Reclaiming Beauty

CherriWill the real girls please stand up?

by Cherri Ellis


As we walk around all day—whether or not we are conversing with others—there is a constant internal dialogue going on. Frequently with females, it involves noting some imperfection about themselves. It’s crazy; if we talked to other people the way we talk to ourselves, we wouldn’t have any friends. This harsh self-appraisal stems from more than the insecurities of youth…it is an eerie sign that girls are taught that they are less than perfect. They have been deluged with millions of digitally altered images and formulaic media messaging their entire lives. Are you kidding me? Heidi Klum doesn’t even look like Heidi Klum.

We differentiate between things and people by choosing elements that strike us as pleasing. The idea of beauty is intrinsic; I think we are drawn to beauty the way our lungs are drawn to breath. But until cameras were sold in 1888 by George Eastman, the concept of beauty was pretty much limited to one’s own community. Now girls not only compete on a global platform, but they are compared to fantastically realistic computerized images.

The physical enhancements possible via digital wizardry are dumbfounding. What was once considered high-tech is now routine. On one hand, it is fabulous. You’d better believe you won’t be seeing any shots of me in this magazine that haven’t been Photoshopped, and I say that with full tilt boogie gratitude. But there is a line we cross; on the other side, enhancement becomes a lie. It is unnecessary.

A place that my daughter and I love to go for fun is H&M, but we are fully aware that when we hit the door, we go up two sizes. It only takes one painful afternoon in one of their unisex fitting rooms to figure that out. Therefore, I was dismayed but not shocked when I discovered that H&M just got exposed for creating fake models in their online catalog by Photoshopping the heads of human models onto mannequin bodies. The placement of the mannequin’s identical hand gave it away. It is staggering to me that H&M, a global retailer with access to the world’s top professionals, could not select any models physically perfect enough to sell their swimwear and lingerie. How does the average woman stand a chance?

When you are 4 years old and get a Barbie doll, you cannot know that in real life, her measurements would be impossible to achieve. If she were human, Barbie would not be able to lift her own head because it would be two inches larger than the average American woman’s skull while resting on a neck twice as long and six inches thinner. Her waist would be four inches thinner than her head, and her legs would be 50 percent longer than her arms. Her bust would be so large that she would face plant every time she tried to get out of her dream car, and it would be hard to get her upright again because her feet would be a children’s size 3.

Ironically, the doll that was the inspiration for Barbie, Bild Lilli, was never intended for children. She was created from a racy cartoon in post-war Germany and sold to adult men in bars (slutty wardrobe sold separately). While Lilli wasn’t a sex toy in any operational manner, she was certainly marketed as a deliberately sexy novelty. (Weird factoid: The first actual sex dolls were commissioned for Adolf Hitler because so many German soldiers were being sidelined by venereal disease. But I digress.) While on vacation, Ruth Handler, cofounder of Mattel, saw Lilli in a store window and went right home and bought the rights. She renamed the doll Barbie after her own daughter, and in a somewhat creepy move, she later named Ken after her son. That was 1959. Today, if you laid them end to end, the Barbie dolls sold would encircle the earth seven times.

So your daughter is playing with her doll (that has breasts) and the television is on behind her. Why shouldn’t it be? Today’s TVs are flat screen, high-definition wonders with better resolution than reality. But what is she watching?

According to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, even in the top grossing G-rated family films, girl characters are outnumbered by boys 3-to-1, even though they represent 50 percent or more of the population. The female characters are typically written to be either the supportive caregiver or hyper-sexualized eye candy. The stats aren’t great for women behind the camera, either. Out of a search of more than 1,500 directors, writers, and producers, there are nearly five males working for every female.  (Full reports can be found at

Davis is coming to town this month to be a keynote speaker for the MOMENTUM Women’s Leadership Conference: Accelerating the Speed of Change, and I believe I am getting the chance for a one-on-one chat with her. I will find out all about her Institute for Gender in Media, and also why she and Louise had to drive off that cliff.

I hope I catch her at cocktail hour.

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