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Beauty/attitudes toward beauty are an important aspect of culture, as shown by many works of literature. The word beauty per se refers to the level of attraction shown by one's face and body (Tylka and Nichole 118). Since beautiful men are referred to as handsome, the term is often applied to women and girls. As a result, more desirable women are pretty, while less attractive women are either ugly or have a poor body picture (Tylka and Nichole 118). The novel "American Girls" is one of the many works of literature that espouses the concept of beauty or attitudes that society has towards the concept of beauty. The book is about the troubles and social experiences of Anna, a fifteen-year-old girl, transitioning towards adulthood. Although the concept of beauty is widely revealed in the text, many of the beliefs that support them are based on Western ideals of body image and its relevance in consumerism culture.
In the novel, beauty is regarded as survival mechanism where beautiful women have more value than the least gorgeous ones. In chapter one, Anna talks about how her sister, Delia told her over the summer that every individual “needs a thing” (Umminger 10). In this context, the term “a thing” was a reference to an attribute that would give the woman an edge over other women. From the conversation between Anna and Delia, it is apparent that beautiful women have more value than their less attractive counterparts. Anna described Delia, an actress in Los Angeles, as beautiful because of her dark hair and “silver-gray eyes” (Umminger 9). However, Delia was still considered not beautiful enough to act as a Bond girl.
However, beauty may not be regarded as a necessity for success in life. Delia advised Anna to buy some glasses in order to compensate for her unattractiveness. The underlying reason was the fact that lack beauty is regarded as a commodity just in the same way a person with a nice voice can sell his or her voice by singing or partaking in adverts. Delia has a good voice and this is why she has participated in many ads. Thus, women and men do not necessarily need to be good-looking or beautiful to succeed in life.
Racism also influences the measurement of beauty needed for one to survive in the society. Extremely white, slender, and tall women are regarded as more attractive than those who are on the other extreme ends (Umminger 40-42). The ideal female body image also includes having a small sharp-pointed nose and symmetrical face. Therefore, women who do not fall in this category are regarded as unattractive and of low commercial value in the Western entertainment scene. In order to be successful, women whose bodies do not meet the qualities of what constitute beauty need to compensate for their limitations with other attributes (Umminger 40-42). For example, Delia has a beautiful voice that enables her to work in creating audio commercials.
Racism does not influence the measure of beauty. All the Manson girls were white yet they are regarded as unattractive. Mary Brunner was described as having “a witchy face” yet she was white (Umminger 47). Beauty has more to do with the proportion of one’s organs. For example, Anna describes Dex as being “eight million times better-looking that most of about eight million times better-looking that most of” Delia’s boyfriends because he was tall, square jaws, and possessed “light brown eyes” (Umminger 38). Thus, racism does not seem to define the concept of beauty.
Nonetheless, the novel also affirms the idea that beauty is based on unrealistic beliefs about beauty and ideal body image. For example, Anna describes her sister as having “zero body fat” yet she did not want to wear a sweater on that cold. By having zero body fat it means that Delia had been working out to achieve her current impossible slim body image (Umminger 42). This is a reflection of the fact that many women are suffering from a “body image disorder” because of the unrealistic societal expectations (Rosen 158). Indeed, Delia is just a representation of the many women who are compelled to achieve the desired body image in order to be accepted in the society. For example, Anna talks about her conversation with Delia in a gym. She also states that Delia’s refrigerator only contained pineapple and that she had a blender for making vegetable juice. As such, Anna gives the reader a clue that tends to suggest that Delia’s diet mainly comprised of fruits and vegetables.
Many celebrities in the United States consume huge amounts of fruits and vegetables to make their skins loom younger and to prevent their bodies from adding weight (Rosen 156-158). This is because the society has made it apparent that the most desired individuals are those who have thin body images. Fat individuals are not regarded as attractive regardless of their biological endowment. Women who cannot achieve a thin body image because of their metabolism degenerate into outcasts.
However, beauty should be achieved or earned in the same way education or success is earned. Some people are born beautiful but other people have to earn it. It is normal for a person to have body fat because it is crucial in the body. Body fat acts as fuel in the body and it is crucial in keeping the body warm. Some people add weight easily while others barely add weight at all. As such, it is not possible to have zero fat bodies without straining oneself to the limit. Other people have to under plastic surgery to enhance their beauty. In this regard, the novel shows that one can only attain the desired body weight through effort.
