After my son sent me a YouTube video, of Susan Boyle, which I’m sure you’re all familiar with by now, I questioned, “WHY DO WE HAVE TO FIT INTO SOCIETY’S EXPECTATIONS?” Listen to her sing with your eyes open and then with your eyes closed. Something dramatic happens. Would you agree?
Unfortunately, where I live now, in Orange County, California, not far from Hollywood, I would say the answer is an overwhelming YES I HAVE TO FIT IN.
You have to fit in to what society expects you to look like. If you don’t look the part, you don’t get respect or attention, or the JOB. Even I have become overly judgmental over the way people look. I’m not proud of it either, but I think I’ve been brainwashed by the U.S. media. When I look at newscasters on TV, most of them, especially the women, look like Heidi Klum and Angelina Jolie. It’s reached the point on CNN, where you stare at the face and barely listen to the words. Whenever a journalist pops up from another country and has crooked teeth, a large nose, or ears that stick out, you get distracted and have to close your eyes to “listen.” Of course that’s superficial, but I have to say it’s thanks to the unrealistic expectations that society places on everyone about youth and beauty. At least that’s the case in the U.S. Now you may understand why I felt at peace in Belize.
Every morning when I drive to Newport Beach library in an upscale neighborhood. I stand in line for my Peet’s coffee and see more beautiful women in expensive exercise outfits, women in designer suits, with freshly Botoxed and Juvedermed wrinkles and flawless skin. The sad part is many look angry and rarely smile or make eye contact.
I would be lying if I told you that I don’t look and question what procedures they’ve had done, how old they are and more. I’m sorry to say that now when I see a woman with bags under her eyes, I question why hasn’t she had them removed? I’m not proud of thinking this way. Part of me envies the woman for her courage to be different, and not so superficial. I feel very sorry for young girls, in this part of the world, where looking “perfect,” is their ultimate goal in life.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, whether you agree, and if this is mostly a U.S. phenomenon or if the same applies all over the world?
I don’t know how to respond to this. I grew up in California… a kinder, gentler California than the one it seems to have morphed into.
Until a few months ago my son was living in Huntington Beach. Of course, he is blessed to look like a cross between Adonis and a Ralph Lauren model. For him, beach living in Southern California was relaxed and full of fun. When we visited, I noticed men with deeply tanned, deeply wrinkled faces and chests carrying their surfboards or bicycling along the shore. Women whose tummys were soft and jiggled or swayed slightly with every step still wore skimpy two piece suits and let their thinning hair grow longer than was flattering to them. I noticed an atmosphere of youth in spirit… far more than I noticed a struggle to keep their lips plumped and their thighs sucked. Of course, Huntington is populated with an entirely different group. It’s geared toward younger, more athletic, physically active residents. Those who stay beyond their prime stay because they love moving their bodies and the casual attitude of the town.
Newport is peopled with more upwardly mobile, success driven individuals. Women are quite often “trophy” women…men are often involved with making enough money to afford the latest symbol of affluence and success. The Lamborghini, the svelte, beautiful wife smiling up at him. It’s a very plastic world full of plastic people who will never have enough because the things they continue to seek for are unfulfilling and unlasting. Ouch! I need to stop. I’m sounding VERY judgemental here and that’s not normally my M O.
I love your outlook. You will be a wquality woman no matter where you live. If I could only convince myself that re-incarnation was a valid thing to believe in… I would swear that I lived as Pacific Islander in a former life. I am so at home in the islands.
Elizabeth Bradley says
I live in southern california and I am accustomed to the focus on what’s going on “outside” not inside. Boy, watching that frumpy little lady with the bushy eyebrows come out on stage to be met with the kind of ridicule and scorn that she was greeted with sure was an eye opener. Then to see the transformation in the faces of the audience and the judges, remarkable. We, as a society, need to wake up. Our aging movie stars, (most notably the women) don’t even look like themselves, and if you see the poor things up close some of them have had so many treatments and plastic surgery they look like clowns. It’s too bad.
