VERGE: Beauty’s far-reaching impacts on MVHS students

VERGE%3A+Beauty%27s+far-reaching+impacts+on+MVHS+students

Sepand Rouz

Click on colored text to play a clip of the interviewee.

As the class naturally split up, everyone easily partnered up. Senior Ethan Yao couldn’t help but feel excluded. He stood by, watching them all pair off within themselves and chatter incoherently. Waited. Wondering. He did what everyone else was doing: attending the class, participating, working. But he just didn’t fit in.

Thin bodies paired with cheerful personalities surrounded him, and in every way they appeared radiant. He looked around to realize that he was indeed a great deal different. The pitch of his voice, the shape of his body, his melancholic personality, his introverted tendencies. He wasn’t the same as them.

To him, they were beautiful.

Beauty. It lays in the forefront of our mind, as we can’t help but wonder whether we achieve it. We often diverge from our own personal beliefs, fascinated by the sheer concept it encapsulates.

“Beauty is a social construct mostly, most of it is, probably around 90% where beauty is portrayed by the media. It’s looking like models with skinny bodies or muscular if you’re assigned male at birth. And you know, having averaged sized breasts or broad shoulders, having a nice face without blemishes or any kind of flaws. That’s what beauty is in the media.”

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” Yao said. “If you try to live your life trying to appeal to other people and be beautiful in front of other people, then you’re going to waste a lot of your time.”

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But, despite this powerful belief, Yao can’t help but get stuck in this afflicting cycle. Fearing the possibility of being deemed ugly is ever so present and the desire to appeal to those around him, Yao felt the need to establish change within his own life.

“There’s two different parts. There’s being beautiful to yourself and there’s being beautiful for society and other people. The most important one is always to yourself. And if you feel beautiful you can practically do anything you want. You carry yourself the way you want. It’s so special, it’s so important that kids need to feel beautiful at a young age, so it carries on. And it’s not with super cockiness, it’s just feeling beautiful like you know that you’re flawed but you accept yourself, and that’s what makes yourself beautiful.”

He focused on where he felt the negative differences most strongly: the fat on his stomach and the fat on his face. He was continually told by the doctors that he was overweight. Yao, who couldn’t help but compare himself to the more slender frames of his peers, decided that he, too, would become skinny.

“And that was a really big problem for me, especially the skinny and muscular part. Because of certain psychological things, I didn’t really achieve that. So from there, also wanting to at least feel like I could talk to someone, I felt like I had to look the part. You know for people to start conversations with me, or instead of me talking to them all the time because, you know.”

He tried one method after the other: exercise, eating healthy and joining dance. All efforts made to discard his feelings of self-hatred. All to feel beautiful.

“I am a dancer, and the types of dance I do is ballet and jazz. And with that, you need to be really muscular and toned or you need to be at least skinny… And because of that, that also sucked. I don’t look the part. I don’t feel the part. And I definitely don’t weigh the part.”

He tried adjusting everything he could — his sense of humor, his walk, his diction, his laugh. Despite all efforts he was met with unsuccessful results, and while he knows he should be himself and be proud of who he is, Yao also believes his looks have an impact on how people perceive him. Beauty affects their willingness to befriend him. But that mindset has slowly changed him. It has left an impact in Yao’s life that he both regrets and feels thankful for. To some degree his troubling experience with beauty has shaped his personality into a new level of maturity but it also caused him a traumatic dip into an unstable period of his life.

“The first one would be — it’s kind of a mix. I would go for a long time without eating, which is anorexia, up to the point where I starved myself for around three, four days. Didn’t have smoothies or anything, just water, just never ate. And that would be terrible for my body, for my mental health. Then there was another one, bulimia, so after, you know once I did start eating because I can’t survive without eating food. I would binge eat, and then I would try to throw up later, which was not helpful in any way. It didn’t help the circumstances in any way, I actually starting weighing more after I became bulimic, so that didn’t work out well.”

He was set on fixing the flaws he found in himself that made him unhappy. He yearned to erase them out of the picture, an act senior Henry Wang does on his computer.     

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Although it’s not often that people ask Wang to make them skinnier on photoshop, the infrequent, yet occasional request still stuns him. As a portrait photographer, he usually complies to the requests of his clients, but, in his opinion, he sees no need to change their bodies. He watches people scrunch their face as they scrutinize pictures of themselves, finding and magnifying their slight imperfections in the frame of the camera. They try changing themselves to meet the beauty standards prevalent in society.

“People are their own worst critic. [They] see themselves and they’re more judgmental about themselves, way more than how other people see them,” Wang said. “Other people just see them and they might think that they’re perfectly fine — they’re beautiful.”

The need to appear socially acceptable within these beauty constructs is anything but new, but for sophomore Kelly Marzolf it is far from understandable. As someone who can’t grasp the obsession that lingers behind its presence, Marzolf deems beauty unimportant.

“Mainly just because I feel like if you [overemphasize beauty] it’s going to take up a lot of time and it’s going to be pretty stressful, so…”

“If you let that type of stuff affect you, you’re never going to actually be happy,” Marzolf said. “I’m not going to waste my time on trying to be ‘beautiful’ because society thinks I should.”

“It occurred to me that I had to look a certain way, and I feel like no one ever really told me I had to look a certain way. My whole life I’ve never really cared and I’ve just looked the way I want to.”

The way she chooses to present herself has always revolved around comfort and joy rather than the opinions of others. The clothes Marzolf wears, a simple T-shirt paired with jeans, is for her and not anyone else. She ignores fashion and whatever items of clothing are in style, because they simply don’t matter to her. This is a moral she’s had since middle school when she sported pink sweats, long striped socks and a pair of crocs. She liked tying her hair up in a ponytail just as she liked basketball shorts and her velvet sweatsuit.    

But, she still sometimes finds her thoughts strangled by the concepts of beauty, with a pervasive desire to be taller, fix her figure, straighten her hair — but Marzolf never let those negative thoughts leave the walls of her mind. She refuses to allow them to dictate her life for she knows that she must accept herself for who she is and never seek acceptance from others.

“Skimpy clothes, like some girls think they have to wear super skimpy clothes to look good and I’m just like ‘hell no man I’m not doing that.'”

She accepts herself.closet-open

But, as Marzolf looks around, she notices that approval is all that seems to drive others. Marzolf has experienced this firsthand, as she notices her peers’ obsession with the pervasive concept of beauty heighten. On social media, her friends mask their usual looks with fancy clothing and exaggerated makeup, resulting in a new, unrealistic version of themselves. They look completely different.

“Like this idea that everyone is judging them and everyone needs to look a certain way to be happy. But I think like really most of it is just a misconception because I really think less people pay attention to how you look than you think, like nobody’s actually looking at you that closely, and if you’re friends are judging you on you look, then those aren’t good friends.”

But to Wang, the man behind the shooting and editing process of many formal photos, photographs are a way to capture a still moment in time in which many slight imperfections become magnified and obvious in the frame. They’re distractions from the main focus of the camera. Our imperfections are distractions from us.

Beauty. It is a concept that Yao now understands well due to his situation, and a concept that he battles constantly. With the constraints he places upon himself and the desire to become beautiful, he has quickly learned valuable lessons such as his newfound belief that beauty is created entirely by people as way to categorize objects. Alongside this, he now looks out for himself in a caring manner. But past decisions and mindsets leave lingering pieces behind, and it takes time to learn to accept oneself.

I know I should be myself and be proud of who I am,” Yao said. “I tell myself that I need to feel beautiful before I should search for the acceptance of others.”