Beauty is a highly sexualized subject in the novel as it is in the world that the narrative reflects. There are several incidences in the novel where Anna and other women are faced with the reality about why beauty mattered in determining the success of their sexual lives. Anna’s narrative about “the Manson Girls” shows how beauty matters in the lives of women and girls and not in the lives of men and women (Umminger 46). The media perceived the Manson girls like Krenwinkel and Mary Brunner as unattractive. Krenwinkel was regarded as not being so attractive while Mary Brunner was described as having “a witchy face” (Umminger 47). On the contrary, the media described people the Manson Girls killed as being beautiful, handsome and wealthy. Just like Anna, one would wonder why beauty mattered so much to women and not men.
The reality is that beauty is highly sexualized in the society. Beauty is a reflection of the degree of a woman’s likability or attractiveness to the opposite sex. The society simply treats women as sex objects. A woman who does not fit into the desired image of attractiveness is regarded as ugly. Consequently, they are unwanted by the society as seen in the media description of the Manson Girls. Anna’s sister at some point had more than one sex partner, namely, Dex and Roger-Roger. Dex loved her so much and treated her nicely, but Delia’s family hated him. Anna states that Delia associated with many famous people because of her beautiful image. Delia talks about heterosexual sexual experiences as being full of violence. Delia can only claim of violence experience during coitus if she had had an opportunity to have sex with many partners. The reality is that beautiful or attractive women have a higher propensity to having many sexual partners. As such, it is obvious that the relationship between Delia’s attractive body image and her successful sex life is associated with Delia’s beautiful body. Thus, beauty is highly sexualized in the society based on Anna’s novel.
The novel also shows how beauty is a requirement for success in Hollywood because they are easy to sell or commoditize. The novel highlights why beautiful women and handsome men have a higher chance of success in Hollywood than the less handsome or attractive men. In the novel, Josh and Jeremy “were part of the Hollywood dynasty” because their mother was a famous actor in Hollywood (Umminger 53). Josh and Jeremy were extremely handsome teenage twins and, because of their large fan base, Anna assumed that “it paid to seem younger” (Umminger 53). The twins were a reflection of their famous mother who had slept with many men in the 1990s and documented her experiences in a book. The twins’ sister, Olivia, on the other hand, was struggling to sustain her fame in acting because her younger siblings were growing in popularity at her expense.
However, the truth is that beauty is regarded as a commodity in the West. Young attractive men and women always have more chances of success in Hollywood than the less attractive ones. This is because of beauty, sex, and power always thrives together. Beautiful or handsome people are more likely to have many sex partners and so is their ability to spread influence. In Hollywood celebrities who have many sex partners earn more fame and have more value than those who are barely attractive. The society also tends to love women and men who have attractive body images. Many people love Beyonce, for example, because of her attractive demeanor and body image. Other celebrities such as Angelina Jolly have earned more fame in their careers because their success stems from their beauty. The least beautiful celebrities like Morgan Freeman have been forced to use other talents like voice to make it in life. Thus, beauty is regarded as a commodity in the Western consumerist society based on Anna’s novel.
In conclusion, Anna’s novel “American Girl” is a vivid narrative of the misconceptions and attitudes that the society has about beauty. The novel affirms the view that beauty is a reflection of the society’s perception of unrealistic ideal body images that are designed to rhyme with the consumerist culture. According to the novel, attractive people are meant to emerge successful in life because beauty itself is a commodity that sells. However, the less successful people need to exploit alternative endowments like their voice to make a living. Indeed, people like Delia had secured Hollywood acting contracts because of their beauty. Other characters such as Josh and Jeremy had seen their popularity and fan base grow because they were young and attractive. Olivia like many of her compatriots was struggling to overcome a potential decline in her popularity because her brothers were regarded more attractive that she was. The main challenge to many young men and women is how to attain the desired or ideal body image contrary to nature and biology. Delia, for example, had to eat vegetables whenever she felt hungry despite the fact that greens have low-calorie content.
Rosen, James C. "Body image disorder: Definition, development, and contribution to eating disorders." The etiology of bulimia: The Individual and Familial Context (2013): 157-177.
Tylka, L., Tracy and Nichole L. Wood-Barcalow. "What is and what is Not Positive Body Image? Conceptual foundations and construct definition." Body Image 14 (2015): 118-129.
Umminger, Alison. American Girls: A Novel, Flatiron Books, 2016. Print.
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