All posts by valentinabojanini

Success and beauty work

Throwback to week 2, when I couldn’t publish this on the blog!

A google search of Hilary Clinton will provide many articles regarding her potential 2016 presidential campaign, but inevitably it will also produce articles regarding her age,  notably her wardrobe choices.  In 2010, Hillary Clinton responded to a question about her favorite clothing designers in a radio interview with “Would you ever ask a man that question?’. The interviewer admitted that indeed he probably wouldn’t. It begs asking, why is Hillary Clinton’s beauty and style part of the discussion? Joe Biden or Mitt Romney would never be asked a question like that, or have their personal appearance become part of a larger political discussion. In this week’s readings we see how beauty and a woman’s success has been linked in through advertisements. In “Narcissism as Liberation”, Susan  Douglas highlights the ways in which a woman’s beauty is used as the true measure of success.  Douglas mentions an advertisement for Hanes, the advertisements were part of a series called “Reflections On…” She says “In one ad, the admiring male voice said,’She messes up the punchline of every joke; can tell a Burgundy from a Bordeaux; and her legs… Oh yes Joanna’s legs.’” In another ad, the woman, ‘Emily’ can recite Hemingway, and imitate Groucho Marx, but her legs are out of this world. If we look at this advertisement we see a perfect example of a pattern constantly repeated. These women’s intellectual accomplishments are nothing in comparison to their physical beauty. It is their legs that are the subject of admiration, not their minds.  While the  advertisement is supposedly intended to play into the feminist ideals of the 1980s the message is altogether different.  What is valued is not in a woman’s intelligence, humor, love of Hemingway,  knowledge of wines, it is their beauty.  The message is clear — intelligence and personal accomplishments are important, but beauty is much more significant. If we think of the ways in which a man’s success is measured their jaw line or choice of suit is rarely seen as significant.   So this takes us back to Clinton. By all measures she is an intelligent, successful, and educated woman, yet that is not enough. For her to be truly successful she must also be beautiful and stylish. Her undying love of colorful pant suits is made fun of incessantly. Even her age is seen as a weakness.  Her decision to wear glasses during a hearing on Benghazi made headlines and eventually lead some news outlets to report that Clinton was too old and question her ability to be president in the future. This would never happen with a man. While for men with age comes power, for women, being perceived as old is a character flaw, enough of a flaw to not to be a presidential candidate. What we gather from all of this is that the only way a woman can be perceived as equal to a man in success is by also achieving the impossible, being beautiful.

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A Colombian Perspective


This week’s readings reminded me of the reason I wanted to take this class— I wanted to explore how different cultures view beauty. I grew up in Medellin, Colombia,  a place where you don’t leave the house unless you look your best. when I moved to the United States, I started living on a small island off the coast of Seattle, Vashon. It was basically filled with hippies and people much more interested in farming that beauty work.  On Vashon Island, people were completely against anything that seemed unnatural, plastic surgery included. I rarely saw anyone who had work done, and they certainly didn’t talk about it. So when I went back to Colombia the summer after moving to the states, realized the huge cultural difference between where I was from and where I grew up. One day, while I was  a taxi cab to get my nails done with my mom (classic Colombia) , the radio started talking about a new contest. They were giving away free breast implant surgeries as though they were concert tickets. It was sponsored by a “famous” plastic surgeon in Colombia. This would never happen in the States, for obvious reasons. But in Colombia plastic surgery and breast implants in particular, are hugely popular. Like in the discussed in the Alexander Edmonds piece, “Beauty, Sex and Plastic Surgery”, The discourse of self-esteem is used to justify the beauty practices Americans think are crazy.  In Colombia women without breast implants are essentially a minority. Had I lived my entire high school life in Colombia, I would have probably seen a lot of my friends get implants for graduation, or some other big occasion.  I didn’t find this reading particularly shocking because everyone from business women to maids have access to some form of plastic surgery in Colombia, and the practice itself is not frowned upon.Alexander discusses an advertisement that says “raise your breasts, raise your self esteem”,  in Colombia the discourse of plastic surgery is more easily summarized by “raise your breasts, raise your social class.”  Edmonds discusses the idea that “improving the body and rejuvenating the face, it’s known, helps maintain self-esteem, with consequences for personal and professional life” (30). In the United States plastic surgery has a stigma, but we still see attractive people have more opportunities in terms of the job market and the way that they interact with society. In Colombia, the way that plastic surgery can alter a person’s daily life is accepted,  it becomes a way for people to change their circumstances.  Perhaps this latin hence is a more effective way of looking at beauty culture and plastic surgery. Instead of judging the person who got the procedure, the society that makes beauty an advantage is more readily accessible for critique.