Working at a college campus, I see a lot of young girls who seem to do nothing but smoke, tan, and talk on the phone. It’s a generation of Paris Hiltons and it’s painful to watch.
I feel somewhat grateful to have grown up in the grunge era, when male and female teenagers wore the same uniform of shapeless flannels, huge shorts, and exposed long johns. Sure, I wanted to be gorgeous, but I wanted to be “alternative gorgeous,” with luminous, pale skin, long, thick natural hair, and a makeup-free face. The girls I admired most were those possessing a less labor-intensive beauty in combination with independence, creativity, and the ability to accessorize ugly shoes. Even now, the women I see as most attractive are those who are much more natural and healthy-looking than the scrawny, dry, siliconed, and overly tanned girls I see on TV and in magazines.
I feel sad for girls now who don’t have such strong, natural women to admire as I did in my teenage years. When the standard is “Girls Gone Wild,” what hope do we have for the next generation of women? It makes my stomach hurt to think about it, especially since it seems to be leaching into the culture of older women, as well. The rates of eating disorders for women over 35 have skyrocketed in the last several years and experts believe it stems from the relatively new pressure women face to be sex objects well into their 30s and 40s.
It’s certainly pressure I feel at 32. I’ve never before been as self-conscious about my appearance as I am now. I was much more confident in my abilities and my worth as a frumpy 17-year-old with Kool Aid-dyed hair and an impressive wardrobe of men’s t-shirts and baggy shorts. I can only speculate it’s because the standard of beauty and feminine value has become so narrow and so difficult to achieve. And, thanks to middle-aged women clinging to the same standard as teenagers, the pressure seems only to intensify as the gulf between that ideal and our capabilities widens with each passing year.
My only hope is that at some point, the pendulum will swing back towards a wider, more attainable ideal of worth and beauty, one that takes health, intelligence, and mindfulness into the equation. While it’s true there will always be bubble-headed sex symbols, it would sure be nice if there were more Rachel Maddows and fewer Lindsay Lohans setting the standard.