Jungle Mom says
In my very humble opinion,I think it only matters if one chooses to allow it to matter. We are societal creatures and we do desire acceptance. Some norms, for moral reasons, need to be acknowledged, but many superficial aspects can quite easily be ignored.
I suppose the ability to not judge oneself by society’s expectations is harder than not judging others by those same expectations.
I may have a warped outlook on this because of the fact that I lived in a tribal situation where everyone is just like everyone else…except I was different and in no way could I possibly fit in. I had to accept that fact and so did they. We managed to work it out as we learned more of each other.
Mad Bush Farm says
Food for thought this one. I’ve watched my own country change through the strong influence of US culture. We now have Botox clinics, Loius Vouttin and others. I think I saw a Prada shop the last time I was in Auckland City. I watch CNN, Fox New USA and now and then Fashion TV. The US Female Reporters and Anchor all seem to have the same hairstyle and look and I see that same look appearing on our news. Sonya you’re right you see these people walking around with the perfect bodies which they’ve paid thousands to have and none look happy. I used to work in a high pressure environment in a corporate where how you looked absolutely mattered. I was in my 20’s then. Now I don’t care if I have a few wrinkles. I’m happy with my life and myself. I dress up when I go out but you won’t find me wearing heels around my farm or Kelvin Klein. I don’t judge on looks I don’t judge at all what matters to me is the person inside not the look. Loved this post.
Gramma Ann says
I think you visited my blog today, and the person you see there is actually me and my hairdresser! When I go there all the hairdressers and I have a fun time. And they always say, “get out your camera, it picture taking time.” They tease me that they are not only my hairdresser, but my photographer, as well.
Now, the way I see it, this is what I look like, and I have no intention of changing. Oh yes, with a bit of make-up, I only look a very wee bit better.
I was the young and cute little thing once, but as the years go by, it’s the inner beauty that we need to work at. If someone is the most beautiful person in the world and doesn’t possess inner beauty, they are to be pitied.
Vodka Mom says
omg I have been watching that over and over the last TWO DAYS!!
She’s an inspiration!!! Why can’t we ALL be more accepting???
I have never been big on how society “expects”us to be, look, whatever. I look the way I want to, I dress the way I want to, even if it’s not in fashion.
Lady Glamis says
I think it’s sad that beauty seems to be only skin deep these days, especially here in the U.S.
It makes me angry and sad and frustrated all at the same time. URGH. And some days I really would like to just sell all my stuff and move to an island. I think you have so much wisdom to share in your memoir. The things you’ve experienced, and the way you see things can really make a change – even if you do feel like you’re getting sucked in.
I haven´t taken the time to see the video yet, but after reading all these comments, I´ll be doing that now.
We are living in a society where we are totally different from the natives that live here. It´s something we deal with on a day to day basis. It can be hard, but it is also liberating. You let the other person stand as he/she is.
T. Anne says
New port is so ritzy it’s hard not to want to look good all the time. I try and take care of myself best I can I know there are no procedures for my face in the future lol. I did have some veins removed from leg yes it was gross but I can wear shorts again without scaring the children 😉
I wish I could print what I said to my daughter when I saw that clip plastered on every morning and evening news show for two days, but since I am not anonymous, and since not everyone would appreciate my sarcasm, I will refrain.
Lets just say its ridiculous.
I have a feeling that things are worse in your world in SoCal, but you are right, its bad. The worse thing is that women lose sight of what real beauty is, and that it belongs to the young, and start looking deformed. We need to age elegantly, accept the changes in our bodies and set an example for the generation that follows.
I have to say that is another thing I appreciate about SF. Just walk the streets here a few days, off the beaten path, you will see some very interesting, but not very beautiful, people. I thoroughly enjoy the diversity.
I’ve been thinking about the Susan B. phenomenon a lot… I must say that when I first saw her, I thought she was like my grandmother – and that brought good memories. What struck me most was how the whole Idol type programmes thrive on mocking the participants. That’s what people come to see – that’s why Simon has to be cruel no matter what. People who watch and judge these programs are trying to fulfill set expectations, so I think that’s why she was a slap in the face to them. (Darn right too!)
