Beauty is a word for objects, not people

  • Monday, March 1, 2004 9:00pm
  • Life

The beauty myth is like a mousetrap that has already caught the culprit.

We know that beauty is shallow and empty. Beauty in and of itself does not create self-esteem.

When we isolate beauty under a telephoto lens, the people on the other side of the lens become things. Objects. I think "beauty" as an adjective works better on objects than on people.

But the b-word seems invincible. Try to go a day without hearing a reference to it. Try to go a week without saying it yourself. Impossible. This is a word with a life of its own.

I was raised in the ’60s and ’70s, as women were straddling a larger and larger consciousness in larger and larger numbers. Questions about beauty, sex roles, bras and stereotypes were raised, but not necessarily answered.

When I had my daughters, I knew I had a responsibility to try to provide answers to these issues. Not perfectly, but the best I could.

I started with Barbie. To Barbie or not to Barbie, that is the first question.

I chose not to Barbie. Not even one. My girls were staunchly anti-Barbie. We became Barbiologists. We analyzed the way she strut her stuff in toy store aisles and picked that poor doll to pieces.

I had to explain that girls, real live ones, who played with Barbie were fine, it was just the doll we were boycotting.

The Barbie conversations then opened the immediate next door to the facts about cheerleading. I sounded like someone who was saying smoking cigarettes leads to heroin use.

Cheerleading just seemed like Barbie impersonation. Now, instead of the doll, you get to wear the clothes. I insisted that they put their attention on their own development, not on watching and cheering mostly for boys. Become an athlete.

And then here is where we take a long walk off a short pier. Now what?

Beauty is really a stalker. She won’t be discarded or fended off so easily by children’s toys and dress-up clothes.

She is a monster. I didn’t prepare for this. I’m still fighting her myself. She is a relentless warrior that is determined to have her way. She is an industry! Ruler of the world!

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I have one picture worth the same word said over and over. I have a photo of my mother that never leaves my head.

She is standing on a plank. There are crowds of people sitting in chairs on both sides of the plank jutting out from a stage. My mother is wearing a bathing suit with a banner draped from her shoulder to her waist. She was a Beauty Queen.

I never felt like I possessed her sort of beauty. I felt something more like a pinch when people have said, "You’re beautiful."

Lots and lots of us do not feel embraced in the arms of this monster. I am trying a new strategy with her.

I no longer think the problem is cheerleading or Barbie. I think it was an important effort and worthwhile experiment. But the b-word is a missionary — relentless in her determination to convert you. To seduce you into thinking there’s something you can do to catch her or keep her. Some way you can allure her with your scent, or your hair or the way you walk, or the clothes you wear.

She wants you to look in the mirror and ask how you look to her.

And if you fail at that, worse still, she wants to know if you feel beautiful on the inside. She won’t quit.

My new strategy is to tell people that beauty is an attribute for objects, not people. She should find her thrill in rainbows, sunsets and starry nights, and not in young girls and real women.

Sarri Gilman, a licensed therapist, has founded two local nonprofit organizations to support children and teens who have been homeless. She is a mother, wife and songwriter. Her column on living with purpose and meaning runs every other Tuesday. You can e-mail her at

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