“The sign of a beautiful person is that they always see beauty in others.”– Omar Suleiman
What is beauty? Is it the Oxford Dictionary definition, “a combination of qualities that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight?” Is it Rachel McAdams’ long blonde hair, Rihanna’s sunkissed skin, Angelina Jolie’s high cheekbones, or Kylie Jenner’s plump lips? Here’s an answer: none of the above. With the picture-perfect portrait of beauty being painted and retouched by mouse clicks on a screen, beauty standards have become restless and ever-changing. In a generation of double-taps and FaceTune, “beautiful” has become a word that degrades one’s confidence rather than a means of celebrating their own.
According to a study done by SIRC (Social Issues Research Center), the current standards of beauty set by the media today is attainable by less than 5% of the female population when just accounting weight and height. This percentage reduces to around 1% when including other factors such as the ideal face shape, nose, and etc. By raising these standards to extreme heights, young girls are prone to finding faults within their own appearances and feeling inadequate. A Harvard University case shows that by the age of 13, at least 50% of girls are immensely unhappy about their appearance. Consequently, beauty has become the beast for this millennium’s adolescents and youth.
To truly delve into how beauty has become a distant dream instead of realization for many, it is valuable to see which figures have come to embody the word through the years. In 2020, through the influence of Tik Tok and social media, Conan Gray’s popular song Heather has become an icon for internet beauty trends. Through this Gray creates a new ideal that defies the bodily values that the term has come to hold today. Before Heather, figures such as Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Beyonce, and Bella Hadid were what the world claimed, and still do claim, to be the representations of beauty throughout history. But what exactly made these women the most “beautiful” people of their time?
While Marilyn Monroe’s platinum locks, bright red lips, and curvaceous body brought her to high fame during the 1950s as a leading sex symbol, Hepburn’s naturally symmetrical face and short brunette cut helped her become a film/fashion icon in the 60s. Meanwhile, in 2020, the title of “most beautiful women” goes to Bella Hadid with Beyoncé running close as second. Bella Hadid’s “golden ratio” face with Beyoncé’s stunning figure and bold features have made them the new idols of physical attractiveness- a facade created by the press. While each of these women are undoubtedly gorgeous, they have become subject to being largely publicized merely for their physical attributes rather than their personalities. Many fail to recognize that success was not brought to these women on a silver platter; the recognition they received was largely a result of earnest hard work and their own unique charisma. This behind-the-scenes and down-to-earth work, however, goes significantly untouched by reporters and media.
For instance, Audrey Hepburn possessed not only the prowess of beauty but also an undying ambition and determination in the industry that ultimately led to her renowned fame. Yet, her role as the pretty girl, Holly, in Breakfast at Tiffany’s became a universal trademark instead. Throughout her life, she was a persistent humanitarian that used her glory to help impoverished children all around the world as a UNICEF Ambassador. By representing how true beauty lies within the heart, Hepburn became a role-model to young girls and a figure of empowerment that would inspire future generations. Along with women empowerment, whenever hearing the phrase’s newer interpretation, “girl power,” one person always comes to mind: Beyoncé. A modern feminist, she has taken the world by storm with her strong persona and beliefs through billboard charts and Emmy awards. Some topics she’s touched on in the female movement is the destructiveness of vanity, the role of the woman in a relationship, and becoming more than what society expects. Evoking a sense of pride and confidence in today’s breed of women, she is so much more than just the striking body that paparazzi sexualize and advertise.
For Generation Z, the new symbol of beauty has become one without a face or race: Heather. Through this recent song from the album Kid Krow, Conan Gray’s story of an epic but ultimately tragic love creates the new ideal in 2020. He describes that “she’s sweet and she’s pure and she smells like daisies—she’s perfect.” Throughout the song, he also narrates her as a “sight for sore eyes, [and] brighter than a blue sky.” While he speaks about her radiating internal beauty, he excludes any explicit description of her physical traits. By having her outside appearance undisclosed to the public by Gray, millennials have gone to Tik Tok to feature who the ‘Heather’ in their own lives are. Without the restrictions of physical features, Heather has been able to be represented by a boundless set of colors, hair, weights, and identities. She is the representation of the internal beauties of women such as Beyoncé or Hepburn. While the bright hearts of these eye-candy women are neglected and muffled by their outer attractiveness, Heather is liberated from this by not being held down by the chains of a physical image. Her beauty is translated through her kind actions, her golden aura, her bubbly personality- her love to love.
Exterior beauty eventually fades with age, but the heart still pumps blood and shines the same. Whereas the physical attraction of Victoria Secret and Calvin Klein models will one day disappear, the persona, Heather, will remain the same. This is because her beauty overcomes the materialistic virtues that society has become so engrossed with. Meanwhile, the heart only grows fuller and stronger with time. Like cosmetic surgery, the heart also goes through changes and alterations. These cosmetic changes have a shelf-life, but changes in the heart are permanent. A love to love the world, others, and yourself- that is true beauty. Be a light to the people in your life whether that be making them laugh, helping out when in need, or embracing their pains and struggles. Love yourself for the face, body, and beauty that is already given to you, and know that you are beautiful. Be the ‘Heather’ in your own life. Only once you overcome the beast will you be able to see your own powerful beauty radiating in the lives of others too.
Angela Kwak is a rising junior at The Stony Brook School and is a first-generation Korean-American who grew up in Saudi Arabia. At school, she helps lead the Asian Student Union while being involved in many student councils, all while pursuing a passion for filmmaking. Her main interests are film, writing, and above all, amplifying the stories of today. Through Zenerations, she hopes to shed light on issues that are less recognized.