Saturday, May 12, 2012

a matter of beauty

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Close your eyes, think of a time where the woman’s main priority was to look after her husband, the children, make more children, and look perfect twenty-four/seven. This wasn’t a century ago, this was just fifty years ago, in the mid nineteen fifties and early nineteen sixties. World war two had recently ended, and the population had just seen an immense decrease, so what was a woman to do? Procreate of course! It was the only thing a woman could do to help our nation! When discussing this topic with a teacher I was told that when she had her first child and her husband was coming to see her, all her mother could tell her to do was to “go and fix your hair and put some make-up on” this may seem ridiculous but it’s true. Beauty idols were not only beautiful, they were flawless, to call them perfect would not be embellishing the truth. It was these ‘super-women’ that ‘normal’ everyday women had to measure up to, but there was one difference. These ‘super-women’ were working women, they didn’t have families and they had people cooking and cleaning for them, not the other way around, or was this image of being a super woman the face they showed the public, an illusion? It was all about presentation and presence…so they of course had to give the impression of having it ‘all together’ with an ease that’s almost inhuman. Whether an illusion or reality being compared to a superwoman, is an enormous pressure to be placed under when you are an average woman , living an average lifestyle.

Jean Shrimpton, or Shrimpie as she hated to be called, was one of the most famous globally known models of the nineteen-sixties, with flawless skin, stars in her eyes and all round head turning facial features, it was no surprise that Elle nominated her “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,”1 and Glamour named her model of the year in 161. Shrimpton caused a worldwide scandal when she wore a miniskirt to the Melbourne Cup on November , 165, as it was considered un-proper to wear anything with such a short hemline in those days. She made a big impact on the fashion industry in that act of ‘indecency’, but after a while others followed and it became the fashion. Jean Shrimpton may not have been Australian herself, but she definitely affected the women (and men) of Australia. How? Well quite simple really, you see the majority of young women, in particular young Australian women just couldn’t live up to the standard that Jean Shrimpton and other women in the lime light such as Sophia Loren, Twiggy, Katherine Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn set.

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Sophia Loren ‘Twiggy’ Katherine Hepburn Marilyn Monroe Grace Kelly Audrey Hepburn

These women were idols for the everyday woman, and the majority of women would strive to look like them, hours spent in front of the mirror with a magazine picture in front of them trying to get that perfect look. It was of course impossible, as these stars had the natural beauty of course but they also had make-up artists, hair stylists, and fashion stylists. Thus the negative effect on their self-esteem was compounded.

At one point in time all of these women were extremely well known and looked up to. The media portrayed them to have perfect lives, and therefore the majority of Australian women believed they had to follow suit. This in turn affected their values, about themselves and others. Instead of personality and what a person could give from the inside it was what a person looked like on the outside that was placed of higher value, this of course affected everything; the media, advertisements, who one would socially interact with, and of course marriage partners.

The main major influence on this century’s attitudes towards beauty was the growth of the film industry. For the first half of the century, all major beauty icons were film actresses. It was a medium that allowed women who would have previously been overlooked to shine. Beauty was an essential attribute for a working class woman to become successful in Hollywood. So its no wonder that young women wanted to and still want to be like them, from the outside it looks as though they have everything; beauty, money, popularity, and acceptance. Thus young women strived to achieve acceptance from society through physical beauty.

Chapter Two


Today’s society has seen huge increases on the importance placed on physical beauty by our society, particularly in young women. What will it do to a young woman’s identity? Simply put it will make them think less of themselves, compare themselves to models, and try to change themselves to fit today’s ‘normal’ ideas of how a young woman should look. Not only does being physically attractive help you to get a good job, perfect boyfriend, but also helps with acceptance. Acceptance with others. ‘According to Kant, “The judgment of beauty is different from cognitive or moral judgment because it is effected subjectively, that is exclusively in reference to the person making the judgment.” For a judgment to be truly ‘aesthetic’, rather than merely idiosyncratic, the person making the judgment must be adamant that their opinion is in agreement. Nancy Baker’s definition in The Beauty Trap is more concerned with intangible personal qualities. “A truly beautiful woman makes the best of her physical assets but, more importantly, she also radiates a personal quality which is attractive.” Whereas Arthur Marwick, author or Beauty in History defines a woman’s physical beauty in more direct terms; “The beautiful are those who are immediately exciting to almost all the opposite sex.”’1

The main reason most teenage girls want to be physically attractive is so they can be accepted. This ‘ideal’ has been perpetuated through the media, and it doesn’t help that the majority of famous women are beautiful. This leads a young woman to think that to be accepted she must be beautiful, she must be physically appealing. But is it appealing to the opposite sex, or the same sex? More and more I am beginning to think it is more to be accepted by the same sex. I believe that young women in general tend to be more socially judgmental of other women than males are of each other or the opposite sex. Because whom a girl is seen with is also a big part of acceptance, if a girl is seen as being friends with a “beautiful” girl i.e. popular then she will more than likely be accepted into that ‘popular group’. Peer pressure often makes her appearance and looks become almost an obsession. Dissatisfaction is all too common � for example about half of all high school girls are on some form of weight control regime, and even plastic surgery has become increasingly desirable for younger women.

