our scarecrow, and every single one of them thought that theirs was the best. But I think we all learned that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, because we all learned to respect each other’s opinion.
One person who respects and shares my belief is my mother, Mina Laing. As a young adult, she worked in the fashion industry and witnessed many incidents where girls who were not skeletons or who did not have flawless skin were turned down as models in a horrific manner. In fact, she told me that one of her dear friends often worked as a model. However, she struggled with her weight and constant acne breakouts. One time when my mother accompanied her friend to a photoshoot, the woman in charge came up to my mother’s friend and screamed, “Oh my God, look at you! You are hideous! Lose all of that weight and get rid of that acne if you ever want to model for us again!” My mom told me that her friend cried for days. Just because my mother’s friend didn’t fit into the woman’s idea of beauty, she was shunned. This experience led my mom to teach my sister and me that we should not worry about our weights and that we are beautiful just the way we are. These are words of wisdom that I keep with me even today. This shows that this belief could be a key in fixing many problems our society faces. For example, if people struggling with body image and fashion designers alike could understand this belief, we could fix and prevent so many issues many girls and boys face today.
The fashion industry is a cruel world. Everybody is striving to create a perfect image to sell their brand or what they consider to be beautiful. The CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch is a prime example of how when people don’t respect other people’s ideas of beauty, or any idea other than their own, disaster strikes. In an interview with Salon magazine, the popular clothing store Abercrombie and Fitch’s CEO, Mike Jeffries, stated, “We hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that.” This single statement caused outrage from many different teens, their parents, and the media. Abercrombie and Fitch is known for having gorgeous but provocative models who wear very little clothing. By saying that Abercrombie and Fitch only hires good looking people to work for them because they want to market to good-looking or “beautiful” people, they are saying that anyone that does not look like their employees or models should not be considered beautiful or even be able to wear the same clothing as “beautiful” people. By saying this, Mike Jeffries is implying that “ugly” people should be treated as lower-class citizens.
Even though many people, especially media and the fashion industry in our day and age, are very intolerant of different body types and beauty, something is being done about it. Slowly but surely, things are changing. For example, the theme of big and curvy girls being beautiful is prominent in many forms of media, such as the song “All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor. Many lyrics in this song argue that bigger girls and girls with curves are beautiful. The line “Yeah, it’s pretty clear, I ain’t no size 2, but I can shake it, shake it, like I’m supposed to do,” perfectly describes this point. It also shows that our society is realizing that there is a problem with only appealing to one idea of beauty or only having one idea of beauty. In addition to this, plus-size models are all pioneers in having more than one idea of beauty portrayed in media. Lane Bryant first began selling clothing under the category “For the Stout Woman” in the 1920s. In the 1950s, the store actually put plus-size models into her cataloges! This made Lane Bryant one of the earliest pioneers of adding a more varied image of beauty in media and fashion. The fashion industry is still evolving! MiLK modeling agency recently signed the biggest plus-size model in history. At five foot five and a size twenty-two, Tess Holliday, also known as Tess Munster, is opening new doors for models.
This belief is so important in so many ways. If everybody believed this, many problems people in our society face could be solved! Self-esteem and body-image issues could be prevented or have new ways of being dealt with. Personally, if I saw more diverse models and actresses in media I would worry a lot less about how much food I consume on Thanksgiving, or how much exercise I would have to perform to work off that cheeseburger I just ate. The reality is, if everybody understood that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, everybody would be a lot happier. Back to the nail polish incident: you and your friend should respect each other’s opinions because beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Sian Adelina Laing was born in San Francisco and has lived there her whole life. She is fourteen years old and has a little sister who is ten. Sian likes roller coasters and heights because she loves the feeling of flying. She likes the saying, “Whatever floats your boat” and tries to live by this ideal. Sian enjoys gymnastics and hanging out with her friends.