Beauty, self-esteem, and laugh-out-loud hilarity

I love Dave Barry.  Have you ever read any of his stuff?  He is FUNNY.  At Women’s Conference, Renata Forste gave a really, really good talk (click here to read it), wherein she quoted this Dave Barry column exploring the differences between the ways that men and women measure and value appearances.  It was so funny that I may have laughed a little bit over-the-top irreverently.

If you’re a man, at some point a woman will ask you how she looks.  “How do I look?” she’ll ask.  You must be careful how you answer this question.  The best technique is to form an honest yet sensitive opinion, then collapse on the floor with some kind of fatal seizure. Trust me, this is the easiest way out.  Because you will never come up with the right answer.

The problem is that women generally do not think of their looks in the same way that men do.  Most men form an opinion of how they look in seventh grade, and they stick to it for the rest of their lives.  Some men form the opinion that they are irresistible stud muffins, and they do not change this opinion even when their faces sag and their noses bloat to the size of eggplants . . . .

Most men, I believe, think of themselves as average-looking. . . . Being average does not bother them; average is fine, for men.  This is why men never ask anybody how they look.  Their primary form of beauty care is to shave themselves . . . .[and] if, at the end of this four-minute daily beauty regimen, a man has managed to wipe most of the shaving cream out of his hair . . . he feels that he has done all he can, so he stops thinking about his appearance and devotes his mind to more critical issues, such as the Super Bowl.

Women do not look at themselves this way.  If I had to express, in three words, what I believe most women think about their appearance, those words would be:  “not good enough.”  No matter how attractive a woman may appear to be to others, when she looks at herself in the mirror, she thinks:  woof.  She thinks that at any moment a municipal animal-control officer is going to throw a net over her and haul her off to the shelter.

Why do women have such low self-esteem?  There are many complex psychological and societal reasons, by which I mean Barbie.  Girls grow up playing with a doll proportioned such that, if it were human, it would be seven feet tall and weigh 81 pounds, of which 53 pounds would be bosoms.  This is a difficult appearance standard to live up to, especially when you contrast it with the standard set for little boys by their dolls. . . excuse me, by their action figures.  Most of the action figures that my son played with when he was little were hideous-looking.  For example, he was very fond of an action figure (part of the He-Man series) called “Buzz-Off,” who was part human, part flying insect.  Buzz-Off was not a looker.  But he was extremely self- confident.  You could not imagine Buzz-Off saying to the other action figures:  “Do you think these wings make my hips look big?”  But women grow up thinking they need to look like Barbie, which for most women is impossible, although there is a multi-billion-dollar beauty industry devoted to convincing women that they must try.

I once saw an Oprah show wherein supermodel Cindy Crawford dispensed makeup tips to the studio audience.  Cindy had all these middle-aged women applying beauty products to their faces; she stressed how important it was to apply them in a certain way, using the tips of their fingers.  All the women dutifully did this, even though it was obvious to any sane observer that, no matter how carefully they applied these products, they would never look remotely like Cindy Crawford, who is some kind of genetic mutation. I’m not saying that men are superior.  I’m just saying that you’re not going to get a group of middle-aged men to sit in a room and apply cosmetics to themselves under the instruction of Brad Pitt, in hopes of looking more like him.  Men would realize that this task was pointless and demeaning. They would find some way to bolster their self-esteem that did not require looking like Brad Pitt.  They would say to Brad:  “Oh YEAH? Well what do you know about LAWN CARE, pretty boy?”

Of course many women will argue that the reason they become obsessed with trying to look like Cindy Crawford is that men, being as shallow as a drop of spit, WANT women to look that way.  To which I have two responses:

1.  Hey, just because WE’RE idiots, that doesn’t mean YOU have to be; and
2. Men don’t even notice 97 percent of the beauty efforts you make anyway.

Take fingernails. . . . I have never once, in more than 40 years of listening to men talk about women, heard a man say, “She has a nice set of fingernails.”

