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Opening Monologue: The Beauty Standards Show

The following is a transcript of the opening monologue I do at the top of each show on WGN Radio. My show, the Saturday Night Special, is a single-topic program on which I discuss one topic all night. This week, I talked about beauty standards and narratives.

Harvard’s Nancy Etcott wrote in her book “Survival of the Prettiest: the science of beauty” this: Many intellectuals would have us believe that beauty is inconsequential. Since ti explains nothing, solves nothing, and teaches us nothing, it should not have a place in intellectual discourse.”

“But,” she goes on to write, “there is something wrong w this picture. Outside the realm of ideas, beauty rules. Nobody has stopped looking at it, and no one has stopped enjoying the sight. Turning a cold eye to beauty is as easy as quelling physical desire or responding with indifference to a baby’s cry.”

Etcott makes a good point. At its simplest, beauty is complicated.

On one hand, many of us grow up hearing that it’s only inner beauty that counts, and while that is and should always be true, we also grow up with the dazzlingly glamorous multi billion dollar beauty industry and it’s advertising messages that we internalize from even the earliest of ages showing us that we must look a certain way.

To start, just look at the name of it– look in any drug store and the aisle is probably no longer called the ‘cosmetics” aisle, but the beauty aisle. It’s subtle, and maybe fussy and pedantic to point that out, but it, nonetheless, is a message that we need cosmetics in order to have beauty, when i would venture that all of us know deep down that cosmetics can be a part of beauty, but that real beauty is more.

But, look, I’m not aiming to trash makeup– I’ll be the first to admit that makeup is, no pun intended, pretty fun. But, the industry behind the products, the more than $62 billion market in the US alone, is, like any industry, a business that needs us to need it in order to survive. And, in the case of cosmetics, it’s a unique business in that it almost has no choice but to prey on some of our deepest fears and insecuritie in order to work..

And, the culture that seeds those fears and insecurities shows its face everywhere doesn’t it? It goes beyond makeup, of course, to our clothing, our bodies. And, if you’re still thinking this topic of conversation is perhaps light or shallow, consider this: a Princeton study concluded that attractive workers earn over $200,000 more in their lifetimes than those who are consider to be less attractive. Another study showed that being tall has it’s advantages, with every inch of height equal to a salary increase of about $789 per year. And, per year, thin women earned an average of nearly $9k over their heavier colleagues, with the salary disparity dropping to a difference of about $5k per year between the salaries of men of different weights.

So with that, we can agree that our cultural biases around beauty are not just a matter of self-esteem and belonging, but also one of economics and privilege.

From the dolls we give our kids, to standards of ideal height and weight and gender and race and youth, to how we define looking the part of leadership roles we aspire to get, whether at corporations, or even, say, when running for office. It’s dizzying, and, frankly, disheartening, how narrow our definition of beauty seems to be.

And, yet, the cosmetics industry forges ahead, culture nods, and the plot thickens more and more.

So, while we could make this topic a ten part series are still barely scratch the surface, tonight, we’ll take look at this complicated subject of beauty, and the science, the industry, and the complexities within it.

I’m Amy Guth and that’s all coming up tonight on the Saturday Night Special on 720 WGN.

(Break for show opener music)

Tonight we’re taking a look at the seemingly simple, but definitely complex and nuanced topic of beauty. We’ll look at the cosmetics industry and its advertisements, the culture that feeds it and them, and that is fed by it, the narrow definition we have for who and what is and is not beautiful and many of the other contradictions and complexities the topic brings up.

All night, I’d be delighted to hear from you as we go along, so feel free to give us a call at 312-981-7200, But, if you’re feeling a little radio shy– and that’s ok– you can text that number or you can also find me on Twitter and Facebook and contribute to the conversation in that way, too.

We’ll be right back to get the conversation underway, on 720-WGN.

(Listen to full show)