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Beauty: A Double Definition, Essay Example

Pages: 4

Words: 1145

Essay

Just as every abstract idea is difficult to define, “beauty” has a definition that seems to change based on the context.  The green grass is beautiful, the ocean is beautiful, a smiling, elderly couple sitting at a corner booth with their hands clasped between each others’ is beautiful.  When it comes to outer beauty, specifically as it relates to women, however, the definition becomes far more defined.  There is a generally unspoken list of prerequisites that must be achieved before any woman in the Western world can be considered beautiful, and if that list is not met—it is a very demanding list, of course—that woman might be considered an outcast.  The “norm” is a heavy burden, and for those that do not fit in the category, it is a curse.  There is, however, another definition of beauty that is largely underrated and ignored in culture because it oftentimes goes against what is so ingrained in us from early on: the idea that beauty has a personal definition, not only a general, societal one.  Each woman has a different definition of beauty, and each woman finds different things worth labeling with the word; those things may contrast with what society calls ‘beautiful,’ but that does not mean a woman is wrong.  This idea of double definitions, of ‘beauty’ being both societal and personal, is especially evident in the works of Alice Walker, Lucy Grealy, and Fatema Mernissi.  Each woman paints a picture of what society’s idea of beauty is, how it affected them as young women and as adults, and how that definition helped them to shape their own, independent definition of beauty.

Annie Walker begins her autobiographical piece speaking of her struggles growing up after an accident with a BB gun left her blind in one eye with scar tissue (which she defined as “a hideous cataract”) atop her eye (Walker 44).  From the beginning of her piece it is evident that she places heavy emphasis on what others think of her because those outside opinions were what she used to evaluate herself.  For example, an Easter performance at church had many people telling her that she was “cute,” that she had “so much sense,” even as a young girl (41).  Immediately after the accident, however, Walker’s feelings toward herself shift even more than her actual physical appearance does, and for six years she “[does] not raise [her] head” out of fear that people will see and eventually mock her eye (42).  An especially strong illustration of the weight that her “outsiderness” weighed on her is the instance in which Walker admits that she spent each night “[abusing her] eye,” ranting and raving at it in front of the mirror; when she prays for a solution, she does not pray for sight, but rather for beauty (45).  She is eventually driven by her “shame and ugliness” to fix the situation by getting the “glob” removed from her eye (being the scar tissue that formed after the wound) (45). But still, while her life is uphill for some time, Walker is deeply unhappy until her daughter is born.

When Walker is 27 years old, she writes that Rebecca focuses on Walker’s eye and “something inside [Walker] cringes, gets ready to try and protect [herself]”; she knew from experience that children were harsh with criticism and she was not prepared for something so cruel from her own daughter (Walker 47). When Rebecca tells Walker that there is a “world in her eye,” however, Walk has the epiphany that brought on the second, more loving definition of beauty (47).  After realizing that beauty is defined by the self, not by society, Walker realizes a new part of life than she had been running from for so many years.

Lucy Grealy also told a story of how an injury leading to ‘deformation’ launched her outside of what society considered ‘beautiful’ in her autobiographical story, “Mirrors.” She describes the shame that she felt when she was used as a weapon to insult a fellow classmate, the thought that if she didn’t “fix” her face, she could never “fix” her “self, [her] soul, [her life]” (51).  An obvious indicator that her appearance (and whether it fit the standards) is equivalent to her worth is the comparison between fixing her face and fixing her self; that direct comparison suggests that Grealy thought the worth of her face was the equivalent of the worth of her self, which is a mindset she held for many years.

“I once thought that truth was an eternal, that once you understood something it was with you forever,” Grealy writes, “I know now that this isn’t so” (Grealy 60). She attacks the probelm with society’s need to tell women how to feel by saying society “wants us to believe that we can most be ourselves by looking like someone else” rather than being our selves, and it was that realization that made Grealy finally feel beautiful (60).  For the first time in years, she is able to look in a mirror without feeling any hatred toward herself.

A final example comes from Fatema Mernissi, a Moroccan writer that went to a New York City (NYC) apartment store and was brutally informed that she did not fit the standards America held for its women.  She admits that while her body was generally very attractive and beautiful in Morocco, she noticed that she did not come near the beauty standards Americans held for their women, and she eventually lost her self-confidence while walking the streets of NYC (Mernissi 72).  She notices that “in order to be beautiful, a woman must look fourteen years old,” and be “brainless,” or else be condemned as ugly (73). These heavy (and impossible) standards, in combination with the need for women to fit a size six, are the exact standards that Walker and Grealy did not fit and were criticized for being outside of.  It was not until Mernissi returned home that she felt her confidence and beauty return, which further proves that there is a personal element to beauty, if not an entirely different type of beauty that is self-based.

Beauty, being as complex an idea as it is, is difficult to define.  Societal beauty oftentimes constrains women and tells them what to wear, how to look, and it goes further to condemn those that do not fit the guidelines.  A lesser-known beauty, however, is that which Walker, Grealy, and Mernissi found after years of searching, and it is one that is self-defined, one separate from the confines of society.  Beauty is not only physical; it is an emotion, an acceptance of self.

Works Cited

Grealy, Lucy. “Mirrors.” Slide Share. Slide Share, 1 September 2010. Web. 10 November 2015.

Mernissi, Fatema. “Size 6: The Western Women’s Harem.” HCCS. HCCS, 2002. Web. 10 November 2015.

Walker, Alice. “Beauty: When The Other Dancer Is The Self.” Herbert Writing. Herbert Writing, n.d. Web. 10 November 2015.

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