Observations of a Teenage Sister

By, Ashley Crimaldi
Written in 2008

My little sister is fourteen years old, and she is beautiful. She has perfect straight white teeth, a toned tan body, perfect complexion and mysterious green eyes. She also has a great personality, a free spirit and a fun sense of humor. Sometimes I wonder if people notice those things first about her, or if they are merely transfixed by her beautiful persona. If I were to guess, I’d probably say the latter. Unfortunately, I can’t help to admit, it can’t hurt to be beautiful in a world dominated by sex appeal and consumerism.

But let’s face it; her perfect white teeth and bronzed skin didn’t come without a cost. She is a 14 year-old girl who somehow finds money to tan despite the increased risk of skin cancer. Due to the heightened popularity of tan skin, my little sister wears power foundation much darker than her natural skin tone and then tops it off with puffs of bronzer with little specs of glitter in it. The result: a “bronzed beauty” that resembles so many models in advertisements today. But there is something plastic about the standards of beauty we’ve come to accept today. Whatever happened to rosy cheeks? The ironic thing is, the beauty industry is telling us to want what we don’t have naturally. Black women are shown with fair skin and often foundations are difficult to find in dark enough shades. White women are told that they should have a “bronze glow” or go tanning to hide natural pink pigmentations and blemishes in the skin.

I can’t complain about my sister too much, because I’m a cosmetics queen. I love dabbling in the art of makeup each morning. It brightens my day to know I have some great cosmetics waiting for me to play with when I wake up in the morning. But then are those days when I simply don’t feel like it; and then what? People have to see what I really look like? My teenage sister, and myself for that mater, have fallen victim to idealized standards of female beauty, and this idea is nothing new.

Joan Brumberg quotes numerous girls throughout history who have been dissatisfied with their bodies in her book The Body Project. Brumberg quotes Carol Merano a 16- year old girl from the 1960’s, “I’m too ugly. I’m too fat. I have a crummy personality.” This is the sort of negative self-talk we hear as women every day. Whether it exists within the confines of our minds or the mouths of our friends, women are constantly dissatisfied with themselves. Is it within out nature? Or is this merely a product of our culture? Sharlene Hesse-Biber points out in her book The Cult of Thinness that, “The stakes of physical attractiveness for women are high, since appearance, including body weight, affects social success.”

Even this is true in my little sister’s case. When she was in elementary school she wasn’t involved in any sports or extra curricular activities, and when she would come home from school she would plop down in front of the television and snack. She started gaining weight, and didn’t have many friends. My mother encouraged her to join the soccer team. With newfound physical activity she was able to make new friends and slim down at the same time. The truth is, the world is a lot less cruel to a beautiful woman. Luckily she changed her fate early on.

Recently, I met up with my little sister while she was at a soccer tournament in St.Louis. Having not seen her in three months, I was very excited to see her. When I noticed some changes that had occurred in her body over the past few months, I made a comment about her body becoming more “womanly.” By that I meant curvaceous, which in my book is a compliment. Instantly, she started accusing me of calling her fat. Of course that was not what I had intended. It was sad to me that the word “womanly” had such a negative connotation for her. As if it was a nice way for me to say fat. For the rest of the night she seemed upset, and refused to order a meal at dinner.

Dieting is something that has become widely accepted. Even parents have started to accept dieting as a reality for their daughters. It is encouraged so that their children will be perceived as more attractive, and a positive reflection of themselves. Small gestures and comments from parents shape female perceptions of thinness for the rest of their lives. Girls today are expected to be perfect. They should have the perfect bodies and smiles, and they are willing to do anything to get it.

Ms. Career Girl

Ms. Career Girl was started in 2008 to help ambitious young professional women figure out who they are, what they want and how to get it.

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