So, for me, it was different, as I didn’t really judge her on the way she looks…
Now to your question: I think that the US probably does suffer very much from this look beautiful syndrome. Just look at all the film stars – most of whom don’t look their age at all!
There is definitely less pressure here in Europe – just look at Brit actress Helen Mirren for example.
Even here, in the backwoods of Sweden, I have noticed more pressure from media to look like the models in ads.
As the mother of two children who come from a different country and race, our family will never ‘fit in’ with the norm. And even though they are only 6 and 7 yrs. they themselves know that they look different. And my daughter is already worrying about her weight because this is what she hears at school…
As a parent I am working hard to bolster the self-confidence of my kids. I think it helps that I have always been a rebel and never conformed when I was at school either! 😉
As long as we, consumers buy, support all that superficial crap nothing will change.
For me, as a European woman, all US women look the same.
Same hairstyle, same need to be perfect looking etc. which for me is very, very impersonal.
It’s like teens want to look, be the same, copies of each others to be expected to certain group.
And one day those teens are adult women and still they want be group members.
They all need love and to be loved but only for how they look.
But do they have anything to say? How they feel deep inside, happy?
How’s their marriage – happy or just plastic stage to show off to other group members?
What kind of LIFE is that?
If your nails, hair, body etc. are not perfect other people don’t love you? you don’t belong to that group?
I’m so sorry what kind of pressure you have…and willing to take…
and what happens to all those plastic perfect women and men who for some reason get ill, sick, they lose their beauty, are they left alone??? do they have any meaning in life?
Mom/caryn,I think you’re right about Huntington Beach being more surfer types, and Newport being more affluent. Of course there are many who don’t conform, but they are also often not “accepted,” or looked down upon by those who do in this part of California.
Elizabeth Bradley,I’m glad you agree since you live close to me.
Jungle Mom,I agree with you as far as,
“it only matters if one chooses to allow it to matter.” The problem I hate is that now that I’ve been back from Belize for almost 4 years, it’s starting to matter to me again. So I want to move again, where I can get away from it.
One of the things that struck me about Sarah Boyle was her self-possession BEFORE she sang. Instead of closing your eyes, look into her eyes and look at her walk. She has escaped being wounded in spirit, and so she can sing with spirit. She does not need cosmetic beauty. Nor do any of us.
As I see my jaw line disappear, my previous peaches-n-cream skin start to sprout coffee-colored blotches, and liver spots start to appear on my hands, I sometimes feel sad for what I’ve lost. But more often, I just decide to walk a little taller and smile without concern for the crow’s feet. Sarah Boyle helps me think about my song and not about my face.
Kit Courteney says
I think something BLOGitse said struck a chord for me. As a Brit, I obviously see a lot of American shows on TV (Lost, House etc) and nothing seems ‘out of place’ in those, but whenever I see ANY American presenter, they look the same to me.
They are all ‘beautiful’.
But (to me) they don’t look real.
At the moment we have Hell’s Kitchen showing with Marco Pierre White. One of the celebrity chefs is Linda Evans.
She seems to be a lovely woman and comes across as intelligent, kind and the sort of person you wouldn’t mind getting stuck in a lift with… but what a strange ‘look’ she has. I’m not saying that to be bitchy or because I am jealous. There is no agenda here.
She just looks (to me) as if she’s had her face peeled off, and a weird, new plastic one has been put back in its place.
We have actresses over here who have the same look, so it’s obviously ‘the done thing’ at a certain age, BUT WHAT A SHAME!
Surely there is a beauty in not looking as if your face has been put together by a toddler, even if it’s not classically pretty…?
Mad Bush FarmSo this phenomenon is spreading from the U.S. How sad. I hope the world doesn’t become obsessed as it causes so much extra pressure on women.
Gramma AnnYou looked like you were having fun at the hairdressers. I’m so glad to hear that we change for the better.
Lady GalmisI think you really understand me and my way of thinking. Thanks for
your encouragement on my book.
BettyThat’s exactly what I felt in Belize.
