Warped Ideals of Beauty Portrayed by Mainstream Media

Through my love for storytelling in films, some time ago I wrote an analysis on an old blog of mine contrasting two of my favourite movies against each other after having watched them concurrently on a rainy weekend. I did this as an illustrative exercise in the context of showing the importance of making smart life choices. I evaluated The Great Gatsby starring Leonardo DiCaprio as J.Gatsby and A Beautiful Mind starring Russell Crowe as John Nash.

In the analysis, I unpacked the narrative of each plot, of which both of them tell the story of leading protagonists of grand stature, however each of their ends are starkly different. One is of triumph through delayed gratification and the other is of tragedy through falling in love with an idea. A significant attributing factor to this are the roles of the leading ladies in each of the respective men’s lives.

  • Exhibit A: The Great Gatsby
Shallow beauty

Synopsis: Gatsby, a dashing gent who works hard for all of his extravagant accomplishments, is infatuated by the idea of Daisy, portrayed by Carey Mulligan. He would go to the ends of the earth to please her (and indeed does so through his resourcefulness) and endures many sacrifices and opportunity costs at his own expense in pursuit of this ideal that he obsesses over in order to attain his own atonement. Yes, Daisy is gorgeous (by the standards of beauty during the roaring twenties, but also applicable by principle to modern times for the sake of this argument). She is a showstopper, a fairy that radiates regal attractiveness. But in truth, she’s not much else beyond that though. She’s privileged, she’s entitled, she’s fickle, and she’s indecisive. She chooses Gatsby only when it is suitable for her own convenience. Gatsby prematurely dies alone, even though he did so in trying to save her. She then goes back to Tom and she doesn’t even attend Gatsby’s funeral.

  • Exhibit B: A Beautiful Mind
Real beauty

Synopsis: From the traditional standards of physical attraction, John has somewhat of a slight handicap or is an Average Joe at best. But he is as bright as a solar eclipse intellectually, and that is a sapiosexual’s jackpot right there. He falls for Alicia Larde, portrayed by Jennifer Connelly, who is curiously intrigued by his unconventional allure. She is coy and quaintly beautiful, but not in an ostentatious kind of way. She is charmingly witty, she is grounded and composed, and she is devoted beyond expectation even when the situation more than warranted for her to leave. There is no doubt that John punched above his weight here, but he genuinely wins her over through his knowledgeable zeal and the offbeat connection that they share. When he gets ill as a tortured genius in his episodes of mental distress, she goes through the trauma of trying to keep things stable — of which a lesser woman would have packed up and left. But she sticks by his side regardless, determined to help him fight back to the caliber of man she fell in love with to be the best version of himself. They grow old together and when he ultimately wins the Nobel Prize, he dedicates it entirely to her upon his acceptance speech because she was his rock through thick and thin.

  • Conclusion: Choose wisely… Put a higher premium on inner beauty than outer beauty. It’s usually the kind that lasts.

Ideals of beauty in mainstream media do very little to advocate this notion, because sex, and shallow ideals of beauty, sells. And so long as the profit-driven white-collared key decision makers in the corner offices of clients, media owners, brands, agencies, production houses, and other socio-cultural stakeholders behind the curtain dictate this, so it shall be. Laws of attraction are still laws of attraction, that is innately written in nature and so is the process of natural selection. With all of this it puts into the spotlight the changing ways we see gender roles, sexual identity, ethnicity, patriarchy, and monogamy, relative to what is considered to be beauty (over time).

As a heterosexual man, I speak from experience when I say that each stage of life has different ways in which beauty is interpreted and how it is projected onto prospective suitors. The advancement of technology in conjunction with the hook-up culture has turned this into a complete dog-show, with the instantaneousness of snap judgements of beauty ideals made within split seconds — as quickly as swiping left or right through a menu of people on Tinder as if they were food at a restaurant — but that is a whole other debate. Author and critical thinker, Mark Manson, penned a popular piece of life wisdom called The Four Stages of Life that I will reference for the purposes of trying to illustrate how beauty ideals change over time, by using the same names that he called for each stage of life.

