The notion of ‘beauty’ in our culture tends to be more limiting and shame-inducing than cathartic. What should be a soul-expanding experience of aesthetic pleasure gets confined to a manufactured pill box, forced down our throats by television, magazines, advertisements, the porn industry – you name it. We all suffer from this together as a society, but women, most of all, bear the brunt of the abuse.
In preparing to make the 1982 film Tootsie, Dustin Hoffman was determined to look as much like a woman as possible. If the audience had to suspend disbelief to follow the story, Hoffman explains in an interview with AFI, then it wasn’t going to work. It wasn’t until he looked at himself in the mirror, fully costumed as a female, that he realized the reality women live with every day. If Hoffman saw his female self at a party, he confesses, he wouldn’t give her the time of day. The realization brings him to tears. Take a look:
This might seem overly tidy. “Hey, Dustin Hoffman, try being a real woman for even a day and you’ll experience some truly gnarly things. And before you whine about not making an attractive woman, let’s think about what beauty really is.”
But his emotional response is more nuanced than that. Hoffman bemoans the socialized notions of beauty that kept him from approaching women who might have otherwise added to his life with wit, intellect, and grace. How many women, he wonders, did he miss the opportunity of knowing, just out of prejudice?
The question we would add to that is: Why do we as a society continue to let anything but our own hearts dictate what we find beautiful?
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