A new report from the YWCA suggests American women are dangerously obsessed with looking beautiful. Here’s what you need to know.

Drop Dead Gorgeous.”

Dying to have it. “

“A look to die for.”

If researchers are right, it may be more than mere coincidence that beauty and pain are so frequently intertwined in pop culture.

Indeed, a new report released this week from the YWCA contends that American women are obsessed with the pursuit of perfection – and paying for it in painful ways we may not even realize.

“What’s really new here is the sheer extent to which women and girls are willing to go – literally causing physical harm – to be ‘beautiful’ according to the standards perpetuated by a youth-obsessed media culture with literally thousands of messages 24 hours a day,” said YWCA USA CEO Dr. Lorraine Cole.

Titled “The Beauty Report” the data is gleaned from studies conducted over the last several years by a variety of researchers. But Cole says the common thread that runs through them all is the clear evidence of womens obsession with the pursuit of beauty – as well as the pursuit of an idealized body image most of us will never obtain. And she says, doing so produces a life-long burden that eventually takes a physical and emotional toll on our mental and physical health.

Among the numbers in the report with the most impact:

* 80% of women say they are very unhappy with the way they look.

* 67% of women aged 25 to 45 are trying to lose weight – even though 53% of them were considered to be a "healthy" weight.

* While 40% of newly diagnosed cases of eating disorders – like anorexia or bulimia – are found in girls between the ages of 15 and 19, symptoms of the disorder are now showing up as early as kindergarten.

* American women spend almost $7 billion dollars a year on products used in the pursuit of beauty. Over a 5 year period that translates into 1 year of college tuition. Invest just half of that sum into a savings account for 10 years and end up with nearly $10,000.

But perhaps the most telling aspect of this report had less to do with our individual pursuit of beauty - or the dollars we spend pursuing it- and more to do with how that pursuit is so deeply intertwined with peer acceptance.

I’m talking about what I like to call the “beauty bullies “ – you know who they are, that clique of cute-girls who pick on less-cute-girls because of how they look. According to the report this behavior not only influences our relentless pursuit of beauty, it has seen an alarmingly steady rise since the 1990s.

What’s even more interesting – at least from the 40 something gals point of view - is that this behavior doesn’t seem to end at the Senior Prom. Often these "beauty bullies" carry their peer pressure tactics right onto the college campus, into the sorority house and eventually, down the hallowed halls of some of America’s biggest corporations.

How bad is it? According to the report “lookism” - a term coined to describe prejudice based on appearance - is an increasingly prevalent equal opportunity employment issue. In one analysis researchers found that those who were considered less attractive actually earned 9% less than those who were considered good looking.

Many believe it is the same "beauty bullies" we met in junior high school that are now driving the "lookism" movement against other women in the business world.

The Pursuit of Beauty: Can It Ever Be Healthy?

While the report served to raise some important issues, in my opinion it also overlooked a few.

Indeed, it failed to address the idea that at least part of the increased interest in beauty products and cosmetic treatments has to do with the fact that they are simply more available - both in terms of convenience and affordability.

While our mothers and grandmothers were hard pressed to find anything more than a jar of Ponds Cold Cream to soothe their furrowed brows, today, the selection of treatments – as well as what they can accomplish and their relative affordability - places the pursuit of self improvement in tantalizingly close reach.

In this respect the report may have been a little harsh on those who are able to simply take advantage of what the beauty and medical industry has to offer - - which can be done safely, and without obsession.

That said, the real issue that seems to be at stake here is not so much the fact that women are in hot pursuit of the perfect face or body, but rather the feeling that they have no choice in the matter.

Be it acceptance among their peers, in the workplace, or in the high stakes world of love and romance, once a woman is made to believe that being herself is no longer good enough, she is in marked danger of crossing that nearly invisible line that separates healthy self improvement from dangerous beauty obsession.

Left untended, those feelings of self doubt can cripple us with depression, anxiety, phobias - and at it's worst lead us deep into addictions, domestic violence, and self hatred so strong it can eventually kill us.

So I guess the real importance in the Beauty Report is not so much to tell us that we shouldn’t yearn for that fabulous new red Dior lipstick or covet those wrinkle relieving Botox injections - or do what we can to get them. The key, it seems is not to feel any less about ourselves if those yearnings are never realized. We really are okay just the way we are.

One final point to consider: It's not just a matter of being less hard on ourselves - as women, we also have an obligation to stop being so hard on each other.

SOURCE: Colette Bouchez, RedDressDiary.com

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Oh the presssure. NOT. I've talked about this with my daughter and son since the day they were born (well maybe a little later). The facade we put on means diddly squat in the terms of holding down a long term relationship, caring for others and adding to society on the whole. How people choose to present themselves is just ok, make-up, none, hair, none, fashionable clothes, comfy looks. We all know that first impressions will impact but if we are any sort of good person that fades very very fast and behvaviour and personality come to the for and then we hardly see the outside bit.

I do understand the pressure but I just don't buy into it. I'm getting a bit long in tooth now and the wrinkles and dimples are starting to add up . I don't like it but I don't really care either. There is just too many other wonderful things to do. I look after what I think I should and then I focus on outside me.

I think this is a real issue for all of us. My blog "less than" is a perfect example of it. But with the help of wonderful well rounded people my daughter has moved on and knows she is ok. We just need to keep reinforcing the caring and love rather than the competitive nature that this world thrives on.

Present yourself as you please - but realise that is just a little bit of fun. What really counts is what you give to this world.




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