  1. Mimicry

Here in the adolescence of post-puberty through the teenage youth of becoming sexually inquisitive but very sexually naive, the ideal of beauty isn’t so much sexualized as it is romanticized in the sense of experiencing young ‘love’ based on the fairytales that mainstream media sells us (however unrealistic they are in practicality). It’s meaningful at that point as it sets the precedent of expectation of what ideal beauty and ‘love’ ought to be. The inevitability of a first heartbreak alters this perspective and resultantly, cynicism sets in as we become more guarded and our ideals shift, consciously or not. Which leads to…

2. Self-Discovery

Here in young adulthood the objectification of both men and women is most rife because sexual freedom is exercised more liberally and it is also biologically one’s physical peak, which is the Everest of society’s beauty ideals. It is perhaps the most promiscuous stage of life (although there are some cougars who would have a thing or two to say about that). This is the stage whereby someone is deemed to be ‘hot’ based purely on the aesthetic sculpture of their torso. Many sexual conquests and many failed would-be relationships later, the realization eventually sinks in that skin deep attraction alone is not sustainable. Which leads to…

3. Commitment

This is the seeking of life-partnership. The qualities deemed desirable in terms of beauty ideals here are more intrinsic than extrinsic because you won’t be able to motorboat your way out of a fundamental clash of values and beliefs... You can’t post a #couplegoals selfie of you holding your significant other’s hair back while she vomits in the toilet when she’s sick… You can’t six pack your way through dealing with the grief of losing a parent or loved one when you’re in need of support… You can’t ‘on fleek’ or ‘swag’ your way through the sleepless nights of anxiety that you’ll endure your partner to when management announces that they’ll be ‘re-evaluating efficiencies’ as a result of a loss of revenue and the prospect of retrenchment is a looming possibility... You can’t Snapchat filter your way to making a deliciously scrumptious home-cooked meal from the heart when your in-laws come over to visit… You can’t blue-steel jawline your way through the monumental task of raising skilled, well-adjusted, independent-thinking, strong-willed children of character… BECAUSE THIS IS WHEN SHIT GETS REAL. This is when you need someone of substance beside you, and what they look like becomes of very little importance in comparison to what they make you feel like in helping each other grow.

4. Legacy

I’ve yet to reach this twilight stage (or even begun planning for it) so I can’t speak from firsthand experience as to what the ideals of beauty would be like.

Don’t get me wrong, as a warm-blooded male I love all things sexy (as evidenced by a previous post I wrote on this page recently), but here’s the kicker, the nature of what constitutes that sexiness has shifted within me and here’s how:

  • I love a real woman. I love a full-figured and full-bosomed woman. Those Coke-bottle curves has the biology in me to believe that you’ll be a good child bearer one day soon. It also means that the necessity of extra pillows in winter is null and void. Welcome to cuddle HQ.
  • I love a strong woman, driven by a sense of purpose and stands for something deeper than the shade of her mascara.
  • I love a funny woman, one who can make me laugh and bring out the child in me. And with that I’ll reciprocate it with imaginative spontaneity showered upon you at random when you least expect it.
  • I love a woman who can inspire me in my creative process, by being my muse in opening my trains of thought to new possibilities and things that I don’t always see clearly.
  • I love a woman who is passionate, possessing the kind of energy that is wildly unleashed in the bedroom, but is channeled constructively to the things that she loves the most in the boardroom.
  • I love a woman who is active, with a sense of adventure to explore and try new things beyond just the mundane hike and yoga class. Let’s go jump out of a plane in the sky for crying out loud!
  • I love a woman who is a foodie, one who is conscious of her nutrition but won’t mind knocking back a beer and a burger with me on game day.
  • I love a woman who is independent and can appreciate my occasional need for isolation to be with my thoughts. One who acknowledges that I am me and you are you, but when we are ‘we’ we’re so much more than two.
  • I love a woman who is secure in herself and the person that she is. The kind that doesn’t constantly seek validation from others to the point of self-compromise but is gracious in knowing her worth.
  • I love a woman who is well-read and knowledgeable. One who has an opinion, in order to have richly stimulating wine-induced conversations over the fireplace, rigorous current affairs debates and challenges me intellectually.
  • I love a woman who is caring and empathetic. A nurturer who is spiritually attuned and displays her compassionate nature through how she treats others and all the things that are interconnected with us on this planet.
  • Above all, I love a woman who is honest. One who embodies her truth and is consistent in everything she says and does as a symbol of her loyalty.

To me, all of these qualities listed above are beautiful, and hardly any of them have anything to do with looks.