Anyway, to be back to my original point:  If you’re a man, and a woman asks you how she looks, you’re in big trouble.  Obviously, you can’t say she looks bad.  But you also can’t say that she looks great, because she’ll think you’re lying, because she has spent countless hours, with the help of the multibillion-dollar beauty industry, obsessing about the differences between herself and Cindy Crawford.  Also, she suspects that you’re not qualified to judge anybody’s appearance.  This is because you have shaving cream in your hair.

I told you it was funny.

Credit:  Dave Barry. “Men Should Look Out if a Woman Asks, ‘How Do I Look?,’”
Deseret News, Sunday, February 1, 1998.

Here’s a quote from Sister Forste to give the whole issue some perspective:

“Sisters, we have got to lock arms and change the conversation.  We need to come together and counter the negative and defeating messages that the world bombards us with daily.  We need to strengthen, lift, praise, encourage, and sustain one another in all of our righteous endeavors.  We need to envelope our young women with messages of strength, hope, and courage – empowering them against social expectations that corrupt their divine nature and devalue their individual worth.”

So from where I’m sitting, you all look pretty beautiful to me.  I’m not joking.  The funny part stopped two paragraphs ago.


21 thoughts on “Beauty, self-esteem, and laugh-out-loud hilarity

  1. I think that most women don’t dress and groom themselves for men. It’s to compete with other women. My husband can tell me I’m beautiful, until the cows come home, but if a girlfriend tells me she loves my shoes, I have to say, that will make my day.

    It’s a sickness, really. Love the Dave Barry.

  2. My battery is moments away from dying, I just want to say I love this! So glad you shared. I’ve always thought Dave Berry was hilarious, but I’d never read this particular piece. So true, in so many ways. And the quote at the end? Perfect. You are beautiful too. I love my blogging friends. That’s all.

  3. I clicked on my diapersanddivinity bookmark just hoping that you’d written today. And behold! It’s late and I can’t sleep, because I’m planning out photographs that I want to take of my friend’s children. I offered to take these pictures a while back and it hasn’t happened. Then tonight, at a Service Swap Relief Society event, someone else gave her the same offer. I can’t sleep because I’m worried that she’ll have that girl take the photos, not me. I’m just a wanna-be photographer, looking for some practice.

    So I rolled out of bed, unrested, and came online to hopefully find some solace. Or a friend. So glad you were available to talk, through this wonderful world of blogging.

    Sometimes I look in the mirror and think, “Hey, I’m kinda pretty!” And then I feel guilty. Why is that? Heavenly Father probably wants us to feel pretty, right? But definitely, I never think my body is enough. So not Barbie. I look back now and can’t believe I used to be self-conscious about my butt way back when I was in junior high. It’s like a part of our female brains, isn’t it? Sad.

    Is there a way to save my daughter from this? By forcing her to brush her hair, am I doing permanent damage to her self-image? I better investigate this…

  4. That quote on the end is perfect.

    And I LOVE Dave Barry. I haven’t read him in a while….I might have forgotten his hilarity if it weren’t for you!

  5. That would be funny if it wasn’t so true. Really, it’s sad. My husband wrote a blog post about beauty and how it is what God thinks of you that really matters (and God thinks you’re beautiful!) We just have to learn to see ourselves like God sees us.

    My husband let me read it the day before he posted it and I think I’ve read it at least once a day since. My husband rocks!

  6. I love Dave Barry too!

    I like a little makeup, I like the occasional piece of jewelry, I wish I were much thinner, I like to look nice. But I try to keep it in perspective. (sometimes I fail). I hope this doesn’t make me look like I value my appearance too much. And in my defense, if I am wearing nail polish, it’s ONLY because it keeps me from chewing on my nails.

    Question for all the mothers in Zion out there–How do you get a teenage girl to want to look nice? I don’t mind the lack of desire to wear makeup and I don’t mind the lack of desire to wear high-heeled shoes and be a barbie doll. But how do I encourage a teen to at least make an effort to look young-lady-like, rather than like an urchin? A teenage boy urchin no less? Add to the mix that she’s tetchy and emotional (I blame her mother). But can we brush the hair please? Can we wear something other than basketball shorts (which are really long)? Can we stand up straight and talk not through our nose? Or am I forcing my wrongful attitude about beauty on her? What is the difference between wanting to look nice and spending too much time on how we look?

