Beauty, confidence and self-image are the individual dimensions Grace Suh and Julia Alvarez explore in their articles The Eye of Beholder and I Want To Be Miss America. These two authors talk about something about themselves that they are self-aware of and have tried to change.
Both of them influence by media
In the two stories, media objectifies women and holds them at high standards, which are at times difficult to meet. The media portrays ideal women are those that have perfect makeup, sex appeal and ‘hot bodies’. Both Julia and Grace look up to the media’s definition of pretty. They draw inspiration from TV, magazines, beauty products, beauty pageant and movie actors. The media over relies on beautiful and enviable actors to appear on movie screens.
The two author’s experiences seem to ask the question, how others, the media and we affect perceived beauty. Is there a standard of beauty? Is there a need for one? Interestingly, it’s the media that projects beauty ideals to an individual. With frequently interaction with media, one may feel ugly or not beautiful without being told. Alvarez makes this point clear with the pageant women. She observes that most women were of white descent and if there was an ‘outlier Hispanic’, she would always look white but have a Hispanic name.
By looking around at the icons, models, and famous brands on the products in the store, Suh knew she was outright ugly. No one told these two women that they must be white, or fit a certain look to fit in; the media standards spoke to them subtly.
The media seems to speak to everyone in a twisted way. The media influences to everyone differently and people are able to perceive beauty at different levels. The criteria for choosing the beauty contestants were democratic. Some chose cross-eyed smiles while others chose women with chipmunk cheeks. Julia’s family had divergent views on the beauty standards. Her mum opted for ones with personality/ manners while her dad considered endowed women as pretty. Julia states, ‘my sisters and I had plenty of commentary on all the contestants’. Her family had a ritual of picking out beauty. In fact, they had an aggressive beauty contest between the four sisters. Though Julia was always voted the cutest of her siblings, her elder sister always reminded her that her looks will not age well. The sister bragged about her algebra prowess that Julia will not be able to match up. “I believed her. Dumb and ex-cute, that’s what I would grow up to be,” (p.95). Meanwhile, Suh could see a varied burst of inspiration of beauty from the “… priestesses of beauty in their sacred smocks…” and photographic icons on the commercial beauty products in Neiman Marcus store.
Both of them influence by culture change
Both Julia and Suh discuss the struggles and events surrounding cultural change between immigrant pre-teens and teenagers in middleclass America. While “Eye Of The Beholder” details on how a Korean girl struggles to conform to American ideal of beauty, “I Want To Be Miss America” talks of Dominican siblings trying to embrace the American beauty standards and cultural changes. The diverse non-American cultures make the two families socially unacceptable once they arrive in the USA. Both authors show how American is continuously battered by false cultural images and the need to change their looks. For Alvarez, her Hispanic culture becomes a stumbling block to inclusion in the American society. She and her sisters struggle to be what they are not, Americans. The girls want to be the women they see on TV and constantly compare themselves to beauty queens. The four onlookers tried to iron their dark curly hair and conceal the olive skin with foundation to as to translate into Made-in-the-USA look. Suh’s exotic features like eyes and skin became subject of ridicule, as she was not socially accepted as beautiful. Although the two women had arrived and were glad to be living in the US, the yearly Miss America beauty pageant and societal norms made them feel isolated.
Later, there is a cultural change in the standards of beauty, in the 1960s the Americans beauty trends change towards the exotic attributes. Regular Americans begin to dress like foreigners or hipsters. After withstanding the worst of cultural exclusivity, the two authors begin to realize that the social norms are not cast on stone. They learn that the society could change for the better in the world.
Both Alvarez and Suh views change in perspective as their stories come to an end. After her makeover, Suh realizes that she feels negated. She also feels like another face has been drawn to conceal her face. While Alvarez realizes that exotic features are now the definition of beauty, Suh realizes she is content with her familiar and natural face. The two women realize that physical beauty isn’t important as what is in the inside. Even though the inclusivity of immigrants has improved, the “I Want to Be Miss America” author had been acquainted with the habit of doubting herself. ‘After three decades of living in America, I feel like a stranger in what I consider my country…. The American beauty standards have never come to terms with diverse beauty and inclusivity’.
Both of them tend to change their look.
The two women tell of stories where women wish they were able to mold their bodies into perfect shapes, as if they are clay. In the opening paragraph, Suh begins with a striking statement. “ … I have made up my mind to become beautiful’. The she goes about how she came across her epiphany. Her trigger is her parents and siblings and the realization that she had broken the ‘unsightliness barrier’ with the limp, facial blemishes, ragged hair dark circles under the eye and the appalling clothes.
The two women made individual decisions to change their outlook. Despite her mum’s warning, Alvarez and siblings defy and “Naired” (shaved) her legs to look like the flawless TV beauty queens. Her act of volunteering to be the guinea pig in the transformation (shaving) demonstrates her will and determination to change her looks. The four sister’s brave hours of hair iron to straighten their natural curly shows feisty need to change appearance to fit in. They hid unshaved legs under tights in summer and painstakingly rolled long hair with gigantic rollers so as to fit in to the school. Grace Suh in “the Eye of the Beholder “suddenly becomes unhappy with her image and feels an “overall effect of … stark ugliness”. In yearning to be beautiful, she starts her transformation with her face. In her quest to earn utter transformation, she endures a gruesome activity of paling her skin to a “plastic sheen”, piling on lipstick, reddening of her cheeks and getting new eyes. She also endures the condescending remarks of Estee who accuses her of being “oriental”. To achieve the epitome of beauty, Suh had a fake crease drawn on her eyelid to create a fold. Suh could not understand how her entire beauty would be equaled to her eyelid. Suh had to buy a large list of products that could fit a bag the size of a shoebox so as to ‘deal’ with her skin scenario
In both instances, the women seek professional assistance to enable the changes, Alvarez and her sisters had their skins diagnosed by beauty contestants as sallow. They were recommended to get as strong foundation to tone the olive skin. Suh enlist the help of consultant at the Estee Lauder counter in the luxury department store. In the end, these two women realize that beauty does not come with pressed powder or shaved legs. From these two stories its imminent that beauty is achieved by genuine confidence. Women need to be confident with their physical features. Beauty is what is not only what appeals to the eyes but also to the other body sense and mind.
- Alvarez, J. (1999). I want to be Miss America. Something to Declare, pp. 56-62.
- Suh, G. (1992). The Eye of the Beholder. A Magazine, 129-134. Melting Pot or Salad Bowl.