Research proves that in today’s society personal values, perceived body image and vanity were major factors of influence in the purchasing process of young Australian women.1 Also according to other research physical beauty is a strong judge of whether or not a woman will marry, and of the socioeconomic status of her husband. With all this research, research that is readily available to young women, its no wonder that they feel they must be attractive to have a great life! Therefore with this belief in mind a young woman’s values begin to change.

Through content analysis I discovered that the media strongly promoted young women to be beautiful, although I did find some articles trying to encourage young women to eat properly, be positive about their weight, and to know that one doesn’t have to be beautiful to be valued. These article’s do try to encourage women to value their intelligence, rather than beauty, and personality over body shape, but the accompanying pictures and advertising strategies being used are saying a totally different thing, the women they use are beautiful, and have the ‘perfect’ body. As the old clich� says “A picture says a thousand words.” If this is true, what message is the media sending out there? ‘Sure have high self esteem, and be intelligent.’ But if your not stereotypically ‘beautiful’ you won’t have this…or this… etc. the list goes on. An article titled ‘why models got so skinny’ featured in the 00 February Cosmopolitan talks about how “twenty years ago catwalk models had killer curves and a healthy glow. By the ‘0s skeletal figures and sunken faces were it. How did the waif look become so popular?”1 The article goes on about how models have always been a few sizes smaller than an average sized woman. Katie Ford CEO of Ford Models says that she “believes that it started with the illustrators who drew long, stretched-out bodies in their sketches in the forties.”1 Also according to Jeff Kolsurd, owner of Q Model Management in the US “The models are definitely skinnier and more petite that they used to be.” Where as statistics prove that generally speaking women’s sizes have actually increased over the decades. According to this article some people theorise that it is the female consumers that actually drive the trend. That is that models are thinner because women prefer to look at skinnier women. It also states that even though this might be true in part, but fashion moguls say there are other forces at work. The designers only supply one size of their outfit and if the models auditioning don’t fit that size, they don’t get the ‘gig’. In 1 a new trend came about, it was given a contemptuous name “heroin chicks” by fashion critics, the trend was that of very thin models and as Calvin Klein said ‘Childlike, womanlike thing’. And when this phase started slightly larger (but still thin) models lost their work to these thin “heroin chicks”. Among other things it’s this kind of ‘trend’ that encourages women to value looks, and body size over their own and other people’s personality. It also promotes an unhealthy idea of body image which can lead to some very serious implications such as anorexia, anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and obesity.

Chapter Three

The Three Components

The Face…make-up, plastic surgery

The pressures of being a young woman in today’s society are huge. Pressure to be perfect in every which way is anything but rare. The pressures come from both the macro and micro world. The main offender in the Macro world is the media. The media is telling them that “If they don’t look ‘beautiful’ and aren’t deemed as attractive to both the opposite and same sex that they aren’t ‘normal’” or perhaps I shall go as far to say that the media also tells them that “They won’t be accepted into society as readily as the more beautiful woman.” And the micro world its their peers pressuring them to ‘fit’ in.

From puberty onwards, young girls use cosmetics in order to look ‘prettier’ to attract the opposite sex and also to be accepted by their peers. And their mothers do the same, they use make-up to disguise flaws of age and maintain a youthful appearance.1 But the cosmetics boom does have its adversaries many feminists believe the marketing of cosmetics, along with high fashion, to be an exploitation of women by male industry moguls. Some women even resent having to use cosmetics to compete in the workforce. But for many women, the cosmetics ritual is not a chore or a necessary evil, but an enjoyable activity in itself. The question is not whether or not it’s a chore.1

The cosmetic surgery industry is also growing by the day, and the advertising for it is everywhere � easily accessible to young women; magazines, newspapers, the Internet, and television. Its popularity has increased quite dramatically in the past decade among everyday working class women. But cosmetic surgery is not a new concept, according to Louise Haywood (Perceptions of Female Beauty in the Twentieth Century by Louise Wood http// there were some bizarre and painful tools out there for the purpose of beautifying � one in particular “M.Trietly’s Nose Shaper” which was a metal object which was held over the nose by straps buckled round the head and adjusted with screws, its purpose? To shape a woman’s nose of course!

Plastic surgery is used to enhance a woman’s (or male’s) facial features or physique. Having a ready market for plastic surgery says one thing that it’s ok to think you’re not pretty enough and that it can be ‘fixed’. No only does it give permission for people to think like that, it encourages them to. Which on the larger scale affects a young woman’s values of herself. This can result in alienation � if a woman doesn’t conform she may be forced to feel socially unaccepted and alienated.