Warren Baldwin says
I linked here from another site and enjoyed your post. I think it is unfortunate that we have to try to fit into society to be successful. We have become very superficial. Appearance means more than character. In politics we get soundbites instead of clearly articulated positions. More superficiality. I esp. appreciate your comment in your profile about wanting to teach your son gratitude instead of entitlement. You are very smart! I think gratitude is a KEY ingredient to happy living. WB
Hit 40 says
Love Susan! The video clip makes me tear up everytime.
When I go to work and teach, I clean up. At home which is luckily in another city, I look like a real bum. I have been offered free coffee at starbucks!!
ShirleyWhat a beautiful message you send, and YES, we should look into her eyes. Thaks for putting things into perspective.
I love your description of having the face peeled off and put back together by a toddler.
Warren BaldwinYes, society seems to be so superficial here where I live in southern California. So what do we do to change it?
You are very honest and funny. Thanks for stopping by.
Hit 40 says
Thank you for stopping by!! I am psyched you added me to follow. I shall stalk you too!
I love your profile! How fabulous you left the country to save you boy from bad choices. This is truly what life is about… family.
Great post! I think you just have to move in your own direction–hard I know, in this, what is sometimes termed an easy-breey black n’ white world. Paint it the colors YOU like! ; )
I’m not sure I’d agree that it’s a phenomenon of the “U.S.”. It may be a phenomenon of certain parts of the U.S. but certainly not the entire country. I suspect it’s more of a bi-coastal thing and even that is probably a huge generality. Southern California and south Florida being two popular spots for trying to stay young beyond all reason.
Those of you who live there may not realize that there are lots of places in the country where pale, non-blonde, aging folks blend right in!
A very interesting post and yes I agree with you. I was sad to see people rolling their eyes when Boyle approached the stage. Not surprised when she opened her mouth tho – I sort of expected that there would be something special about her. Can you imagine the outcry otherwise….. I find the UK very balanced when it comes to this kinda stuff.
But yes, it is hard to stand your ground and focus on inner beauty when surrounded by ‘perfection’.
I believe in balance. Never lose yourself to someone else’s insecurities.
You know when we moved to Vermont we had considered the Cape and San Francisco too. Now northern CA is a different, there is lots more diversity, but one of the factors was the notion of physical beauty in CA. We were raising a daughter, lovely sure, but it was important to us that she not felt judged or objectified for the way she looked. You can’t control reactions of other people to your kids, but you can choose to live where the reactions are predictable and acceptable to you.
I agree with you that they are predictable in CA but we didn’t want it.
I must say though that I love looking at all the beautiful people there. I admire and gawk like the tourist I am. But I didn’t want to raise kids, especially not girl kids, there.
Now here, all the woman look like an ad for LL bean. So I don;’t fit in with my gypsy skirts, dangly earrings, lipstick and french nails. My hair is wild and curly and looks like an unmade bed, with peanut butter and jelly stripes which doesn’t match the sleek causal bobs of so many of the women up here either. But I don’t feel especially judged, just different. In New England, Vermont particularly, different is welcome.
This was a great post. That Utube video has made a lot of us think and start talking about this. Thanks…
Miss Footloose says
Hey, what a discussion! Unfortunately this obsession with looking perfect is not just an American phenomenon. Cosmetic surgery is even bigger business in other countries like Brazil and Lebanon for instance. And believe it or not, my Argentinian friend told me that her boob job was paid for by insurance in Argentina! It’s considered “essential” to look good.
In Armenia, where I lived for a number of years, nose jobs were a big deal. Many Armenians, male and female, have very big noses compared to western standards. The other surgeries most often done there are breast implants and knees. The knees? Because so many women walk on very high heels all the time.
First of all, I'm glad that another person is bringing attention to this issue. The pressure to look "beautiful" in society's eyes is getting worse and worse with each passing day. The media portrays beauty as the tall, skinny, blonde walking down the street in her designer jeans and new high heels, but that is such a small percentage of the population. I read that a lot of women start dieting between the ages of 8 and 10…that disgusts me in so many ways.
America as a real problem with the media's false portrayal of beauty and more people need to try to change it. So thank you again for bringing attention to it.