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What a Woman is Supposed to Look Like [Take notes, ladies! There will be a test... called "the rest of your life"]

Posted Jan 15 2013 1:07am

Hey girlfriends! Remember the good ol’ days when men were men and women were… prepubescent children? Like the time the fashion world crowned Elle Fanning the new “It Girl” at just 12 years old?

The Daily Beast w rote unironically,

“Though she’s still missing five teeth, Elle has shot up to 5-foot-6, and dresses look good on her ballet-dancer frame. “More designers are going to want to dress her because she’s tall-it’s sounds crazy to say someone has a good figure at 12-but she captures a youthful spirit,” says Interview’s entertainment director, Lauren Tabach-Bank.

That’s right – smile with your mouth closed sweetie! Don’t want to remind anyone that you’re still of an age to be losing baby teeth.

Okay, wait. How about the good ol’ days when men were men and women were… men? One of the  hottest models for women’s couture  is Andrej Pejic. Long blond hair, colt limbs, tiny waist, high cheekbones – there is nothing particularly surprising about his popularity except for one thing: he’s a he.
Photographic proof that even dudes duck-lip!!
The problem isn’t that Elle is a remarkably mature looking young woman or that Andrej is a very effeminate man – the problem is that Elle looks exactly like a child and Andrej looks every bit like man (google him and look at his regular pics if you don’t believe me) and yet they’re trussed up and displayed to women who are told that this – the tall, slim, unformed body - is the standard of female beauty.
But that’s old news (Elle is a matronly 14 these days!). Now we are being offered a new standard of beauty and I’m not sure how I feel about it. Meet Jelena, an IFBB (international federation of body builders) “figure” pro and the star of the new MAC cosmetics “strength” ad campaign:
I have to admit the ad made me smile at first glance. You go girl, with your guns and black leather! I’ve seen first-hand how much work a figure competitor has to put in to look like that and that kind of dedication is impressive. But the more I looked, the more unsettled I felt. And I finally realized: It’s because I know how much goes into that physique that I’m bothered. For most women, Jelena’s body is every bit as unattainable as Elle’s, Andre’s or your standard catwalk model. Removing the child and the Y chromosome from the equation, both fitness and catwalk models have to eat a very strict (some would say restrictive) diet, exercise a ton and be born with awesome genes. (Oh and there’s equal parts photoshop mixed in for good measure.) True, the end result differs but the means to that end are  not as different as we’d like to believe. And yet, she’s so different from the normal bill of sale! It’s refreshing, right?
And what does it mean to “look like a woman” anyhow? For each particular woman it means to look exactly how you do – because you are, by definition, a woman. But if we’re talking ideals to aspire to then what? As I contemplated whom I would consider an icon of feminine beauty, I came up with several for me. Audrey Hepburn. Anne Hathaway (seriously I’ve been singing I Dreamed a Dream for a week now, that movie was SO GOOD). And, as a testament to my new TV-crack, Once Upon a Time, Ginnifer Goodwin.
At first I thought I loved her because she once said this in an interview: “I’ve never had a dramatic weight problem, it’s just that I tend to indulge, and then I need to get back on track so I can button my pants. It’s my hips and my upper thighs. Even at my crazy skinniest, where I’ve looked at myself and been like, “Ginny, you’re too skinny,” those are still there. And I think it might be … permanent?” Girl: WORD. I have the exact same thigh issue.
But then I realized, all the women I picked look a lot like me – albeit a million times better. Dark hair and eyes, pale skin, an affinity for quirky dressing; I wasn’t trying to find an example of beauty, I was trying to find me represented as beautiful. Which of course I won’t because finding yourself represented as beautiful doesn’t sell product and magazines. Dissatisfaction does. Wishing to be someone else is a goldmine for advertisers and the products they represent. But what we want and need is exactly the opposite of what they want and need… which is why we’re given children and young men as standards.
So back to the bodybuilder. Which one is she, for you? Does she help you see your best and strongest self? Or is she one more mythical creature to tell you you’re not good enough? Also, I have the privilege of interviewing her for Shape about the back story of the ad – What q’s should I be sure to ask her?
How would finish the sentence “A real woman looks like…”? Do you have the confidence to simply say “me!” (“Me” meaning you, of course, and not me-me. This post is not a plea to have everyone tell me how fetching they find me!)
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