Sarah Says: The cult of beauty

On the final Saturday of J-Term, I sprained my ankle. I knew it was dangerous instantly from the good starburst of ache ricocheting by my physique as I questioned how I might handle the 200 steps residence. 
The nurse’s “wow,” when she examined the ankle the subsequent afternoon gratified me; nobody might argue with the proof of my ache. Before I left, I used to be outfitted with compression bandages, crutches and a black boot that appeared disproportionate to the damage’s floor space. The boot drew nearly as a lot consideration as my new halting gait. I attempted hiding it beneath lengthy skirts, acutely aware of my self-importance. But within the days that adopted, a tenderness blossomed for the damage, a hostage-like affection for the bruises and swelling. 
Tracking the ankle grew to become half medical accountability (when would I have the ability to stroll on it once more?) and a secret pleasure, as a result of my ankle was the one half of me beneath no crucial of beauty, the very ugliness of my damage a testomony to my power. 
Membership within the cult of beauty is a prerequisite for girlhood. I can’t bear in mind when beauty grew to become my governing energy, cannot bear in mind an age when I didn’t take a look at myself with the attention of an appraiser. If there’s escape from the cult, I’ve but to search out it. 

I’ve been lucky to have a feminist schooling. Never in my life did I get the impression my male classmates have been intellectually superior, and at each flip feminist concepts have been inspired. I reduce my tooth early on Jane Eyre and Margaret Atwood and was almost a Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies minor right here. However, beneath the mental currents of my feminism runs a counter present that calls for I pay fealty to beauty. 
One of the good paradoxes of trendy feminism is that girls should no longer solely be clever and passionate (although these passions are circumscribed by slim confines of palatable ladies’s ambition), however additionally they must proceed to remain enticing. 
For most of my life, physique picture was framed to me as a problem of vanity. The tragedy of girlhood was an absence of confidence on the dimensions of the person. However, quickly into my time at Middlebury this framing started to hassle me. By consigning physique picture to the vagaries of self-love, we advise it’s a ladies’s concern — which is to say, essentially unimportant.  
As a first-year, I used to be chosen as a finalist for the Spencer Prize. I used my six minutes to argue that physique picture is a urgent political and financial concern. Although the statistics have modified since my speech, in 2022 the beauty trade (outlined as skincare, perfume, make-up and hair care) was valued at roughly $430 billion, the cosmetic surgery trade was valued at $45.5 billion, and the food plan trade was valued at roughly $76 billion a 12 months. This 12 months, the anti-obesity drug trade reached $6 billion and with the fast-growing reputation of medication like Ozempic, Goldman Sachs estimates by 2030 it might be a $100 billion trade. In “physique picture,” the joint engines of patriarchy and capitalism conspire to make self-hatred good enterprise. 
This is with out tallying the hours and earnings that numerous ladies have misplaced whereas scuffling with consuming issues and disordered consuming, sacrificing peak educational or employment capability in pursuit of the “excellent” physique. Those are incalculable statistics. 
In my speech, I foregrounded my argument in my historical past with disordered consuming. Throughout highschool, I struggled with an insecurity about my weight that was typically disproportionate to its actuality. Especially within the fall of my senior 12 months, I started to limit myself, counting my victories on the calorie monitoring app My Fitness Pal and the pangs of starvation that adopted me to sleep. To be clear, this was by no means an consuming dysfunction. I met the standards for disordered consuming, a clinically obscure time period. One survey discovered 65% of American ladies between the ages of 25 and 45 report disordered consuming behaviors. My practices have been disordered however not statistically irregular. 
At that very same time, in my Narrative Journalism elective, I used to be conducting lengthy interviews with ladies on my highschool crew group who had developed consuming issues or disordered consuming patterns. The irony in our use of many of the identical calorie management strategies was not misplaced on me whereas I nodded in sympathy to their tales and took in depth notes.
When I feel of that model of myself, measuring advantage in low-fat yogurt cups, she looks as if a distinct individual. It was perhaps the saddest I’ve been in my complete life. I contextualize my highschool conduct as a socially rewarded means of mitigating the deep unhappiness I carried with me. I appreciated being informed how good I regarded; I sucked on the style of my pals’ jealousy prefer it was a tough sweet. 
The insidious reality behind the cult of beauty is that beauty is a zero-sum recreation. Beauty is all the time relative; it’s by no means sufficient to be merely stunning, we should even be extra stunning than another person, or be probably the most stunning. The cavernous gap of beauty is a need with out finish. There will all the time be one other girl’s thighs, boobs or taut abdomen that makes me flip to my very own physique in alien recognition. 
I ended my Spencer Prize speech with a tentative optimism. I concluded with the story of the dimensions I begged my mom to ship the primary week of my freshmen 12 months, much more panicked on the specter of the freshman fifteen than Covid-19. I by no means opened the dimensions, and my finest good friend on the time caught a Post-It on it requesting that I name her if I ever felt like utilizing it. The optimism was motivated by the calls for of the style (individuals like a cheerful ending) however was additionally genuinely felt. My points with meals and physique picture have been so 2020; I used to be past them.

This is the kind of hubris that begs for a fall. 
My fall got here within the basement of Jefferson Gynecology whereas the nurse recorded my vitals. Since my senior 12 months of highschool, I’ve requested nurses to maintain my weight from me, however on that morning, performing on morbid curiosity or easy negligence, I used to be silent. When I noticed the quantity behind me I crumpled, very like when in sophomore 12 months I used to be punched straight on the nostril. 
The weight I gained felt like failure, a lot the identical as if I had failed to show in an project on time on Canvas: There was nobody however myself guilty for neglecting the job. Beauty feels just like the worst job to me, a job with no monetary profit that we proceed to offer an odd ethical weight. 
I had all the time been within the grip of the cult of beauty; it was solely once I was now not a measurement zero nineteen-year-old that I felt its sting. 

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I might shut this piece with a second of revelation: the heat of the solar as I took my first steps out of the boot on the Santa Monica boardwalk, sweat soaking my hairline whereas my pals remodel into Amazonian goddesses on the indoor bike, that expansive feeling once I really feel that I’m stunning and everybody else is, too.  
But there may be additionally this: begging my pals to inform me I used to be fairly just some weeks in the past on the stroll again from bar night time, how fast it takes for a look on the pimples on my face to demolish me and remembering my nineteen-year-old self giving a speech on the tyranny of beauty whereas she admires the form of her rose quartz earrings within the digital camera. 

Sarah Miller
Sarah Miller ’24 (she/her) is an Editor at Large.   
She beforehand served as Opinions Editor and Staff Writer. Miller is an English main on the Creative Writing observe. She hails from Philadelphia and spent the spring finding out English at Trinity College Dublin. She has interned for The New England Review and hosts a WRMC radio present the place you’ll be able to nonetheless take heed to her many opinions.

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