By Heidi Stevens
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Renee Engeln’s new book, “Beauty Sick: How the Cultural Obsession With Appearance Hurts Girls and Women” (Harper), explores the ways we remind women, young and old, that the most important thing they can be is beautiful.
You might be familiar with the Bechdel test.
It’s a standard created by artist Alison Bechdel to measure whether works of fiction (movies, usually) accurately represent women. The test asks three questions: Are there at least two women present? Do the women speak to each other? Do they speak to each other about something other than a man?
Renee Engeln would like to add a fourth question to Bechdel’s test: Are the women talking about something other than how they look?
And she’d like to apply it to real life.
Engeln’s new book, “Beauty Sick: How the Cultural Obsession With Appearance Hurts Girls and Women” (Harper), explores the ways we remind women, young and old, that the most important thing they can be is beautiful.
“Then we pummel them with a standard of beauty they will never meet,” Engeln, a psychology professor at Northwestern University, writes. “After that, when they worry about beauty, we call them superficial.”
Sound familiar? It should. Beauty sickness spreads far and wide, and it has stark consequences, from eating disorders to depression to dreams deferred.
“Beauty sickness matters in part because it hurts,” Engeln writes. “But even more important, it matters because it’s hard to change the world when you’re so busy trying to change your body, your skin, your hair and your clothes. It’s difficult to engage with the state of the economy, the state of politics or the state of our education system if you’re too busy worrying about the state of your muffin top, the state of your cellulite or the state of your makeup.”