Eye of the Beholder

I recently finished reading Toni Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye. It tells the story of a black girl living in Ohio, used, abused and dumped on by everyone around her. She begins to long for blue eyes, convinced that if she had those, she would be loved, as all the white girls with blonde hair and blue eyes are.

According to Morrison, the idea is based on an experience she had when she herself was young, when one of her classmates expressed her desire for blue eyes. Referring to this classmate, she writes: “Implicit in her desire was racial self-loathing. And twenty years later I was still wondering about how one learns that. Who told her? Who made her feel that it was better to be a freak than what she was? Who had looked at her and found her so wanting, so small a weight on the beauty scale?”

As a white woman, I’m not going to start pretending I know what it’s like to be a non-white woman; fortunately, there are many amazing women of color sharing their personal experiences with us. However, this is a good opportunity to mention race, and the fact that I am consciously writing as a white woman, because that’s what I am. There are many issues related to race, gender and beauty which I may touch upon, but which are not within the remit of this project.

However, Ms. Morrison’s final question applies to all women, and relates to my recent meditations on beauty: “Who had looked at her and found her so wanting, so small a weight on the beauty scale?”

Lately, I have realised that many of my insecurities about my body, much of my self-loathing and self-chastising, comes not from what I actually think, but what I’m afraid others think about my body. I’m become obsessed with my tummy fat, not so much because I hate it per se, but because I’m afraid that everyone thinks I’m pregnant (I’ve been asked this several times recently). I absolutely hate my nose, but a lot of this hatred stems from my fear that others will think it’s too big, that other people will compare it to the ideal nose size our society has, and find it wanting.

For me, then, the question of how I can get to the point where I believe that I am beautiful has now become one of how I can stop caring about whether or not other people think I’m beautiful. Not exactly sure how to do that…

Morrison’s questions also touch upon some of the core questions I’m exploring in this project: What is beauty? Who defines what is beautiful? Why do people compare us and why do we compare ourselves to a standard of beauty that does not take into account women’s natural variations in size, shape and colour?

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3 Responses to Eye of the Beholder

  1. cloudmama says:

    Dear Liz,
    Another wonderful post! To answer your question, it is my belief that we are told what constitutes beauty from the day we are born. We are inundated on a daily basis by a commercialized version of what a woman should look like – perfect in all her airbrushed, unblemished glory.
    I do think it gets better as we age. No more a sexual/biological commodity, older women aren’t as susceptible to what others think. Although if Madison Avenue has its way, we’ll all be botoxed and stretched and pulled into skeleton faces with plastered-on smiles like the Joker Jack Nicholson played in the first Batman movie. The only true remedy to anti-aging is death!
    Keep up the terrific blog!

  2. Carson Beker says:

    This is FANTASTIC – I am so inspired by this project of yours.

    Toni Morrison’s exploration is heartbreaking, particularly in this idea that a giant judging eye is looking upon us and finding us “wanting.” I think a lot of us walk around with these giant critical eyes following us around wherever we go, zooming in real close to our soft bits (thighs, stomach, neckline), to see if they are “wanting.” My personal floating eyeballs like to focus on my stomach. Strange, really. If the people I care about find me attractive so why should I worry about the others?

    Maybe we are led to believe that a certain ideal of beauty is attainable to all of us, and that if we do not reach it every day, we are lazy or sloppy or stupid, or at least misinformed, in other words wanting or defective in more than just our looks. Maybe at some point we internalized the judgment we expect to get from others as a way to make it feel less painful. Or maybe some well-meaning role model in our lives tried to make life easier for us by showing us how to be more beautiful. Dunno. I would like to get to the point where I don’t look at myself in the mirror and think “I need to work harder.”

    Please keep exploring, this is magnificent!

  3. lizfarsaci says:

    Thanks for your comment, ladies! They are fascinating, and mean so much to me.

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