Weight � The BIG Issue

Promoting an unhealthy idea of body image can lead to some very serious implications such as anorexia, anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and obesity. These are classified as eating disorders, and although an eating disorder is a very serious condition, it can lead into an even more serious situation hospitalisation. In the 00 December ‘Cosmopolitan’ there was an article about how a girl � Melinda Hutchings over came this widespread eating disorder. Even though it’s a personal recount rather than facts, it does try and promote to people that overcoming an illness is ‘the best thing one can do.’ But to be able to get over a disorder, you must first have one. When I showed several people this article I asked their thoughts on it, and shockingly one girl said to me that it actually gave her a good idea for how to lose weight � but that’s it, that her diet wouldn’t turn into a serious disorder. So what is this article really promoting? True it is an article about positive body image, but it also gives young women ideas of ways to go about hiding such things. I would know this as I myself have had an eating disorder bulimia and when I read articles about such things, it wouldn’t deter me from continuing them it would just give me ideas to be able to continue wreaking havoc on my body, although I didn’t know I was doing it at the time. In an additional article titled “We’re Fat and We’re Angry”1 I discovered a whole new notion. The article is about women who are over size sixteen and up to a size twenty-eight that are extremely unimpressed with the media and fashion industry. Jodie Hunter who is a size eighteen, entered a competition in a magazine to win a copy of a wedding dress worn by a celebrity. The dress, however, was only offered in a size eight or ten. When Jodie wrote in to complain they replied by saying it was too much trouble to offer a custom size. This would make the majority of the young female population want to lose weight, as it would be seen that they were not a ‘proper’ or ‘normal’ size, how ironic that the average woman is a twelve. When Cosmo featured Kelly Osbourne on their cover last year they received several letters congratulating them for “having a real woman with a real woman’s shape.”1 But they also received criticism for not going far enough “Cosmo including women sizes six to sixteen in its pages may be a good start but why not regularly feature a size twenty-six or thirty-two in fashion pages or on the cover?”1 The answer is simple because it could promote obesity, it’s almost giving permission to be overweight which is ‘the biggest body problem in Australia’. Also by putting larger women in articles and the cover of magazines (as well as un-averagely slim women) they don’t target the majority of Australian women.

Who is What Dress Size in Australia?1

Dress Size Percentage of Australian women

Eight and under 6%

Ten 15%

Twelve 4%

Fourteen 1%

Sixteen 14%

Eighteen %

Twenty %

Twenty Two and Larger 4%

Statistics provided by Roy Morgan Research

As one can see from this table the majority of women in Australia are a size twelve, and the ‘runner up’ is size fourteen which is one/two dress size/s smaller than the largest size cosmopolitan models are.

This article also proves that yes, it’s true not all magazines use bigger women, and perhaps they should. I don’t agree with the concept of magazines using bigger than average models OR skinnier than average models as I believe both promote an unhealthy idea of body image. Young women are often exposed to capricious pictures of women, and these have been known to set the standard for the appearance a young woman should desire to be. And due to this we are seeing the vast majority of young women, falling victim to compulsive calorie counting, ritual weigh ins and dangerous crash diets. Even women who are of an average, sometimes slimmer weight perceive themselves as too heavy and continue to pursue this ideal’. Chronic dieting has also been directly attributed to the social pressure on females to achieve a nearly impossible thinness, constantly reinforced by the media and advertising.1 This also strengthens the idea that the Australian media’s values of physical appearance directly influences a young woman’s values of herself and her peers.


Fashion is an outlet for how one expresses themselves. But sometimes that outlet can be taken too far and, get twisted into ideas of what one should wear and that if one wears a certain item than they must be this and so on. At school if one doesn’t wear ‘branded’ clothes they are perceived as not ‘cool’ enough, and it’s even the same in life after school. On a sub-conscious level when first introduced to a person a judgment is made on that person according to what they wear. Before we hear their hopes, there dreams, if they’re married, or what they like to do in their spare time we make judgments based on their outward appearance � what they’re wearing. This can affect ones self-image and identity, especially if they are stereotyped into an image that they do not wish to conform to. Consumerism is a culture centered on the promotion, sale and acquisition or consumer goods, such as clothes, the fashion industry is mainly centered around consumerism; if there’s no consumer not only would there be no point, the fashion industry wouldn’t even exist.

For example when I carried out my participant observation I dressed up, and I dress down. I got quite different reactions from people, when I dressed down I wore, baggy jeans and a loose fitting t-shirt a real ‘daggy’ one that said “Hugs not Drugs”, I was approached by not one male, and whenever I tried to approach a member of the opposite sex I was rejected quite blatantly. However, when I dressed up elegantly in a classy dress and high heels (quite maturely) I was allowed into a bar, without being asked for I.D, and was approached by seven older, more distinguished men. Of the six males I approached I was rejected by none, and asked for my phone number five times. On the last participant observation activity I dressed ‘tarty’, I wore a short black skirt, black knee-high boots, and a low cut black singlet top. I was approached by sixteen young males and of the six young men I approach I was not rejected by one.

This is an advertisement for a brand called ‘Moschino’ who mainly sell a range of denim clothing.

If this advertisement doesn’t convince you that some advertisements do not promote a good body image, and DO promote to be ‘beautiful’ then I don’t know what will. For someone to buy these clothes they may be under the illusion that they have to look like her, or they wont look as good in the clothes as she would.

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