    • Here is something from For Strength of Youth, Section 4: “Always be neat and clean and avoid being sloppy or inappropriately casual in dress, grooming, and manners. Ask yourself, “Would I feel comfortable with my appearance if I were in the Lord’s presence?””

  7. While I agree with most of what was said and it did make me laugh, I just have to say that I did play with Barbies, but not once did I think “Gee, I wish I looked like Barbie. She is just so beautiful.” In fact, I don’t think I cared about how I looked until well after I was done playing with dolls and Barbie.

    I do think it is important to look nice and feel good about yourself. Look at how the General Relief Society Presidency and the General Young Women Presidency and the General Primary Presidency look. Those women look beautiful. They seem to care about taking care of themselves and looking the best that they can. And they still know who they are and what is important.

    Plus, it feels nice to look pretty and have someone compliment you, whether it is your husband or another woman.

    It’s all about balance, baby!

    • I played with Barbies too, and didn’t make any conscious goals to emulate her either :), but there’s certainly a “market” out there for that (*cough* Heidi Montag *cough,cough*). Maybe it’s not always specifically Barbie, but I’d have to agree that there IS an unrealistic and superficial ideal floating around the media universe that women compare themselves to. And it’s sad. We all do it to some degree, I think, because that message is SO loud.

  8. Dave Barry changed my life. Literally. I first read his work in the Des News when I was in the 9th grade, and at that moment I knew I wanted to be a humor writer.

    For years, I gave first time moms “Babies and Other Hazards of Sex” at their baby showers. Yes, I love Dave Barry.

    And he’s dead-on with this one. We really do need to change the message. I think part of doing this is replacing appearance with achievement. This doesn’t mean our girls have to be Rhodes Scholars, it just means they need to learn to value what they do: the contribution they make to the world around them, the example of strength and goodness they are to others – these need to be the quantifiable benchmarks by which we measure ourselves and our daughters.

    For that matter, our sons need this, too. Seventh grade is hardly the high-water mark for their self-image; they need to reach a little higher than that!

  9. I so enjoyed Sis. Forste’s talk, particularly the Dave Barry quoted part.

    I tried to explain to Kennedy the other day why I don’t particularly love Barbie. I just said that her body wasn’t real and that I didn’t think that Kennedy should think she needed to look like her. I’m not sure how much she understood. Especially when her younger sister got a Barbie for a birthday present a few days later (not from me). *Sigh* Try, try again.

  10. I only started reading this blog a month or so ago when someone posted something about it on their blog. I really love it, so inspiring 🙂 My 3 year-old loves Barbie, she thinks they’re all princesses (even the very non-princess Barbies). She has tons of dress-up clothes and likes to put everything on, earrings, necklaces, rings, shoes, dresses, tiaras, etc. You get the point. Anyway, while I think this is totally cute behavior, I look at her and honestly wonder if this is how it all starts. Will she one day obsess about her clothes, her body, and feel she’s not good enough? Will she grow up always feeling bad and thinking, “If only I could lose 10 more lbs?” or “If only my chest was bigger?” At my daughter’s ripe old age of 3 I feel the full and monumental force Satan has hurled against women and mothers! How do we teach our daughters to think they are beautiful and be confident despite what “Barbie” tells them they should look like? It’s definitely a challenge. Wow, didn’t mean for this to be so serious 🙂

  11. Because of Dave Barry, I wrote the second most controversial editorial we’d ever had in the high school paper: why we should all wear denim jumpsuit uniforms to prom or better yet, go naked.

    I like him lots.

  12. Dave Barry has always been a personal favorite of mine. He makes me laugh every time! The seizure move is a brilliant stroke of genius, too. I nice perspective for today, thanks for sharing.

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